On a typical day, you are trying to decide what to make for dinner—that is, if your husband is lucky enough to be home. He checks the lineup and tells you it doesn’t look like he’ll go to work until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow at the earliest. Wow, an evening together, they seem to be so rare these days. You had thawed a roast, his favorite, just in case he was going to be home. Since you didn’t have to have it ready early, you chose to wait until it would be ready for a “normal” dinner time, and got busy doing other things. Five minutes after you put it the oven, the phone rings and it’s the railroad with your husband’s call. What!?! You have an exchange, and it turns out that the lineup was wrong—again. So, you scramble around, help him get ready to go, and find something else for him to eat before he leaves. Such is the life of a railroad wife!
For many of us, we knew what we were getting into when we married a railroader. We learned while dating that schedules on the railroad were nonexistent because of all the broken dates and holidays we spent without our significant other. For others, railroad employment came after the vows, and life was a whole new world. Some were able to adapt, but unfortunately, some were not—part of the reason for the higher than average divorce rate among railroaders. If you recognize the scenario above, let me assure you, you are not alone.
In listening to spouses from all over the country, life with a railroader is trying at best, and it only appears to be getting worse. In the twenty-odd years I have been with my husband, Larry, it appears that incorrect lineup information, manpower shortages, hours spent waiting to be relieved after the hours of service expired, and harassment and intimidation of the “troops” have increased sharply during the last few years. The Carriers are reverting back to their robber baron ways of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Stockholder dividends, outrageous executive salaries, and the bottom line are more important that the lives of their employees. While the pay may be better than it was back then—starvation wages that led up to the Great Labor Uprising of 1877—railroad employees are still treated like property instead of being valued as the very reason that the railroads are able to make their record profits, in spite of themselves.
While we cannot change the fact that railroads are 24/7 operations, we can do something to put the pressure on the carriers to change their evil ways when it comes to factors that contribute to fatigue, and time away from home. One prominent contributor when it comes to fatigue is the issue of “limbo time.” In 1996, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the time spent waiting for and transporting to the place of final release is considered neither on duty time, nor off duty time. In the last three years, more often than not, crews are on duty an average of 15 hours or more every time they go to work. The Carriers abuse limbo time because there is no penalty for leaving crews to languish on the train. The only penalty to them is not getting trains over the road, which would seem to me like a good reason to get those crews relieved and rested. Of course, if the train is not going anywhere anyway, then there is certainly no incentive.
“Limbo time” delays the start of the rest time, thereby increasing the time railroaders are away from their families, for no good reason. As far as fatigue factors go, this should be a pretty easy fix. Since the Supreme Court’s precedent is in place, the only way to fix it is to ask Congress to include provisions to do away with limbo time altogether. Rail safety legislation will soon be introduced, again making this the 5th legislative attempt since 1997, to do something about fatigue.
All of our members are encouraged to speak with their Congressional Representatives or the Aide who handles transportation issues, asking them to ensure that a provision is included in any and all rail safety legislation introduced to do away with limbo time. lf you can add personal “horror” stories, please do so, because the more personal this issue is, the better idea your elected representative has as to what it means to the constituent railroad worker, their families, and the public at large.
There are so many issues that contribute to fatigue, including the terrible lineup information provided by the railroads, and we will continue to address those. For now, we are being given the chance to address limbo time and should take advantage of this opportunity. The fact that fatigue has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “most wanted” list since 1990, should give you an idea of how long this fight has been going on. Let us concentrate on “limbo time” and as each factor is handled, we can go after the other ones until we finally see some relief for railroaders. For more information about the various issues and factors contributing to fatigue, or to read the testimony by the BLET representatives before Congress, please visit our website at www.bletauxiliary.net.
Contact your member of Congress today, both Representatives and Senators, and let them know we need to eliminate limbo time and right the wrong by the Supreme Court over a decade ago. Working together we can make a difference!