Spring 2018 Legislative Update

Spring 2018 Legislative Report

By Kathleen Bisbikis, National 2nd Vice President, National Legislative Rep, BLET Auxiliary

Below are some of the most recent news items that affect all of us. Please feel free to share these with your local auxiliary. If you have information you would like to share with me for future updates, please send it to me at bletauxilliarylr@gmail.com.


Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31

On Monday February 26, 2018, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that union members fear could be a heavy blow to organized labor across the country. Simply explained, the case currently before the Supreme Court comes from Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus is not a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees local chapter (the union working with many public sector workers in the state), but in Illinois and some 21 other states, workers are required to pay “fair-share” fees even if they decline to join the union because they still benefit from the union’s bargaining activities. Nonmember workers are not required to contribute to a union’s political lobbying activities or backing of political candidates. Janus disagrees with the political activity the union has backed and because of that he does not want to have to pay fair-share fees to the union for the benefits he receives from union representation. Janus and his lawyers have stated that forcing him to pay the fees in this situation is an infringement on his First Amendment rights.

The court appeared to be divided while hearing arguments, with Associate Justice Elena Kagan noting that the court has never reversed a case in which the reliance on precedent was so significant. Justice Neil Gorsuch, the expected deciding factor, remained silent for most of the arguments. A decision is expected in June.


Heitkamp Introduces Two-person Crew Bill in U.S. Senate

On January 30, 2018, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced S. 2360, the Safe Freight Act. This is the first time a minimum crew size bill for freight trains has been introduced in the Senate. The bill currently has four original co-sponsors:  Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Senator Angus King (I-ME).  Representative Don Young (R-AK) introduced a companion bill in the House on January 3, 2017, H.R. 233. It currently has 75 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) has long been an advocate for rail safety improvements, even more so since the occurrence of a collision between a crude oil train and a derailed grain train in Casselton, N.D., on December 30, 2013, which caused a huge fire and evacuation. The impact of the Casselton derailment was lessened significantly thanks to the bravery of the multiple crew members aboard the locomotive. According to the FRA, “the heroic actions of the grain train’s (three) crewmembers potentially prevented the environmental and property damages from being much worse” in the Casselton derailment. They pulled a cut of 50 tank cars to safety, away from the burning derailed cars. The crew later went back and removed 20 additional cars from the scene of the fire. “That wouldn’t have happened if there were only one-person crews,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce stated. “The BLET continues to oppose single-person freight operations as adverse to worker and public safety.”

Like Senator Heitkamp, Senator King (D-ME) also is an advocate for rail safety. His home state of Maine is near Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where an oil train derailment and subsequent fire resulted in 47 fatalities on July 5, 2013. A one-person train crew operated the oil train in the Lac-Megantic tragedy.

Source:  BLET Newsflash, February 1, 2018


Ronald L. Batory – New FRA Adminstrator

On February 28, 2018, Ronald L. Batory was sworn in as the 14th United States Federal Railroad Administrator by Elaine Chao, U.S. Transportation Secretary. Batory began his railroad career in 1971 for the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad. He brings 47 years of railroad experience to his new position.

As Administrator, Batory is responsible for managing the agency’s regulatory oversight of more than 800 railroads, including enforcement of safety laws and regulations. “He will provide leadership and direction for FRA-administered financial assistance programs and national freight and passenger rail policy, as well as research and development activities that support improved railroad safety, efficiency and reliability,” FRA said.

Following his swearing in, Batory described his career as living his dream. “Rail safety is first and foremost,” he said. “Its practice is non-compromising and non-negotiable. Safety is embedded into our lives. It is the keystone of the railroad industry. Railroading is not unsafe, as you know, yet you can never assume. One mistake can be your last. Reducing and eliminating risk is paramount toward enhancing safety.”


NTSB Issues URGENT Safety Recommendations to FRA

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued three urgent safety recommendations Thursday, acting upon the agency’s findings in two ongoing railroad accident investigations. The Federal Railroad Administration received one urgent safety recommendation based on NTSB findings in the agency’s investigation of the Feb. 4, 2018 collision of an Amtrak train and a CSX train near Cayce, South Carolina. The conductor and engineer of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision. The NTSB issued two urgent safety recommendations to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) based on findings from its investigation of the June 10, 2017 Long Island Railroad (LIRR) accident in which a roadway worker died near Queens Village, New York.

