In September, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded SMART-TD $602,227.35 to get members the training they need to safely perform their duties as railroad professionals.

The award was granted through FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. This is the first award of its kind to a rail labor organization and a clear indication from FRA Administrator Amit Bose and the Biden administration that they view SMART-TD as a true partner in the mission to improve rail safety — and as a union with innovative ideas and plans worth investing in.

SMART-TD has proactively provided tools such as SMART University to help enhance organizational training opportunities for our members and officers at every level of our organization. In addition, our Regional Training Seminars bring educational opportunities closer to home for those who want to learn more about their union and the way the industry works. This grant will help provide the financial means to further expand these platforms to include job duty best practices and other safety-sensitive training.

The training project these federal dollars are going toward is known as Data Driven Safety Training and Education for Front-Line Railroad Workers. SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and his department, in collaboration with SMART-TD’s National Legislative Director Greg Hynes and Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity, will lead the charge as they aim to restructure the training rail workers receive.

“Every railroader has his or her own opinion on what needs to be done to fix the industry. But one thing all of us agree on is that the training programs are not even close to reflecting how dangerous or important rail jobs are,” Ferguson said.

He went on to frame the grant award as a vote of confidence in SMART’s ability to provide leadership in this arena.

“If I had to sum up my reaction, I would say that Department of Transportation (DOT) leadership and President Biden see the dangerous trajectory this industry is on. Training is fundamental to a safe workplace, not just for our members but for the public, too. The East Palestine disaster and the fact that there are more than three major derailments a day in this nation are a testament to the need for a fundamental change, and proof that the status quo is clearly not working. They recognize that there is a better solution by investing in SMART-TD and our vision of training.”

New-hire training for all Class I railroads has been in the crosshairs of FRA Administrator Bose in the past year as national focus on railroad safety intensifies. Bose has called for a complete audit of Norfolk Southern’s training program and has even gone as far as rejecting their program in its entirety and giving hard deadlines to redesign it from the ground up.

CSX has also had very public struggles with their training programs this year, including two trainee fatalities that prompted scrutiny from SMART-TD as well as the FRA. But as all our members know, the bare-bones training approach of the Class I railroads is not exclusive to any one carrier. Some of the freight carriers are participating in a race to the bottom by cutting corners, at the expense of training, to fill self-inflicted employment shortages as quickly as possible.

In addition to supplementing the training of our freight railroaders, this grant project is also tasked with providing our brothers and sisters on commuter and passenger rail with a heightened level of training in preventing assaults in their workspace.

“As our transit and commuter rail members know all too well, their carriers and agencies have failed to provide the operational changes and training necessary to keep our members safe. That is unacceptable. We take this seriously and know that more is required, especially as the assault rates continue to climb,” Cassity said. “With this grant, SMART-TD will once again pick up the slack for the gaps in the carriers’ training. If the companies can’t keep our people safe, we’re damn well going to do it ourselves.”

Finally, Ferguson made sure to acknowledge the efforts of SMART-TD Director of Administration Matt Dolin in winning the FRA grant.

“He deserves our thanks for securing this grant. He went above and beyond the call of duty to make this a reality,” Ferguson said. “When this program is all said and done, Matt’s efforts will have been leveraged into thousands of hours of safety training that would not have happened otherwise. There were a lot of moving parts in making this grant a reality, but Matt and his professionalism played a large role in realizing this funding.”

It’s easy to levy criticism at the training programs run by the railroad carriers in 2023. But as we all know, criticism is meaningless without action.

SMART Transportation Division is doing more than talking about the decline in the quality and quantity of training new hire railroaders receive. As leaders in rail labor, we work to arm ourselves with the tools needed to address training shortfalls rather than wait for the railroads to do the right thing.

Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded SMART-TD $602,227.35 to continue our mission to get our members the training they need to safely perform their duties as railroad professionals.

The award was granted through FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. This is the first award of its kind to a rail labor organization and a clear indication from FRA Administrator Amit Bose and the Biden administration that they view SMART-TD as a true partner in the mission to improve rail safety and a union with innovative ideas and plans worth investing in.

SMART-TD has proactively provided tools such as SMART University to help enhance organizational training opportunities for our members and officers at every level of our organization. In addition, our Regional Training Seminars bring educational opportunities closer to home for those who want to learn more about their union and the way the industry works. This grant will allow the financial means to further expand these platforms to include job duty best practices, and other safety sensitive training.  

The training project these federal dollars are going toward is known as the Data Driven Safety Training and Education for Front-Line Railroad Workers. Led by SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and his department, in collaboration with SMART-TD’s National Legislative Director Greg Hynes and Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity, they’re on a mission to restructure the role of training rail workers.

“Every railroader has his/her own opinion on what needs to be done to fix the industry. But one thing all of us agree on is that the training programs are not even close to reflecting how dangerous or important rail jobs are.” President Ferguson said. He went on to frame the grant award as a vote of confidence in SMART’s ability to provide leadership in this arena. “If I had to sum up my reaction, I would say that Department of Transportation (DOT) leadership and President Biden see the dangerous trajectory this industry is on. Training is fundamental to a safe workplace, not just for our members but for the public, too. The East Palestine disaster and the fact that there are more than three major derailments a day in this nation is a testament to the need for a fundamental change, and proof that the status quo is clearly not working. They recognize that there is a better solution by investing in SMART-TD and our vision of training.”

New-hire training for all Class I railroads has been in the crosshairs of FRA Administrator Amit Bose in the past year in conjunction with an intense national focus on railroad safety. Bose has called for a complete audit of Norfolk Southern’s training program and has even gone as far as rejecting their program in its entirety and giving hard deadlines to redesign it from the ground up.

