INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 26 — The need for proper infrastructure funding was a key point for Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman as he delivered testimony on behalf of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) before Congress today in Washington, D.C. Vice President Tolman’s testimony also touched upon the need to address rail worker fatigue and maintain important rail safety regulations.
Vice President Tolman testified before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials at a hearing titled: “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: The State of Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials Safety Regulations and Opportunities for Reform.”
Regarding infrastructure, Vice President Tolman said, “The people want, need and deserve better and safer infrastructure. We should have the best airports, rail systems and freeways in the world. It was exciting during the presidential campaign to hear candidate Trump offer the idea of a big infrastructure project for the U.S. The public will is there, and the political will must address the needs of the people.”
The lack of proper infrastructure funding has had a major negative impact on rail commuters, especially those along the East Coast as evidenced by the recent slowdowns resulting from delayed infrastructure repairs at Penn Station.
“Tunnels are being used to carry passenger trains into and out of New York City that were built in the early 1900s,” Tolman said. “Penn Station in New York is forced to handle three times as many trains as it was designed to accommodate. And every day three railroads, scores of employers, and hundreds of thousands of commuters cross their fingers that this won’t be the day that infrastructure fails in a catastrophic way.”
He warned Congress about the dangers of over-reliance on public-private partnerships to solve the infrastructure funding problem, and instead urged both political parties to work together to develop a bipartisan approach to infrastructure improvement.
“The story of the growth of our Nation — the expansion of 13 eastern seaboard states from sea to shining sea — is the story of infrastructure,” Tolman said. “It is the story of inland waterways, like the Erie Canal, and the Transcontinental Railroad… But lately we have lost our way. Bipartisan transportation and infrastructure goals that have been shared for a century and a half have fallen victim to the paralysis of ideology… This is the politics of being pennywise and dollar foolish.
“The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has a long history of being bipartisan for the safety and good of the travelling public and our nation’s economy. Let’s get the transportation system moving into the 21st Century … let’s buy American products … let’s put tens of thousands of underemployed Americans back to work … and let’s build the transportation infrastructure that will equal what our forefathers created.”
A railroad can build and maintain world class infrastructure, but if the issue of fatigue on the nation’s railroads is not addressed in a serious and fundamental way, then catastrophic accidents will not cease, Tolman said.
“Technology can help with the problem, but technologies such as Positive Train Control (PTC) alone will not solve the problem,” he said. “Further, PTC has not been designed to be an answer to over-worked train crews who toil around the clock with unpredictable on-duty times. Crews on freight trains rarely go to work at the same time on any two days in a row. Despite not having any routine sleep/rest cycles in their daily lives, railroad workers also face a never-ending push by the nation’s rail carriers to work longer hours and be away from home for longer periods of time or face the risk of being dismissed.”
In addition to PTC, Vice President Tolman testified that electronic controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes represent another technology that could help make the rail industry safer.
“Conventional brakes in use today are a technology that is 150 years old. They work, but clearly there is newer and better technology available that can slow and stop trains up to 70% faster,” Tolman said. “ECP brakes on every car can be monitored in real time. ECP brakes also all apply on each car at the same instant, making it easier and more efficient to stop trains more quickly and more safely in the event of an emergency.”
In terms of rail safety regulations, Tolman warned the Committee members against waiving existing regulations based on cost-benefit analyses, stressing that all stakeholders currently participate in revising rail safety regulations through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee process.
Tolman went on to say that the industry’s push to waive safety regulations regarding the testing of train brakes by qualified personnel in favor of track side detectors is an example of an anti-regulatory move that would make the industry less safe.
“The detectors can be a helpful tool when used in conjunction with regular inspections, but there is no evidentiary safety basis for their use as a replacement for physical inspections performed by qualified car inspectors,” Tolman said. “The history of the railroad industry demonstrates clearly that you can’t deregulate your way to an improved infrastructure.
“When I entered the industry over 45 years ago, one of the first things I was told is that every safety law, each safety regulation and all operating rules were written in blood … that their origin was in some accident that cost railroad workers their limbs or their lives. And my experience as a locomotive engineer proved the truth of that statement to me.
“But we strongly reject the notion that regulatory reviews should be predicated upon a simple mathematical cost/benefit analysis. Such a narrow view reduces the lives and limbs of our members to merely the cost of doing business, and places the human, natural citizen in a position of permanent inferiority to the judicially-created, artificial corporate citizen.”
In addition to Vice President Tolman, additional witnesses included: Linda B. Darr, President, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association; Roger Nober Executive Vice President, Law and Corporate Affairs BNSF Railway; Paul Rankin President, Reusable Industrial Packaging Association (on behalf of the Interested Parties for hazardous materials transportation; Robin Rorick, Group Director of Midstream and Industry Operations American Petroleum Institute; and Donald J. Santa Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.
A copy of Vice President Tolman’s testimony can be found on the BLET website here: www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Tolman_Infrastructure.PDF
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