217.370.8505 cory@bletislb.org

Illinois State Legislative Board News Flashes

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  • April 29, 2009 WASHINGTON — The Senate late Wednesday, April 29, 2009 confirmed UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo to be the 13th administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. An informal oath-of-office ceremony is contemplated for Tuesday, May 5, allowing Szabo to take office immediately afterward. A more formal swearing-in ceremony will be held at a date to be announced.
  • April 16, 2009Is the new FRA Operating Procedures Rule in effect or not?
  • April 4, 2008Two new links have been added under the sleep tab to CBS Videos concerning The Science of Sleep. View the Sleep Page
  • March 28, 2007DM&I gets approval for federal loan. Read More.
  • March 13, 2009Transportation Security Association Final Rule 49 CFR Part 1580.107 takes effect on April 1, 2009.
  • June 3, 2008FRA to publish revised “Final Rule” for human factor accident prevention FRA-CFR Part 218 Subpart F BLET comments along with the final rule have been added to the documents page of this web site.
  • February 16, 2008FRA issues final rule on Human Factor Caused Accidents – Click here for overview of the final rule.
  • November 15, 2007Photo’s of Canadian National Railroad Remote Control accident on November 6, 2007 have been added to the Remote Control page on this web site. View Photos
  • August 3, 2007Rail security bill becomes law. Click here to read the message from national legislative chairman Tolman.
  • March 8, 2007Amtrak posts double-digit ridership growth on Illinois, Acela Express trains. Read More
  • March 8, 2007Supreme court upholds rail labor’s position on flea. Read More
  • March 8, 2007Amtrak considers restoring service between Chicago and Dubuque. Read More
  • January 23, 2007TSA set to improve the tracking of hazardous material. Read More
  • January 22, 2007Locomotive theft ignites rail security push in Ohio. Read More
  • January 12, 2007H.R. 5483 – Railroad retirement disability earnings act has been signed by President G. W. Bush and is now law


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  • January 5, 2007Illinois joins Midwest Interstate Rail Compact.Read More
  • December 9, 2006HR 5483 Cleared the Senate by voice vote on December 9th. This bill passed the house in September. When it is signed by President Bush and becomes law it will increase the out-side earning limitation from the present $400/month to $700/month and this amount will automatically increase to match any increases in the out-side earning limitations for Social Security.
  • October 26, 2006The American Association of Railroads launches an attack on railroad retirement legislation that would benefit disabled railroads Read More
  • October 8, 2006To see a video of Secretary of Homeland Security; Michael Chertoff’s interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, concerning terrorism and his comments on Railroad Security
  • June 13, 2006An Amendment that was offered by Rep. LaTourette, R-OH and Rep. Oberstar, D-MN to HR 5576 was adopted by a vote of 266-158. This bill increases funding for Amtrak from the Administration’s proposal of $900 million to $1.114 billion.
  • April 20, 2006NTSB releases safety recommendations on sleep. Read More
  • April 6, 2006Copy of letter from national carriers conference to unions negotiating for national contract. Read More
  • April 6, 2006National Railway Labor Conference Propaganda Website. Read More
  • March 5, 2006Bill Before Illinois House to add more Amtrak service to Illinois. Click here for a .pdf copy of the bill.
  • January 31, 2006BLET and UTU warn of rail safety concerns. Read More
  • January 30, 2006BLET and UTU to work together to protect jobs, safety and railroad retirementRead More
  • December 1, 2005Bush, In reversal, clears $1.3B in aid to Amtrak. Read More
  • April 13, 2005Remote Control Claims Another Victim Read More
  • HIGH ALERT: Teamsters warn of security gaps on nations railroads.


Railroad Retirement Board Announces Increase

October 2006Most railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, are scheduled to increase in January 2007 on the basis of the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) during the 12 months preceding October 2006.

Cost-of-living increases are calculated in both the tier I and tier II benefits included in a railroad retirement annuity. Tier I benefits, like social security benefits, will increase by 3.3 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will increase by 1.1 percent, which is 32.5 percent of the CPI rise. The vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board are not adjusted for the CPI rise.

