SMART - TD Local 306

Sioux City, Mason City & Eagle Grove on UPRR Former C&NW Lines

FRA’s Szabo testifies on rail safety before STB - 4/11/2014

FRA’s Szabo testifies on rail safety before STB

Federal Railroad Administration chief Joseph Szabo testified April 10 before members of the Surface Transportation Board regarding the negative impact service degradation on the nation’s railroad network could have on rail safety and Amtrak on-time performance.

His prepared oral testimony follows:

Chairman Elliott and Vice Chairman Begeman, on behalf of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the negative impact service degradation in our Nation’s rail network can have both on rail safety and on Amtrak’s on-time performance.

Let me first talk about FRA’s top priority – rail safety.

Over the past decade, our-data based oversight and enforcement has helped the industry achieve a 47 percent decrease in both train accidents and derailments, and a 35 percent decrease in highway-rail grade crossing accidents.

By most measures, Fiscal Year 2013 was the safest year on record. But we owe it to the public to always do better.

And that’s why the railroad’s weekly metrics showing railroad performance declines among Class I carriers are a big concern to us.

As railroad performance declines, rail velocities diminish, cars on line increase, terminal dwell time increases – and above all, our experience tells us, safety can suffer, too.

We learned this with the significant service degradation Union Pacific/Southern Pacific faced about 15 years ago – when we testified before the Board – as an example of how quickly operating conditions can change and affect safety.

Experience tells us there can be a safety breakdown, for example, when it comes to the ability of supervisors to perform their jobs, as a consequence of additional work pressures.

Ineffective crew utilization can lead to employee fatigue. And in order to ensure adequate rest, crews need absolute predictability as to when they go to work.

And, as a railroad rushes to gain the upper hand on service issues, it becomes necessary to hire new employees. Without adequate training that instills the proper safety culture, the number of accidents is likely to rise.

As large of a role as the Nation’s freight railroads have in serving our Nation’s businesses and economy, no concern must ever come before safety.

That’s why we have been monitoring this service situation closely and meeting with railroad CEOs to gain assurances that the carriers are operating in the safest manner.

In BNSF’s letter to the Board in response to the Western Coal Traffic League’s request for a proceeding concerning rail service problems, the railroad announced that it will be hiring 5,000 employees in 2014 to relieve these service pressures.

While laudable, it is imperative that the railroad undertake the proper training to ensure that the railroad operates in the safest manner.

We also have noticed a marked increase in delays to Amtrak trains and an associated degradation in on-time performance.

DOT and FRA provide financial assistance to Amtrak to partially fund its operations and capital investments, and work to support Amtrak’s efforts to enhance its passenger rail services. For these reasons, Amtrak’s financial performance is of great interest to us.

And in keeping with our nationwide mandate to improve the safety of passenger and freight railroads, we focus closely on the safety of Amtrak’s facilities, equipment, and transportation operations.

It should be noted that Amtrak has set ridership records in 10 out of the last 11 years – and last year was relied upon by more than 32 million travelers. So, service issues that ultimately delay intercity passenger trains have many negative implications for travelers, Amtrak, and the transportation network as a whole.

Late trains may cause travelers to miss connections or abandon their travel plans entirely. Reduced ridership and additional operating delays cause Amtrak immediate and, potentially, long-term financial harm.

A slower, less efficient passenger rail network reduces travel options for some and may put more strain on other modes of transportation, as well.

DOT and FRA closely monitor the on-time performance of Amtrak services, because even just a few months of poor performance have the potential to cascade into long term problems.

Over the past twelve months, we have witnessed a steady decline in timeliness of Amtrak trains, particularly those that operate over the freight rail network.

Only about 63 percent of Amtrak’s Long Distance trains reached their endpoint on time between March 2013 and February 2014 – 12 percent worse than the previous 12 months.

From December 2013 to February 2014, half of all Long Distance trains were late to their final destination.

On-time arrivals to intermediate stations on Long Distance routes were even less frequent, at 48 percent over the last 12 months and just under 40 percent this past December through February.

Shorter, State Corridor trains did not fare much better, with nearly a quarter, 22 percent, of all such trains arriving late over the past 12 months.

Amtrak’s on time performance has been a long-term interest of this Department and of Congress – and Amtrak tracks and reports all train delays to the FRA.

For February 2014, the month for which data was most recently reported to FRA, delays attributable to the host freight railroad were the highest in over 5 years. The largest category of Amtrak delays in recent months has been host freight train interference.

Such a designation is based on the Amtrak conductor’s immediate observable cause.

The extreme delays to Amtrak and other users of the network are a symptom of a fragile network that is strained and struggling to react.