CSX has had very public struggles with their training programs this year as well, including two trainee fatalities that prompted scrutiny from SMART-TD as well as the FRA. As all our members coast to coast know, the bare-bones training approach of the Class I railroads is not exclusive to any one carrier. Some of the freight carriers are participating in a race to the bottom by cutting corners, at the expense of training, to fill self-inflicted employment shortages as quickly as possible. 

In addition to supplementing the training of our members, this grant project is also tasked with providing our brothers and sisters on commuter and passenger rail a heightened level of training in preventing assaults in their workspace. As the grant proposal states in the project summary, -”

“As our transit and commuter rail members know all too well, their carriers and agencies have failed to provide the operational changes and training necessary to keep our members safe. That is unacceptable. We take this seriously and know that more is required, especially as the assault rates continue to climb,” Alt. Legislative Director Cassity said. “With this grant, SMART-TD will once again pick up the slack for the gaps in the carriers’ training. If the companies can’t keep our people safe, we’re damn well going to do it ourselves.”

SMART-TD is honored and excited to have this opportunity to work with FRA to take a greater level of control in the training regimen of our members. As the training is developed and rolled out, SMART-TD will keep you informed on the progress being made.

President Ferguson wanted to give special recognition for winning this grant to SMART-TD Director of Administration Matt Dolin. “He deserves our thanks for securing this grant. He went above and beyond the call of duty to make this a reality,” Ferguson said. “When this program is all said and done, Matt’s efforts will have been leveraged into thousands of hours of safety training that would not have happened otherwise. There were a lot of moving parts in making this grant a reality, but Matt and his professionalism played a large role in realizing this funding.”

For immediate release 
March 1, 2023 
Phone: (216) 228-9400  
Department email:news_td@smart-union.org   

“This legislation goes a long way toward protecting American families and communities while fortifying the rail industry to be sustainable and safe long into the future. The voices of SMART-TD’s brothers and sisters have been heard by these senators and are echoing through the halls of the United States Congress.” 

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (March 1, 2023) — Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART-TD), is calling for national support of The Railway Safety Act of 2023, a bipartisan bill that acknowledges the real-world conditions that shape the day-to-day safety concerns of the railroad workers who haul America’s freight.  

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have listened to the concerns of their constituents and put forward a comprehensive package in the Railway Safety Act that lives up to its billing — prioritizing the safety concerns expressed by the public and rail worker alike. In this bill, they give credence to the common-sense safety measures that our union and others in rail labor have advanced for years. 

“The provisions in this act add up to the end of the era of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) and attempt to take back control of our nation’s supply chain from Wall Street’s ‘profit at any cost’ mentality. It offers a chance for the nation to make the giant rail corporations take rational measures to get the industry to do what it’s designed to do — move freight through our nation safely and efficiently and be an example for the rest of the world to model,” President Ferguson said. “SMART-TD is proud to support this bill and its efforts to bring about generational changes in this country and to take a major step to stop PSR. We will work tirelessly with this team of like-minded Senators to realize their vision for a safer and stronger rail industry.” 

The safeguards offered in the bill include, but are not limited to: 

  • A nationwide mandate for well-trained two-person crews on all freight trains; 
  • Restrictions on train length and weight; 
  • Regulations on the installation, frequency, upkeep, and response to wayside defect detectors; 
  • Speed restrictions; 
  • Drastically increased fines for rail companies and management employees who do not adhere to rail safety protocols; 
  • Universalized track maintenance standards; 
  • Universalized rail-car maintenance standards; 
  • Higher standards for tank cars carrying hazardous material; 
  • Emergency response plans for carriers and communities; 
  • Phasing out of rail cars that do not meet strengthened safety requirements; 
  • Annual government audits of rail carriers to validate compliance to new heightened safety standards. 

“Hedge fund management of rail companies and their PSR strategy have careened the United States rail industry into a dark and dangerous place in the last six years. This bill has the potential to put safe operations into its rightful place as the gold standard in railroading and not what the next quarterly report can bring. We owe it to the people of East Palestine, Ohio, and to all communities that have railroad tracks running through them to have members of Congress do the right thing — to support this bill and insist that it makes it to President Biden’s desk without being watered down by negotiations or the special interests that will seek to stop it and claim that it is too ‘burdensome’ for a highly profitable industry to implement,” Ferguson continued.  

A recently released Ipsos-USA Today poll shows that 53% of Americans believe that strengthened rail industry safety regulations could have prevented the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. 

Read the text of the bill

Fact sheet about the bill

### 

SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees and airport personnel.

If you’re interested in speaking more about the Railway Safety Act of 2023, PSR, East Palestine, rail safety, and the next steps for the rail industry, we’d be happy to connect you with:  

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson 

President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mic., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Ferguson headed the recent national rail negotiations for the union with the nation’s rail carriers. 

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes 

Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019. Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007-2014. In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards. 

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity

Jared Cassity was elected by his peers in 2019 and currently serves as the Alternate National Legislative Director. In addition to his elected roles, Cassity has also been appointed as the union’s chief of safety, serves as the director for the SMART-TD National Safety Team (which assists the NTSB in major rail-related accident investigations), is SMART-TD’s voting member on the Federal Railroad Administration’s C3RS Steering Committee, and is the first and only labor member to ever be appointed to the Transportation Security Administration’s Surface Transportation Safety Advisory Committee. 

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity was a guest of The Rick Smith Show podcast released on Friday night.

In the interview, Smith and Alt. NLD Cassity discussed the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the role Precision Scheduled Railroading potentially played in causing it.

The interview clip will not only give insight on the disaster itself, but will help you provide answers when friends and family ask you how this occurred and whether they should be worried about this kind of accident happening on a main line near them.