In January 2007, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $48 a month to $1,876 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $65 a month to $2,622. For those aged widow(er)s eligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $29 a month to $994. However, widow(er)s whose annuities are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 will not receive annual cost-of-living adjustments until their annuity amount is exceeded by the amount that would have been paid under prior law, counting all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable. Almost 31 percent of the widow(er)s on the Board’s rolls are being paid under the 2001 law.

If a railroad retirement or survivor annuitant also receives a social security or other government benefit, such as a public service pension or another railroad retirement annuity, the increased tier I benefit is reduced by the increased government benefit. However, tier II cost-of-living increases are not reduced by increases in other government benefits. If a widow(er) whose annuity is being paid under the 2001 law is also entitled to an increased government benefit, her or his railroad retirement survivor annuity may decrease.

However, the total amount of the combined railroad retirement widow(er)’s annuity and other government benefits will not be less than the total payable before the cost-of-living increase and before increased Medicare premium deductions.

For most beneficiaries covered by Medicare, the standard Part B premium generally deducted from monthly benefits increases from $88.50 to $93.50 in 2007.

In late December the Railroad Retirement Board will mail notices to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2007.

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board

Public Affairs – 312-751-4777
844 North Rush Street – 312-751-7154 (fax)
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2092

Working Conditions for Train Crews to Improve with new Federal Regulations to Help Prevent Hearing Loss

October 27, 2006WASHINGTON — Train crews will be less likely to suffer problems with hearing loss as the result of revised federal standards aimed to enhance the safety and well being of railroad employees by limiting locomotive cab noise, announced Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman.

“Locomotive engineers, conductors, and other rail employees shouldn’t have to run the risk of hearing loss just for doing their jobs,” said Boardman, noting that the final rule on Occupational Noise Exposure for Railroad Operating Employees is published in today’s Federal Register. “Reducing noise will safeguard train crews and can help improve overall rail safety,” he added.

Boardman explained that the final rule will directly affect approximately 80,000 rail employees and amends existing federal noise standards to require that railroads perform routine noise monitoring and provide training to employees in hearing loss prevention. In addition, train crews are required to use hearing protection.

The final rule also requires the integration of noise reduction features into the design, manufacturing and maintenance of locomotives, Boardman said. This includes standards for better insulation, relocation of air brake exhaust piping, and a reduction in vibration from cab equipment. Some of these features are already being incorporated into newer locomotives.

Also, FRA strongly believes these changes will reduce the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss, which may improve train crew communication as well as reduce the risk of accidents caused by occupational stress and fatigue, said Boardman.

FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), a consensus oriented rulemaking body comprising representatives of the railroad industry, rail labor, manufacturers, suppliers and others, examined the issue of occupational noise exposure and recommended the new standards. In developing the final rule, FRA incorporated comments from many interested parties, including locomotive engineers, audiologists, and rail labor organizations.

Senator Durbin praises pact that will allow Amtrak expansion

October 28, 2006SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Amtrak and Canadian National Railway Co. have reached an agreement that will allow expanded passenger service across Illinois to begin next week as scheduled.

CN will let Amtrak use its tracks as required under a deal reached in July, officials said Friday. But Amtrak has agreed to a one-year study of whether its passenger trains interfere with CN’s freight service. If they do, the Amtrak schedule could be adjusted.

“Canadian National had to live up to their agreement, and Amtrak and the state of Illinois had to be a little sensitive to their business concerns,” Sen. Dick Durbin said during a news conference at the Springfield train station.

Amtrak President Alexander Kummant said in a statement, “We’re pleased that CN’s leadership has made it possible to move forward.”

CN said its concerns “have been addressed, to the mutual benefit of both Amtrak’s passengers and CN’s customers.”

None of the parties would provide further details.

Starting Monday, Amtrak will offer more passenger service on routes between Chicago and St. Louis, Carbondale and Quincy. The additional service is subsidized by $24 million from the state of Illinois.

