CLEVELAND — The closing session of the SMART Transportation Division 2024 National Training Seminar recapped significant safety advancements driven by our railroad members over the last year.

The key to continuing those improvements is sharing safety concerns at every level. Several examples were presented at the seminar.

Officers in Minnesota won hours of service cap for yardmasters

TD President Jeremy Ferguson recognized Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich who, along with Alternate Vice President Christopher Bartz, pushed legislation to create hours-of-service limitations for yardmasters in the state.

Passed in May 2024, Minnesota became the first state to protect yardmasters from excessive fatigue and overwork. After listening to their members, and with evidence in hand, they were able to make a positive change. Their shifts in the tower are now capped at 12 hours.

“They were successful, and I want to thank them for a job well done in getting hours of service protections for our yardmasters,” Ferguson said.

The push for federal protection for yardmasters continues in Washington, D.C.

Railroad union and FRA continue working for C3RS

SMART-TD officers also were instrumental in getting a pilot program for the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) together on three Norfolk Southern properties — the first time in recent years that a Class I has committed to anonymous safety reporting.

After the East Palestine, Ohio, rail disaster, the Association of American Railroads committed its member railroads to take part in C3RS. Already routine for aviation workers, the anonymous reporting system is independently administered by NASA.

“They said they were in,” Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity said, but the carriers balked during discussions with the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). They wanted to keep the ability to punish their employees.

“So, we’ve not made a lot of headway,” Cassity said. “I am not going to stop our fight to pursue C3RS on Class Is across the country, and for every railroader, because the reality of it is the data’s there.”

Norfolk Southern’s pilot and BNSF, with its dispatchers and signal maintainers, are the two exceptions.

C3RS has been established on 31 freight and transit operations nationwide, with about one-third of those properties with SMART-TD representation. Passenger rail properties such as SEPTA, Metro North, MBTA and Amtrak, and a smattering of short lines are among the participants. As a result, those SMART-TD members can anonymously report incidents that could have resulted in an accident.

“It works in the aviation industry. They’ve had it for more than 40 years. We’ve had it for 20 years,” Cassity said. “It’s a proven product.”

Local union officers learn how to bring C3RS to their property

Rob Castiglione, staff director of safety partnerships and Liz Gross, legal counsel from the Federal Railroad Administration, outlined how to get a freight or passenger carrier to take part in C3RS.

FRA’s Rob Castiglione speaks during Day 3 of the National Training Seminar in Cleveland on July 11.

First, the local chairperson on smaller properties or general chairpersons on larger properties must reach a memorandum of understanding with carrier management. It’s not difficult, as FRA and labor set up a template in 2003.

“It’s important to get FRA involved early,” stressed Castiglione, who once served as an FRA inspector. “Once you start having conversations about what an agreement or an IMOU (initial memorandum of understanding) looks like, get us involved. We are a stakeholder — this is a tri-party agreement between labor, railroads and the FRA.”

Next, encourage union members to use the system. Unless people on properties with the program make reports, it won’t be useful.

“We can’t promote this program all by ourselves,” Castiglione said. “This program does not succeed if members do not participate. It really starts at the grassroots level with your local chairpersons. Some of those folks who work side by side — the engineers and conductors talk about this program and how it works.”

Finally, provide all the details in those reports. Sometimes it’s a struggle to collect usable information due to railroaders’ guarded nature, he said.

“Too often we get reports that lack sufficient detail for the peer review team to understand what the hell happened,” Castiglione said.

But NASA, which has handled close to 2 million reports since the program began, eliminates any personally identifiable details from the reports. Workers shouldn’t be wary of taking part.

“Never once has NASA breached confidentiality for either the carrier or the worker,” Castiglione said.

The safety benefits are well-documented. C3RS has resulted in 19 safety alerts, nine notices to industry at large and 90 immediate alerts to individual carriers.

Properties who take part see marked improvements in safety with no risk to those who take part — a more than 25 percent improvement in incidents from years before.