Thank you for providing DOT the opportunity to comment in the proceeding. I would be happy to answer questions.

Start-time variability contributes to fatigue, accidents - 4/9/2014

Start-time variability contributes to fatigue, accidents

Start time variability in work schedules is often assumed to be a cause of railroad employee fatigue because unpredictable work-start times prevent employees from planning sleep and personal activities.

A new report published by the Federal Railroad Administration examines work start time differences from three different databases previously published by the FRA. The studies conclude that high variability in shift start times is found to contribute to human fatigue, which is known to increase the probability of accidents. Thus, a potential way of increasing safety is to reduce shift start-time variability.

Discussions about employee fatigue in the U.S. railroad industry often focus on the predictability of work start times for employees engaged in train and engine (T&E) freight and passenger service.

According to the FRA, labor union representatives often argue that unpredictable work start times heavily prevent employees from planning sleep and personal activities, which then results in fatigue.

Train and engine employees who work in yards, local freight service, and passenger and commuter operations have jobs with regular start times and high work start time predictability. However, employees on the extra board, which sometimes offers employees additional compensation for volunteering to work additional hours within the statutory limit, have work schedules that may vary from day to day because they fill in for employees with regular assignments.

These jobs have lower work start time predictability. Jobs in passenger service often have a split assignment in which the employee works the morning rush, has time off in the middle of the day (referred to as “interim release”), and returns to work for the evening rush. Interim release is usually four hours or more. These jobs often have high work start time predictability.

Train and engine employees who work in road freight service often do not have a regular work schedule as far as the days that they work or the time that their work starts. These jobs have low start time predictability.

To view the FRA report, click here.

FRA to issue proposed rule on minimum train crews - 4/9/2014

FRA to issue proposed rule on minimum train crews

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration April 9 announced its intention to issue a proposed rule requiring two-person train crews on crude oil trains and establishing minimum crew size standards for most main line freight and passenger rail operations. The FRA also intends to advance a rulemaking on train securement and recommends a rulemaking on the movement of hazardous materials.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we are committed to taking the necessary steps to assure the safety of those who work for railroads and shippers, and the residents and communities along shipping routes,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The proposed rulemaking on crew size is the latest effort in our comprehensive strategy to ensure crude oil is transported as safely as possible.”

The announcement follows the deliberations of three Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) Working Groups on Appropriate Train Crew Size, Securement and Hazardous Materials Issues. All three working groups were created at DOT’s request last summer in response to the Lac-Mégantic derailment. The emergency meeting was held to evaluate and consider wide-ranging proposals to further enhance railroad safety including the safe shipment of crude oil by rail. Two of the working groups produced recommendations that were adopted by the full RSAC for consideration in future rulemakings. In light of the working group’s failure to reach consensus on crew size, the FRA took action today to move forward with a rule-making.

“We believe that safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple person crew – safety dictates that you never allow a single point of failure,” FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said. “Ensuring that trains are adequately staffed for the type of service operated is critically important to ensure safety redundancy. We commend the RSAC’s efforts and will use the valuable input received to formulate a proposed rule that protects the public and recognizes the nuance of railroad operations.”

“The FRA’s RSAC process confirmed that rail operational safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple-person crew,” said SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich. “Both the conductor and locomotive engineer are certified and liscensed under federal regulations and work cooperatively as a team. During this working group process, the committee also confirmed that there are many required tasks that are performed by our train crews each day in normal operations that a single crew member cannot perform by themselves.

“It takes two skilled and qualified employees to perform a normal brake test, to separate a train at a highway-rail crossing, to receive and acknowledge mandatory directives while moving, to make routine pick up and set out of cars from the train, and also to act as a first responder for indicated defects in equipment, derailments, unexpected application of brakes, and highway-rail crossing collisions.”

While existing FRA regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements, current industry practice is to have two-person crews for over-the-road operations. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) will most likely require a minimum of two-person crews for most mainline train operations, including those trains carrying crude oil. It is also expected to include appropriate exceptions.

“Safety is good business in the rail industry. We are very disappointed that the Association of American Railroads and some short line railroads continue to keep their head in the sand when confronted with critical safety concerns. AAR continues to ignore the preventable accident that occurred less than 20 miles north of our border,” Previsich added.

FRA plans to issue an additional NPRM based on the consensus recommendations of the Securement Working Group and approved by the full RSAC that would prohibit certain unattended freight trains or standing freight cars on main track or sidings and require railroads to adopt and implement procedures to verify securement of trains and unattended equipment for emergency responders. It would also require locomotive cabs to be locked and reversers to be removed and secured. Railroads would also be required to obtain advance approval from FRA for locations or circumstances where unattended cars or equipment may be left.

