SMART - TD Local 306

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


Senate Commerce Committee approves rail reforms - 7/1/2015

Senate Commerce Committee approves rail reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation June 25, on a voice vote, approved the bipartisan “Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act,” sponsored by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), with seven amendments. The measure improves rail safety, reauthorizes Amtrak services and improves existing passenger rail infrastructure. It also leverages private sector investment, empowers states and cuts red tape to make critical infrastructure dollars go further.

“Senator Wicker and Sen. Booker worked hard to build a bipartisan consensus on the way forward for safer and more reliable passenger rail service following the tragic derailment of Amtrak 188,” said Commerce Committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “First and foremost, this legislation enhances safe travel by helping implement Positive Train Control technology, grade crossing improvements, requiring inward facing cameras to monitor crews on passenger trains and other safety measures. The committee’s vote puts passenger rail service on a more sustainable course by focusing resources on the most critical infrastructure improvements, streamlining burdensome processes to accelerate project delivery and demanding more accountability in Amtrak’s accounting structure and investment decisions.”

The legislation authorizes Amtrak for the next four years at an average $1.65 billion a year. Additionally, $570 million in grant funding is authorized every year, highlighted by a grant program that consolidates previous separate, siloed authorizations into a streamlined, competitive program. These competitive grants would go toward programs related to capital improvements, alleviating rail congestion, improving grade crossings, implementing Positive Train Control and other safety and infrastructure projects.

Highlights of S. 1626, as amended and approved by the committee:

Enhancing Safety

  • Positive Train Control – Advances deployment of Positive Train Control technology by authorizing grants and prioritizing loan applications to support its implementation.
  • Inward Facing Cameras – Building on voluntary efforts by Amtrak, the bill requires all passenger railroads to install inward-facing cameras to more effectively monitor train crews and to improve accident investigations.
  • Grade crossings – Requires grade crossing action plans to facilitate and improve state grade crossing safety efforts through engineering, education and enforcement.
  • Speed limit enforcement – Requires speed limit action plans to require all passenger railroads to evaluate high-risk track segments and address automatic train control modifications, crew communication and other speed enforcement issues. This measure is complemented by other requirements for signage and alerters.
  • Close call reporting – Encourages the use of confidential close call reporting system programs to identify hazards before they lead to accidents.
  • Focusing resources on safety – Consolidates existing grant programs to focus resources on the most critical safety and infrastructure improvements.
  • Indexing the liability cap to inflation – Adjusts passenger rail liability cap for inflation from its 1997 level, from $200 to $295 million, adjusts it every 10 years for inflation, and applies the revised cap to the Amtrak accident on May 12, 2015.

A Sustainable Course for Passenger Rail

  • Leveraging competition – Requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to solicit and facilitate competition from carriers other than Amtrak to improve service and reduce subsidy costs.
  • TRAIN Act – Includes provisions offered Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in the TRAIN Act (S. 769) to streamline the permitting process for rail improvements to cut red tape on critical infrastructure projects.
  • Reliable business metrics – Requires Amtrak to develop methodologies for determining what routes and services it should provide.
  • Fiscally sustainable routes – Establishes a working group for the restoration of passenger rail service east of New Orleans and creates a competitive grant program for fiscally-sustainable routes, potentially including the restoration of service abandoned after Hurricane Katrina.

Improving the Northeast Corridor

  • Separating Amtrak’s business accounts – Reforms Amtrak by requiring the separation of business line accounts, facilitating greater re-investment in Amtrak infrastructure, including the Northeast Corridor.
  • Greater role for states – Gives states greater say in infrastructure planning and improvements on the Northeast Corridor and with state-supported routes.
  • Private sector investment opportunities – Includes provisions from Sen. Booker’s Railroad Infrastructure Financing Improvement Act (S. 797) to make the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program faster and more flexible. With changes from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill), the bill would better leverage private sector investment, including through public-private partnerships, while simultaneously protecting taxpayer interests. The reforms have the potential to accelerate major projects such as new Hudson River tunnels or improving rail service and stations in and around Chicago and other areas served by rail. In addition, S. 1626 solicits private sector proposals to enhance economic development of rail stations and increase commercial opportunities for railroad right-of-way.

Sharing the rails with freight

  • Crude-by-rail – Strengthens crude-by-rail safety standards by requiring thermal blankets under tank car jackets to reduce the risk of rupture in a collision or derailment, closing a potential loophole in DOT regulations. The reforms also improve emergency response by requiring real-time information on the locations and contents of trains carrying hazardous materials.
  • Study and Testing of ECP Brake Technology – While installation of new electronically-controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes moves forward, the bill requires real-world testing by the National Academies and a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on pilot program testing. The provision requires DOT to consider the results of this testing and study.

Click here for text of the bill as introduced by Sens. Booker and Wicker.