In the investigation of the train collision in Cayce, South Carolina, investigators found that, on the day before the accident, CSX personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control. The lack of signals required dispatchers to use track warrants to move trains through the work territory. In this accident, and a similar accident March 14, 2016, in Granger, Wyoming, safe movement of the trains through the signal suspension depended upon proper switch alignment.  That switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision, creating a single point of failure. The NTSB concludes that additional measures are needed to ensure safe operations during signal suspension and so issued an urgent safety recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration seeking an emergency order directing restricted speed for trains or locomotives passing through signal suspensions when a switch has been reported relined for a main track.

“The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, South Carolina train collision,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “While the collision remains under investigation, we know that signal suspensions are an unusual operating condition, used for signal maintenance, repair, and installation, that have the potential to increase the risk of train collisions. That risk was not mitigated in the Cayce collision. Our recommendation, if implemented, works to mitigate that increased risk,” said Sumwalt.

During the investigation of the LIRR accident, the NTSB identified an improper practice by LIRR roadway workers who were working on or near the tracks. LIRR employees were using “train approach warning” as their method of on-track safety, but they did not clear the track, as required, when trains approached and their “predetermined place of safety” did not comply with LIRR rules and procedures. The NTSB is concerned LIRR management is overlooking and therefore normalizing noncompliance with safety rules and regulations for proper clearing of tracks while using “train approach warning” for worker protection. The two urgent safety recommendations to the MTA call for MTA to audit LIRR’s use of “train approach warning” for worker protection, and, to implement corrective action for deficiencies found through the audit.

Source: NTSB News Release February 15, 2018


BLET Vice President/National Legislative Representative John Tolman Testifies at Subcommittee Hearing on Oversight of Positive Train Control Implementation

BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman urged Congress, the railroads, and governmental regulators to ensure that Positive Train Control (PTC) is fully implemented by the current deadline of December 31, 2018. During his testimony, Vice President Tolman also discussed the problem of electronic device distraction (Trip Optimizer and LEADER); the government and industry’s failure to address rail worker fatigue; the danger of excessive train lengths; and the need for two-person train crews.

Vice President Tolman encouraged all members of Congress to consider bipartisan support for two-person crew bills that are progressing through the House and Senate. He thanked Representative Don Young for introducing the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 233) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp for introducing S. 2360, a companion bill in the Senate. Both measures would require two-person train crews on freight trains.

“On the railroad, train crews consisting of Engineers and Conductors, form a solid team that moves trains across the United States safely every day,” Vice President Tolman said. “True safety requires two crew members on every freight train, and such a goal should have no party lines.”

Source: BLET News Flash February 15, 2018


Right to Work – Not in Colorado

Efforts made by state legislators in the State of Colorado to push a Right to Work bill (HB18-1030, Prohibit Discrimination Labor Union Participation) were stopped in committee by a 6-3 vote. Members of the Colorado House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee voted to postpone the bill indefinitely, thereby killing it.

The bill was co-sponsored by State Representative Justin Everett and State Senator Tim Neville, both Republicans, as well as 10 additional Representatives and two Senators. This is the second time in two years politicians in Colorado have tried to push through a Right to Work bill and failed.


Washington State Oil Spill Response Plan in Place

The Washington Department of Ecology has approved the state’s first oil spill response plan for BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), the largest freight railroad company in the state.

Railroad companies transported about two billion gallons of crude oil through Washington State in 2017, traveling through communities, along major highways, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound, officials said. About 25 percent of all crude oil moving through the state was transported by railroads.

In accordance with the 2015 Oil Transportation Safety Act, the state’s Department of Ecology mandates that rail lines have contingency plans guaranteeing that they can respond to a spill quickly and effectively. This is the same requirement the state has for vessels, pipelines, and oil facilities, the department notes.

“Washington joins California as the only two West Coast states to require oil spill contingency plans for railroad operators,” the Washington Department of Ecology said.

Source: RT&S March 5, 2018


Not Guilty Verdict in Lac-Megantic Trial

The trial against three former employees of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) began in September of 2017, and the jury deliberated for nine days prior to reaching their unanimous not guilty verdict. The trial laid bare the dangerous tendency of certain rail carriers to cut corners on safety. Leading up to the tragic derailment of a MMA oil train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2015, which killed 47 people and destroyed the center of the town, the MMA Railway had begun the dangerous practice of one-person train operations, and the trial exposed how employees were forced to work with equipment that contributed to the accident.

As the jurors rightly determined, blaming the workers for the Lac-Megantic catastrophe was the wrong thing to do. Railroading is a complex system of operations, and many factors go into a safe operation. Determining the root cause of this tragedy is more complex than simply blaming the workers, but that all too often is what many rail carriers and government agencies do.

Source: BLET Newsflash January 22, 2018