The full RSAC also approved four recommendations of the Hazardous Materials Issues Working Group relating to identification, classification, operational control and handling of certain shipments. The four recommendations, directed to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), include amending or revising the definitions of “residue” and “key train,” and clarifying its regulatory jurisdiction over the loading, unloading and storage of hazmat before and during transportation. PHMSA continues to advance a rulemaking addressing the integrity of DOT Specification 111 tanker cars and the safe shipment by rail of flammable materials such as crude oil.

On Aug. 29, 2013, the first-ever emergency session of the RSAC was held in response to the July 6, 2013, derailment of an unattended Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway freight train containing crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. Building upon Foxx’s February agreement with the rail and petroleum industries, the FRA’s Emergency Order 28 and Safety Advisory 2013-06, PHMSA’s Operation Safe Delivery, Safety Alerts and a DOT Emergency Order, the three RSAC working groups reviewed existing regulations and standards to identify and mitigate the risks posed by such shipments and prevent future accidents.

“The unfortunate tragedy in Lac-Mégantic highlighted the need for sanity in intercity rail operations,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem. “Operating a long freight train through the communities that our industry serves with only one person on a crew is not only unsafe, but is also unsustainable.

“The safety improvements in our industry are directly linked to the training and certification of the two professionals on the locomotives and the other professional employees and their managers that are operating, repairing and maintaining our rail network throughout the United States. Our rail industry today is enjoying record profits, record productivity, and every stock broker is recommending a ‘buy’ on all railroad stocks. There is no argument that the current regulatory scheme in place today is a critical component of that productivity, and thus the high level of profitability.”

SMART TD delegates must attend both conventions - 4/4/2014

SMART TD delegates must attend both conventions

In the March issue of the SMART Transportation Division News, we celebrate the 100th birthday of former President Al Chesser, the very first elected president of the United Transportation Union. This is a remarkable achievement for a remarkable man! Brother Chesser’s history of commitment and dedication to this organization and all of organized labor is legendary and serves as an inspiration to all who are involved in today’s labor movement.

It was a pleasure to be able to attend this event in person and to extend my congratulations. We wish Al a very happy birthday, with many more to follow.

In prior columns, I have touched on the upcoming conventions for both the SMART Transportation Division and the SMART International. In order to keep our membership updated, I am summarizing here the information recently communicated to our SMART Transportation Division delegates.

All delegates to the SMART Transportation Division Convention from June 30 – July 2 in San Diego have been advised of the importance of attending both of this summer’s conventions and have been informed to also make arrangements to attend the SMART General Convention in Las Vegas from Aug. 11-15.

Any decisions or actions taken by delegates at the Transportation Division Convention with regard to proposed amendments to Article 21B of the SMART Constitution must be properly referred to the delegates at the SMART General Convention for handling before any proposed amendments can become effective. Additionally, all delegates attending the SMART General Convention will be acting upon all proposed constitutional changes properly submitted to the full SMART Constitution, including Article 21B.

Pursuant to Article 33, Sec. 1 (e), lines 19-20, a two-thirds majority of the delegates present at the SMART General Convention is required to enact such amendments.

All delegates properly seated at the Transportation Division Convention will also be seated as delegates at the SMART General Convention, and as such, it is absolutely imperative that they attend the SMART General Convention in order to properly cast their votes on any and all proposed SMART Constitution amendments.

If, for any reason, a local delegate is not able to attend the SMART General Convention in August, it is respectfully requested that measures be taken to allow for the alternate delegate to attend. If neither the delegate nor alternate delegate is able to attend both conventions, it may be necessary to elect a new delegate who will be able to attend both conventions. This will allow for consistent handling of all proposed amendments to Article 21B at the SMART General Convention, as well as making a local’s voice – and votes – count in the handling of all matters before the delegation.

I thank all local officers for their dedication to the organization and all delegates for taking the time to serve our membership at both the Transportation Division Convention and the SMART General Convention.

It is important to remember that the outcome of these conventions will be a constitution that will govern the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers for years to come. The responsibility of preserving the principles on which the organization was founded rests with the officers and delegates and depends on our full participation at both conventions.

More Americans see middle class status slipping - 4/3/2014

More Americans see middle class status slipping

WASHINGTON – A sense of belonging to the middle class occupies a cherished place in America. It conjures images of self-sufficient people with stable jobs and pleasant homes working toward prosperity.

Yet nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, more people are coming to the painful realization that they’re no longer part of it.

Read the complete story at the Associated Press.


SMART UTU Local 306

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YOUR Union Meetings are:

Eagle Grove - 2nd Wednesday of each Month; Godfather's Pizza at 8:00 pm

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