Click below for amendments adopted by the committee:

Blumenthal amendment 4

Daines amendment 1

Klobuchar amendment 1

Peters amendment 1

Thune amendment 1 with Blumenthal second-degree amendment 1, and Manchin second-degree amendment 2.

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Long-term disability open enrollment begins June 29 - 6/27/2015

Long-term disability open enrollment begins June 29

Beginning June 29, 2015 through August 31, 2015 an open enrollment period will be available for Transportation Division members to enroll in the new Voluntary Long-Term Disability (VLTD) Plan.

Members will have two options for enrollment into the VLTD plan. Part “A” allows the member to purchase coverage to protect their income should they become disabled after a 238 day elimination period with a monthly benefit of 50 percent of salary to a maximum benefit of $7,000. Part “B” contains the same 238 day elimination period, but offers a monthly benefit of 60 percent of salary up to a maximum benefit of $7,000. Additionally, members will have the option of combining one of the above options for the VLTD with the Short Term Disability (VSTD) plan or elect the VLTD plan on its own.

It is important to note that members who have previously opted out of the VSTD plan are eligible to enroll with no pre-existing condition restrictions during this enrollment period.

For members who are currently enrolled in the short-term disability plan (VSTD) and are not seeking coverage in the long-term disability plan (VLTD), no action is required at this time.

It is recommended that members review the detailed FAQs to gather more information on the plan offerings and eligibility requirements. Additional questions should be directed to your regional field supervisor (contacts) or to the VLTD hotline at (866)-753-3632.

Rail VLTD FAQ
Rail VLTD Enrollment Form

Bus VLTD FAQ
Bus VLTD Enrollment Form

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FRA: the state of PTC implementation in the U.S. - 6/26/2015

FRA: the state of PTC implementation in the U.S.

Washington, D.C. – Sarah Feinberg, acting director of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), addressed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure concerning the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) June 24, 2015. Her speech follows.

“PTC technology is arguably the single-most important railroad safety development in more than a century. The technology is not new though – elements of PTC have existed since the early 20th century. In fact, regulators and safety advocates have been calling on the rail industry to implement some form of PTC for many decades.

“The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required the current functionality of Positive Train Control to be fully implemented by December 31, 2015. PTC is required on Class I railroad main lines where any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported. It is also required on any railroad’s main line where regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service is conducted.

“Following passage of the PTC mandate in 2008, railroads submitted their PTC Implementation Plans in 2010 – these plans laid out a path forward that would allow each railroad to meet the deadline.

“As I have stated to this committee before: safety is the Federal Railroad Administration’s top priority. The rail system is not as safe as it could be without the full implementation of PTC. A safe rail system requires the full implementation of Positive Train Control. And that’s why FRA will enforce the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline for implementation, just as Congress mandated.

“For several years, FRA has been sounding the alarm that most railroads have not made sufficient progress in implementing PTC.

“In the seven years since passage of the PTC mandate, FRA has dedicated significant resources and worked closely with the railroad industry in order to assist and guide implementation. The FRA has:

  • Hired staff to assist and oversee the implementation of PTC;
  • Worked directly with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve spectrum issues and improve the approval process related to PTC communication towers;
  • Built a PTC system test bed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.;
  • Provided approximately $650 million in grant funds to support PTC implementation. This includes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants as well as Amtrak grants and other annual appropriations;
  • Requested $825 million to assist commuter railroads for the last two years;
  • Issued a $967-million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter railroad.

“I have also established a new PTC Task Force Team within FRA – that team is aggressively managing and monitoring each individual railroads’ progress, tracking data, ensuring we have the most accurate and up-to-date information and reporting in to me multiple times per week. This team is working in close collaboration with the many individuals at FRA, based here in Washington and in offices around the country, already working on this challenge.

“But, unfortunately, despite FRA’s financial support, technical assistance and warnings to Congress, many railroads have stated publicly that they will still not meet the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline.

“Recently, FRA received updated information about PTC implementation from 32 of the 38 railroads that we are currently tracking for enforcement purposes. Initial analysis indicates that Class I railroads have:

  • Completed or partially completed installations of approximately 50 percent of the locomotives that require PTC equipment;
  • Deployed approximately 50 percent of wayside units;
  • Replaced approximately 50 percent of signals that need replacement; and
  • Completed most of the required mapping for PTC tracks.

“By the end of 2015, AAR projects that:

  • 39 percent of locomotives will be fully equipped;
  • 76 percent of wayside interface units will be installed;
  • 67 percent of base station radios will be installed; and
  • 34 percent of required employees will be trained.

“According to APTA, 29 percent of commuter railroads are targeting to complete installation of PTC equipment by the end of 2015. Full implementation of PTC for all commuter lines is projected by 2020.

