BLET NEWS FLASH
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, July 18 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) testified in favor of two-person train crews at a hearing convened by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on July 15, 2016, regarding the FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on train crew size.
Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman testified on behalf of the BLET. VP Tolman conveyed the BLET’s ongoing position that two-person crews are the safest and that new technology (such as Positive Train Control) should be implemented as an additional level of safety in support of the existing two-person crew structure. In other words, the technology should not be used to replace crew members, which is the polar opposite position of the rail management group that testified.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) testified about the heroic deeds of Geoff Andersen. Working with other train crew members, Brother Andersen, a member of BLET Division 69 (Grand Forks, N.D.), put himself in danger to mitigate the disaster of the derailment and subsequent explosions following the derailment of a BNSF oil train in Casselton, N.D., in December 2013. “The ability to mitigate such a potential catastrophe) simply would not have been possible with a single person working alone on a locomotive,” Vice President Tolman said.
Other witnesses of note were Barrington, Illinois, Village President (Mayor) Karen Darch and The Honorable Ron Harris, Executive Director of the Louisiana Municipal Association (LMA), which represents 303 cities, towns and villages in Louisiana.
President (Mayor) Darch testified about the safety and efficiency concerns of having trains block crossings that may need to be traversed by emergency personnel. Approximately 32,000 cars a day pass on one of the highways where a train crosses in her Illinois community. Harris claimed this also was a potential problem in Louisiana where there are 3,000 miles of rail line. The ability to cut cars to clear crossings is virtually impossible with a single person train crew.
VP Tolman expressed BLET’s growing frustration with the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR’s) assertion that not enough data exists regarding the safety of single-person crews. The only way to gather single-person crew data is for train crews and the public to assume the risk that is being offloaded by the railroads and onto them. AAR claims that since single person operational data does not exist, then FRA should either keep the status quo or allow single person or no person operations.
Ed Hamberger testified on behalf of the AAR. Also on AAR’s panel were a representative of CSX, a Vice President from the Indiana Railroad and a former George W. Bush administration official from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Hamberger testified that the NPRM fails in two ways; first, it does not adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act; and, second, that the lack of data should lead FRA to not move forward with regulation. Hamberger also claimed the issue was one best left up to collective bargaining. The idea that a lack of data exists was challenged by the public officials testifying, FRA, BLET and the other unions present.
The notion that collective bargaining alone would resolve the issue was also explained in greater detail. Both the BLET and the SMART Transportation Division expressed frustration regarding the concept that railroad workers should have to bargain away or trade safety for dollars. Safety is non-negotiable.
Underscoring a lack of knowledge of railroad operations, the AAR also made attempts to compare PTC technology with driverless cars and trucks, arguing that to mandate two-person crews would stifle the railroads’ ability to innovate and would lead to uncertainty. The BLET responded that PTC technology is not designed or mandated to take the place of a second crewmember or perform the same duties and functions.
“To compare freight trains with thousands of tons of weight that carry volatile and hazardous materials to a driverless car should embarrass the railroads,” VP Tolman said. “It frustrates train crews who know better.”
BLET stressed Class 1 railroad data and an analysis from Oliver Wyman points out that 531,000 — or 1 in 4 — trains experienced delays due to unplanned events in 2013 and that PTC technology would not resolve the causes of those delays.
The BLET also raised concerns regarding the problems of fatigue in the industry, poor crew lineups, and the human factors problems that can be introduced into the locomotive cab with the implementation of new technologies. The AAR did not acknowledge any of these critical safety issues during its testimony. There were no speakers other than the AAR panel who spoke in favor of single-person crews.