“Close-call reports will never put people in a worse place,” Gross said.

C3RS and related links

FRA C3RS home page:

Volpe Center Lessons Learned:

NASA C3RS page:

NASA C3RS database search tool:

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is looking into Union Pacific and its management for painting an inaccurate picture about its safety strategy.  SMART Transportation Division members were coerced to paint a rosy picture of their employer.

All SMART-TD members who took part in this survey should get on record with their local chairperson, then call UP’s ethics hotline. That number is (800) 998-2000.

East Palestine raises railroad safety awareness

When Norfolk Southern’s freight train lit up the horizon of East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023, it woke up more than the sleeping residents of Southeast Ohio. Federal regulators, legislators, the press and the general public all became instantly aware that dangerous materials were being hauled in mass quantities through their communities.

This prompted the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct a safety culture analysis of Norfolk Southern and all other Class I railroads.

Norfolk Southern and its management team were cooperative. NS CEO Allen Shaw and his board cooperated with FRA and a valid and thorough safety evaluation. 

Union Pacific has chosen a more dangerous approach.

FRA says Union Pacific coached employee responses

On Friday, April 26, FRA served UP’s management team with written notice that it was suspending the assessment, suggesting that things are about to get ugly for the Omaha, Nebraska-based corporation.

The FRA safety evaluation begins with an employee survey to get the perspective of front-line workers.  The administration is looking for unvarnished answers and observations from our members. This creates a baseline for their investigation.

In his letter to Union Pacific, FRA Associate Administrator Karl Alexy shared that he suspects that, instead of allowing employees to speak freely and without fear of retribution, several employees were “coached to provide specific responses to FRA questions if they were approached for a safety culture interview.”

Survey manipulation widespread; workers fear retaliation

Alexy’s letter said that reports of management “coaching” workers “span the UPRR system and railroad crafts,” putting the objectivity of the information in jeopardy.

Workers during the process also expressed reluctance and a “fear of retaliation,” according to FRA.

Workers also had to report to their supervisor if they took part in the data gathering. Data integrity and confidentiality were thus not assured, Alexy wrote. “With widespread evidence that these fundamental elements have been jeopardized, FRA has no choice but to end data collection activities,” he wrote.

Union Pacific appears to violate its own policies

Two things jump out at SMART-TD about this situation. First, the study being conducted by FRA concerns the safety culture at UP. According to the railroad’s propaganda “Safety is Union Pacific’s No. 1 Responsibility.”  The obvious question is, what would CEO Vena and UP have to hide and why would they need to coach its workers if safety was its top responsibility?

Secondly, what happened to UP’s “Statement of Policy on Ethics and Business Conduct,” which is prominently featured in their rule book?

UP’s policy clearly says that “No employee should take advantage of any party through manipulation, concealment, abuse of confidential information, misrepresentation of material facts or any other unfair practice.”

An effort to deceive a federal regulator and threaten/bully its employees into taking part in its scheme appears to violate all of those rules.

Another interesting quote from UP’s Ethics and Business Conduct Policy is that “Communicating this policy and OVERSEEING COMPLIANCE is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer and officers of the Company.”

FRA stopped collecting safety data from the carrier due to its discovery of manipulation, according to Alexy. It may try to restart the process later.


As far as SMART-TD is concerned, if FRA’s allegations are proven to be true, UP CEO Jim Vena and his executive team have violated their own Ethics and Business Conduct Policy. Either he was part of this scheme to mislead FRA or he was derelict in his duty to oversee the compliance of the ethics policy according to his company’s policy. Moreover, such conduct does not show a responsible approach to safety that the company says it adheres to.

No matter how this situation between the FRA and UP plays out, it is in the best interest of all SMART-TD members who have taken part in this survey to get on record with your local chairperson and the carrier’s ethics hotline. That number again is (800) 998-2000.

Your union will keep you informed as this situation progresses.