Because Amtrak does not own railroad tracks, it must negotiate deals with railroad companies to use their tracks.

But CN, after reaching the original deal with Amtrak, began to balk and threatened to withhold access to the Carbondale and St. Louis routes. Service to Quincy would not have been affected, an Amtrak spokesman said.

Most of Illinois’ congressional delegation signed a letter urging CN to work with Amtrak. Gov. Rod Blagojevich also wrote CN to say that disrupting Amtrak service would hurt the state.

Durbin — the Senate’s second-highest ranking Democrat — said CN and Amtrak reached the compromise Thursday.

“If we had not reached this agreement, I’m afraid we would have been headed to court today,” Durbin said, adding that he is confident Amtrak would have prevailed.

Nearly 1 million passengers used Amtrak lines subsidized by the state last year, a 12.5 percent increase that reached a new record for total passengers.

Railroad Retirement Benefits

July 26, 2008Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I am pleased to have introduced the Railroad Retirement Technical Improvement Act that would ensure that the Department of the Treasury continues to distribute retirement benefits rather than a nongovernmental disbursing agent. This legislation is similar to a bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman DON YOUNG of Alaska. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, which will continue to allow our Nation’s retired railroad employees to securely receive the benefits for which they have worked so hard.

The Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 calls for a nongovernmental financial institution to replace the Treasury Department as the disbursing agent of retirement benefits. While I have consistently supported greater efficiency in government by allowing the private sector a greater role in providing some services, I believe that further analysis of this issue has shown that the Treasury Department is the most efficient and secure conduit to distribute these important benefits.

While the Treasury Department has a long track record of disbursing checks on a massive scale, very few private disbursing agents would have the ability to handle this load at the same costs incurred by the Treasury. It has been estimated that the average cost of using a nongovernmental benefit disbursing agent would total $2.9 million each year. In contrast, having the Treasury maintain its role as disbursing agent would only cost $800,000 annually, a $2.1 million annual savings.

In addition to the fiscal concerns that have arisen regarding transferring disbursing responsibilities for benefits, identity theft is a looming threat because of the need to transfer personal information of private individuals from the Treasury Department to the private sector. The specter of this threat is growing, and I do not believe our Nation’s retirees should be concerned with who may have access to their personal information.

A benefit in addition to cost savings and security is that unlike a private vendor, the Treasury Department has the ability to use debt collection tools such as withholding tax refunds that are not available to the private sector. The Treasury Department’s ability to make collections on overpaid benefits is easier, cheaper, and more efficient than having a private sector agent make the same collections.

The advantages of securing benefits for our retired railroad workers and saving taxpayer dollars are obvious. The maintenance of these benefits under the realm of the Treasury Department is a cost-efficient and secure means of distributing benefits, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

Amtrak Chief Executive Officer and President David Gunn presented with the unanimous approval of the Amtrak Board of Directors a plan to the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation of the full Senate Commerce Committee called “Strategic Reform Initiative” which calls for an appropriation of $1.8 billion with the provision that several reforms are put in place. Some of these reforms include:

Changes to the Railway Labor Act for Amtrak only that would let Amtrak terminate agreements at the end of a term allowing management to impose new terms and unions to exercise self-help (Strike).

Place all new employees in Social Security.

Have the Federal Government assume $3.8 billion in debt thereby removing the need for nearly $300 million in annual funding to railroad retirement.

You can do a search of the above document using the key words “railway labor” and “retirement” to bring up the above referenced items.

Amtrak’s board of directors consists of the following 5 members:

  • Mr. David L. Gunn
    President & CEO
  • Mr. Floyd Hall
  • Mr. David M. Laney, Esq.
    Chairman of the Board
  • The Honorable Norman Mineta
    Secretary of Transportation
  • Mr. Enrique Sosa

All five members of Amtrak’s Board were appointed by President Bush. The board is chaired by Mr. David M. Laney who was formerly the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Transportation under then Governor George W. Bush.