“FRA continues our work to finalize an enforcement strategy for those railroads that will miss the deadline. As with any regulatory enforcement posture, our ultimate goal is to bring all railroads into compliance as quickly and as safely as possible.

“Starting on January 1, 2016, FRA will impose penalties on railroads that have not fully implemented PTC. Fines will be based on FRA’s PTC penalty guidelines, which establish different penalties depending on the violation. There are many potential violations, such as:

  • $15,000 to $25,000 fine for failure to equip locomotives

“The penalties may be assessed per violation, per day and may be raised or lowered depending on mitigating or aggravating factors.

“The total amount of penalty each railroad faces will depend upon the amount of implementation progress the railroad has made.

“FRA will also use additional, appropriate enforcement tools to ensure railroads implement PTC on the fastest schedule possible – be it emergency orders, compliance orders, compliance agreements, additional civil penalties or any other tools at our disposal.

“FRA is also planning for what will come after the Jan. 1 deadline. In both 2014 and 2015, the Department and FRA asked Congress to provide FRA with additional authorities that would address the safety gap that will exist on many railroads between Jan. 1, 2016 and each railroad’s full PTC implementation.

“These additional authorities would provide FRA with the ability to review, approve and require interim safety measures for individual railroads that may fail to meet the PTC deadline. These interim safety requirements would be to ensure railroads are forced to raise the bar on safety if they miss the PTC deadline – but will not and cannot be used to replace or extend the deadline.

“In conclusion, I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to this Committee for its attention and focus on achieving full PTC implementation as efficiently and quickly as possible. We look forward to working with this Committee to improve our programs and make the American rail network safer, more reliable and more efficient.”

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PTC, two-person crews necessary after Amtrak tragedy - 6/12/2015

PTC, two-person crews necessary after Amtrak tragedy

By John Previsich, SMART Transportation Division President

We are all aware of the recent incident that occurred on Amtrak Train 188 in Philadelphia. Three of our conductor Brothers and Sisters from Local 1370 in New York City and the engineer operating the locomotive have had their lives forever changed by a tragedy that could have been prevented. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Akida Henry, Thomas O’Brien, Emilio Fonseca and everyone who lost their lives or were injured in the May 12 derailment.

The accident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Members of the SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team were dispatched to the site of the catastrophic derailment to assist in the investigation. Significant progress has been made in understanding how and why the accident occurred and that investigation is continuing. It is our policy to not comment on the outcome of an ongoing investigation and we will leave that discussion for a later date.

We are, however, compelled to comment on a number of issues raised in the national discussion after the accident. The installation of Positive Train Control and its value in accident prevention has been placed front and center in the dialogue. While our Organization strongly supports the installation of PTC as a safety enhancement, we must comment that PTC is a safety overlay to the other measures that are necessary for a safe rail operation. PTC can be a valuable tool in helping to ensure safe operation of a train according to what is supposed to happen, but it is of little or no value in addressing issues that aren’t supposed to happen; i.e., pedestrian or vehicular intrusions into the right-of-way, broken or faulty rail or railhead, sudden incapacitation of the employee operating the train and other anomalies that will continue to occur with or without PTC.  Some in the rail industry even claim that PTC will permit locomotives traveling at high speeds, routinely hauling hazardous materials, to be safely operated by a single crew member. This claim is fiction. One need only look at the Chatsworth incident, Metro North and the tragic 2013 train wreck in Lac-Mégantic, where a train leveled an entire town in Quebec, to see the risks associated with operating trains with single-person crews.

The ongoing dialogue includes discussion of inward-facing cameras in locomotive cabs. While inward-facing cameras may be of interest after an accident occurs, they will do nothing to prevent tragedies like the one we saw in Philadelphia. It is only natural to want to know every detail that occurs during an accident. However, locomotives already incorporate sophisticated event recorders that record the actions of train crews. The recorder measures speed, throttle, amperage, whistle and bell, application of the brakes, location, operation of head lights, ditch lights, etc. The data collected are routinely used by the NTSB and FRA to pinpoint the cause of accidents, and have already provided important information about this terrible incident. Inward-facing cameras add little additional information to that already available and in fact may be counter-productive due to the intrusive and unnecessary distraction caused by their use.

Many who promote the increased use of video surveillance in locomotives have good intentions, but rail transportation safety will continue to be impaired until Congress adopts a serious reform agenda that addresses crew staffing, work schedules and chronic fatigue. Focusing on implementation of technology that might make it easier to investigate accidents or monitor employee behavior merely diverts the conversation from meaningful safety reform. No one should believe that inward-facing cameras are the answer to the multiple safety challenges faced by the industry. There is no technology that can ever safely replace a second crewmember in the cab. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains operate along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. All such employees must be given a predictable work schedule with adequate time away from work to properly mitigate the chronic fatigue inherent in the industry.