SMART-TD’s Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity was featured on an episode of America’s Workforce Union Podcast, covering a wide range of rail industry topics including the hostile takeover attempt at Norfolk Southern, the FRA’s 2PC ruling, the Railway Safety Act to East Palestine, Ohio, and beyond.

“Safety does cost some money sometimes — but [the railroads are] still making billions of dollars in each quarter. There’s no rationale to cut the safety aspect out of it,” Cassity told host Ed “Flash” Ferencz. “They make money despite themselves.”

Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity addresses a rail labor solidarity rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in December 2022 on the day before the FRA’s hearing on the two-person crew rule.

Cassity continues, “so their interest isn’t really in preventing accidents. [They ask] is it cheaper to make all these changes to prevent it, or is it cheaper to clean it up? And if you look at Norfolk Southern, if you look at this policy and you look at what Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy of the NTSB just said, blowing up those cars [in East Palestine] didn’t have to happen. The railroad chose to take the fastest, easiest course. It’s not about safety. It’s about the bottom line.”

“So the Rail Safety Act is working to fix that. This is a perfect example of why elections matter.”

“The crews aren’t always aware of what is going on with their trains. Like in East Palestine, there were defects that were actually happening as they were going down the rail and making their trip. In your car, the check engine light comes on to tell you there’s a problem, that wasn’t happening for the crews. What was happening is that the notification was going to some backroom with a manager sitting in Atlanta, Georgia, and then they were making the decision of whether or not to tell the crew if they should stop the train. And it’s just a completely bonkers notion of how you run that.”

“And for them to say that there’s no safety data or anything of that nature is not true, because everything that we have today is because of the two-person crew. But the unfortunate reality of this is all of the success stories, all of the accidents that are prevented, all of the things that didn’t happen because of the second person in the crew is not recorded or captured or reported in any capacity by the railroads to anyone.”

Brother Cassity is an authority on rail safety. He came from the craft working as a conductor and engineer out of the Russell, Kentucky, crew base for CSX. A longtime member of the National Safety Team before leading it, Cassity participates in federal investigations of rail safety mishaps. When national media outlets want to discuss safety regulations on America’s railroads, Brother Cassity is consistently at the top of their lists.

SMART-TD wants to thank Brother Cassity for a job well done, amplifying our concerns and discussing our victories with a nationwide audience.

Railroad history was made the first week of April 2024. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule stating that freight trains in this country cannot be safely run with fewer than two certified railroaders in a locomotive cab.

History could not have been made without you. SMART-TD has been leading this fight for more than two decades. The FRA received over 13,000 public comments on this rule. Only 64 of those were against it. That is an amazing, concerted effort on the part of our members and allies that shows the power of solidarity. YOU beat the railroad executives and their deep pockets. It wasn’t even close.

The rule was announced by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose on behalf of the Biden administration. SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson then spoke of the efforts of rail families, concerned members of the public and, most importantly, the experiences of our union members inside the rail cab.

The quality of what you wrote, not just the raw number of responses, is what truly moved the needle. Your personal experiences opened the eyes of the FRA to the lives that were saved and the potential disasters averted by the presence of a second person in the cab. Your experiences could not be denied. Thank you, from your union brothers and sisters, and on behalf of every American who lives, works or plays near a set of tracks.

We also would like to thank Wes Ekstedt, out of Local 445 in Galesburg, Illinois, who formed the “Fight For 2-Person Crews” Facebook page and website. Justin Wolters, from Local 1381 and general chairperson of the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, and Nick Greficz, local chairperson from Local 278, were among the leaders of a page called “We the Union” that helped coalesce union efforts.

These leaders never missed an opportunity to advocate to the public and protect safety. They helped create a movement.

It is no secret that the 2PC effort helped unite all 12 rail labor organizations under the umbrella of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. The message was also echoed by our friends in other labor unions outside of the rail industry. The rule announcement was introduced by David Hoagland, President of the District of Columbia Fire Fighters Association. Experienced first responders know who to rely on when there is a rail-related accident. The International Association of Fire Fighters strongly advocated for this ruling, and we express gratitude for their assistance.

Thanks also to The National League of Cities who provided unwavering support and advocacy for safe rail operations in our country.

SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller and Secretary and Treasurer Denise “Niki” Wallace do amazing work advocating for this and many other legislative movements. On the issue of 2PC, they raised awareness and coordinated action through many routes, including text message campaigns to members to bolster both national level and state legislation.

It would be remiss not to thank the state legislative directors in every state who have pushed for 2PC legislation. As we all know and have celebrated, 12 states achieved the governor’s signature on legislation or had regulations on minimum crew size on the books before the FRA’s historic announcement. Unquestionably, whether a bill passed or not, the efforts made in the state houses were instrumental in the national push.  Every time one of our SLDs presented legislation on the matter, it created public discussion and awareness of the critical role conductors play in protecting their communities. For all the state directors who fought the good fight for rail safety, we thank you and congratulate you on winning the war.

All in all, there are too many people to thank to have any hope of mentioning everyone. Our union is stronger than ever, the community we have built around us is active and engaged, and together we put the rail bosses on notice.  We are watching, and we will use our collective strength to protect public and worker safety however inconvenient that becomes for the profit-at-all-cost railroads and their owners.

We thank all of our members and advocates for everything they did to bring the fight this far.  Your efforts have been seen, and we have seen the results, but there is work left to do. Every new administration brings the risk of new regulations. We need to protect the progress that we have made. Now that the FRA’s 2PC rule is a reality it is time to focus on passing the Railway Safety Act.

Phone: (216) 228-9400

Fax: (216) 228-0411

Department Email:

“I would like to start off by saying that this decision by President Biden’s administration is historic for SMART-TD members and all rail labor. Today’s ruling codifying the two-person freight crew not only demonstrates this administration’s dedication to the safety of this country and our workforce, but it also shows their respect and acknowledgment of our men and women and the work they do. They see our value to this nation’s economy and security. Every railroad professional should take pride in this accomplishment and recognition. We are too often undervalued. Today is a day we should all remember. When this rule came open for public comments, SMART members stood up and spoke with over 13,000 responses to the FRA. Today, we all celebrate the result and the essential proof of the value of the labor of the people aboard the nation’s freight trains. This effort defines what it is to be a union and the power of workers to stand as one. We did it together as a SMART-TD family, and I am unbelievably proud to be the president of this union in what is a defining moment for our industry where safety finally and deservedly came first.”

— SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (April 2, 2024) — After a multi-year effort by SMART-TD members and leadership, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced today that there will be a minimum of TWO certified rail crew members assigned to the cab of freight trains in the nation. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ruling on the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) finally puts safety first for our industry. With this action, President Joe Biden’s Department of Transportation (DOT) delivered on a promise made in 2020, which supports our ongoing struggle to force railroads to responsibly operate their trains. 

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson speaks during the announcement of the FRA’s two-person crew regulation on April 2.

Today’s announcement solidifies the role of freight conductors in this country. It comes after a long fight between SMART-TD and the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the railroad companies it represents and the hedge fund operators who own many of the nation’s railroads. SMART’s members participated by sending 13,000 comments to the FRA on the regulation. TD President Jeremy Ferguson and our union’s national and state legislative officers relentlessly pushed lawmakers and government officials to understand the safety ramifications of a nation with single-person freight train crews. President Ferguson attended and testified at the FRA’s public hearing on this regulation in December 2022 and delivered 20 minutes of firsthand accounts to FRA officials demanding they take this step to protect the country from the railroad companies’ greed.

Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose speaks as SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg listen in Washington D.C. on April 2.

National Legislative Director Greg Hynes and Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity orchestrated outreach to every state in the U.S., mobilizing our members to stand up and take part in the public comment period, resulting in our record-setting number of submissions.