Allowing discussion of inward-facing cameras and PTC to divert policy makers from addressing other much more meaningful rail safety reforms would be a mistake. Employees know the real culprits that undermine rail safety include chronic fatigue, chaotic and unpredictable work schedules, trains being operated with a single crewmember in the locomotive cab – a situation that if not present would have prevented the Philadelphia accident – and delays in implementing life-saving measures such as predictable work schedules. No amount of PTC or surveillance cameras can make up for the lack of well-rested, properly-staffed operating crews.

It is time for Congress to get serious and advance legislation that will have a meaningful impact on the true safety issues in our industry. It is only through such action that we will reduce the occurrence of preventable rail accidents and save lives.

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BLET/SMART TD statement on Positive Train Control, crew size following fatal Amtrak derailment in Ph - 5/19/2015

BLET/SMART TD statement on Positive Train Control, crew size following fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia

(The following is a joint statement by Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division, regarding questions that have arisen since the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015.)

CLEVELAND, May 19 — Members of BLET’s Safety Task Force and SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team, in addition to representatives from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference (BMWED), are working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to assist in the investigation of the catastrophic May 12 derailment of Amtrak Train 188. 

Significant progress has been made in understanding how the accident occurred on May 12. That portion of the investigation is not yet complete, however, and even more work needs to be done to determine why the events of that tragic night transpired the way they did.

BLET and SMART TD do not make official comments about any ongoing NTSB investigation. Due to the number of press inquiries concerning issues not under investigation, however, we are providing the following information on why Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor are manned by a lone engineer in the control cab and why Positive Train Control (PTC) has not been installed on the Corridor.  The answers to both questions begin with the United States Congress. 

Why a One-Person Train Crew?
In 1981, Congress passed legislation (the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981) that ended the previous Conrail requirement that there be a second crew member in the control cab of commuter rail trains on the Northeast Corridor.  Armed with that legislative precedent — and mindful of where its funding originates — Amtrak has since 1983 refused to crew Northeast Corridor trains with more than one employee in the cab – the locomotive engineer.  Although BLET and SMART TD have steadfastly maintained that there should be two crew members in the cab of all trains to ensure public safety, only Congress can change the 1981 legislation that reduced crew size on the Northeast Corridor.   But this is only one piece of a very large, complex puzzle.

Why No Positive Train Control?
On the heels of another catastrophic railroad accident in Chatsworth, Calif., the federal government mandated in 2008 that Positive Train Control (PTC) be put in effect by the end of this year.  That was seven years ago. Even with that mandate in place, and with the exception of some railroads such as BNSF Railway, the industry at large has spent the interim finding reasons to avoid implementing PTC technology. They have created the situation about which they all now complain — they say they cannot meet the December 31, 2015 deadline.  Each death caused by the delay of PTC implementation is one too many, yet Congress is preparing to consider a blanket 5-year extension to 2020.  This is most certainly not in the public interest. 

Since 2005, the NTSB has completed 16 investigations of railroad accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated with PTC. These 16 accidents claimed 52 lives — many being BLET and SMART TD members — and injured 942 people, with damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. NTSB has publicly stated that the accident on May 12, 2015 was also PTC preventable. There is no disagreement over the value of PTC technology.

That said, there is no technology available today that can ever safely replace a second crew member in the cab of the locomotive.  The only thing on a locomotive that is not a machine is the crew. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains are operated along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. PTC is only a safety overlay that ensures a safer operation, and no technology can replace the level of safety provided when two crew members are on board and can serve as a check and balance to one another.

Even with all the safety-related technology that the government has mandated on commercial airlines, the public would never accept an airline operation with a single person in the cockpit. There is no reason that rail employees and rail passengers’ lives should be viewed any differently.

Contrary to what some in government may say, the only place that crew size and PTC do connect is when it comes to funding. That is especially true in the case of Amtrak, because the government has woefully underfunded Amtrak since its inception. Additional crew members and new technology both cost money, and so long as those in Congress see fit to underfund the operation, they undermine their own mandate and shortchange the safety of the traveling public.  

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SMART UTU Local 306

 

 

Mason City July 15 meeting offers open discussions with Local Chairmen, Designated Legal Counsel and UTUIA Insurance Reps from 1300 - 1930 at Mason City West Park - this allows those working any shift to attend - regular business meeting follows.  All members are invited and encouraged to attend .

 

No job is so important, no service is so urgent that we cannot take the time to perform our work safely!


Your Local Officers are here to protect you - help us all by calling when you need assistance!  Don't settle for the carrier's attitutude toward you - be involved!

 

YOUR Union Meetings are:

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

Mason City - 3rd Wednesday in January, April, July, October; Pizza Ranch at 7:30 pm

Sioux City - 2nd Tuesday in March, June, September, December; Ramada Inn at 11:00

 

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