Cassity had this to say: “It is no secret that the railroads in this country have been relentlessly pursuing a way to cut our rail crews down to one person. They have poured millions of dollars into pursuing technology that allows them to do this. These corporations are open with the fact they see more value in the trajectory of their stock prices than the safety of this country or the well-being of the conductors and engineers who are the bedrock of our economy. This fight raged for years and, as a union family, we stood toe to toe with the railroads. I want to thank our members for staying engaged in this fight.”

The announcement of this new regulation comes as a relief to all rail workers and to all concerned with rail safety in America. SMART-TD National Legislative Director Greg Hynes gives credit for this win to the collective effort of railroad workers and the state legislative committees throughout SMART’s organization.

“This announcement didn’t come out of thin air. It came from the hard work and dedication of SMART-TD’s men and women!” Hynes said. “Two-person crew regulations have been discussed for years through multiple presidencies and even more sessions of Congress. The men and women of this union have never relented or allowed this issue to get pushed to the side. Our state legislative directors have taken up this fight state after state. Our members have made their voices heard from coast to coast on this issue. Today we reach a place where our vigilance and persistence have paid off. This administration got it done.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announces FRA’s two-person crew ruling on April 2 in Washington, D.C.

The regulation, often mired in partisan struggles, was not a certainty. SMART-TD state legislative committees worked relentlessly to get a dozen states to set a minimum crew size. Our work would continue should the regulation change under a future administration.

Cassity continues, “We have every right to celebrate today’s ruling from the Biden administration, but we cannot for one second think this fight is over. We must stay informed, involved, and on offense. These railroads aren’t used to losing. They will come out swinging to argue against the reality that our people matter, and we have got to be ready for it. SMART-TD remains vigilant, and we ask you to continue to stand with us.”

Read the FRA’s rule.

Attendees at the announcement of the two-person crew freight regulation take a group photo April 2, 2024.


If you’re interested in speaking more about the ruling on two-person freight rail crews, 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, Mich., 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 2019 national rail negotiations for the union.

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.

Hynes was appointed the first chairperson of the United Transportation Union’s Rail Safety Task Force in 2009 and served in that capacity until being elected SMART Transportation Division alternate national legislative director at the Transportation Division’s 2014 convention.

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity

Jared Cassity, a member of Local 1377 (Russell, Ky.), was elected to the office of alternate national legislative director at the Second SMART Transportation Division Convention in August 2019 and became director of the union’s National Safety Team in June 2021.

Cassity started his railroad career with CSX in September 2005 and was promoted to engineer in 2008.

In addition to his elected roles, he has been a member of the National Safety Team since 2014, where he was subsequently elected to the position of Alternate Director (East) for the NST in 2016. Likewise, he was elected by his fellow peers of state directors to serve as the directors’ representative on the CSX Safety Model Executive Board in 2013.

Investigative journalist Topher Sanders released a report on ProPublica today where he reveals how multiple injuries and fatalities were swept under the rug by Class I carriers BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern. The article goes into detail on stories common to us in the industry. Jared Cassity, SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director, helped shine a public spotlight on this critical issue.

Read What’s Missing From Railroad Safety Data? Dead Workers and Severed Limbs on ProPublica

Brother Cassity is a nationally recognized expert on railroad safety and a leader of SMART-TD’s National Safety Team (NST). He does not sugarcoat his responses, especially when it comes to the well-being of our members.

“The system is rigged, especially when it comes to injuries. You see what they want you to see,” Cassity said in the article. ProPublica found that carriers pick and choose what injuries they report so that they can boast about their safety records.

As the largest rail union in the nation, SMART-TD is an established authority for rail-related issues. Brother Cassity’s efforts reflect our union’s commitment to safeguard members, have our hardships recognized and to force the railroads to improve conditions for those who keep our economy moving.

Please take a moment to read this article and share it with friends and family on your social media accounts. Widespread understanding of the industry’s culture of corruption is the best weapon we all have to combat it.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Railroad Safety issued the following bulletin on Feb. 13, 2024, in response to an industry fatality earlier this year. The text is reproduced below:

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is investigating an accident that resulted in fatal injuries to a locomotive engineer during yard switching operations.

At the time of the accident, the fatally injured engineer, who had approximately 30 years of experience, was operating a locomotive on the east side of the yard and working with a conductor and brakeman to switch cars. Another crew was switching cars on the west side of the yard and had set out 35 cars.

At some point, those 35 cars from the west side of the yard track rolled uncontrolled towards the east, colliding with the locomotive, occupied by the engineer, that was located on the east yard
track switching lead. The collision ejected the engineer from the locomotive cab and the engineer succumbed to his injuries.

Although FRA’s investigation into this accident is ongoing, FRA is issuing this bulletin to remind railroads and railroad employees of the importance of ensuring rolling equipment is properly secured at all times, including ensuring:

  1. Employees understand the importance of complying with railroad rules for securement of
    rolling equipment;
  2. Railroads provide employees adequate training on railroad operating rules and procedures
    for proper securement of rolling equipment;
  3. Railroads provide employees appropriate periodic oversight of compliance with railroad
    operating rules and procedures for proper securement of rolling equipment;
  4. Railroads empower employees to seek immediate clarification of any safety rule,
    including rules related to the securement of equipment; and
  5. Railroads remind employees of the dangers associated with improperly secured rolling

The purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to ensure the railroad industry, including railroad employees, are aware of this recent accident that resulted in a fatality of an employee. As FRA completes its investigation, it may take additional actions with respect to this accident.

For further information, please contact John Mayser, Operating Practices Specialist, at or (202) 493-8008.

Issued: February 13, 2024

This bulletin is available below as a printable PDF.

Remember to use the union’s Safety Condition Report either through the website or the SMART app to alert officers to concerns about your property. Railroad workers who experience difficulty with Positive Train Control are also encouraged to fill out a Technology Event Report.

On December 8, 2023, United States President Joe Biden and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson announced a $6 billion investment in America’s rail infrastructure and in the value of union jobs through two high-speed rail projects in California and Nevada.

“When I ran for president, I made a commitment to build a high-speed rail worthy of America. I mean it — put our nation on track with the fastest, safest and greenest railways in the world, and high-speed,” President Biden said during an announcement event in Las Vegas, Nevada. “You have no idea how much this pleases me: At long last, we are building the first high-speed rail project in our nation’s history, and it’s starting here.

“It means growth and opportunity for towns and communities between here and the California coast. It’s on track to be completed by the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. And here’s the best part — it means jobs. Union jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs!”

“The idea of high-speed rail has been discussed in this country for decades, and it is beyond exciting to see it coming together here today,” Ferguson added. “Our members, and our brothers and sisters throughout rail labor, should see this as a day when our nation’s president and the country itself recognized our value and what we bring to the table. The skills our conductors, engineers and yardmasters possess were not an afterthought when the plans for this rail line came together. They are invaluable to this project and woven into the fabric of what will make this high-speed rail project a success.”

Labor representatives at the announcement of two U.S. high-speed rail projects with Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose in Las Vegas

This project has been years in the making and is becoming a reality now due to the public-private partnership between the federal government and the Brightline West Railroad. In plans submitted to the administration, Brightline highlighted the efficiency of this high-speed rail project, stating that trains will travel at speeds upwards of 186 mph – making it possible to get from Southern California to Las Vegas in just over two hours, a fraction of the time it takes on the highway. Other benefits include taking traffic off the heavily congested U.S. Interstate 15, as well as positive impacts on environmental emissions. This project will also bolster the economies of some of our nation’s largest cities.

As a stipulation for receiving federal funding, Brightline West committed to using an organized workforce. SMART-TD has been part of the planning for this project since the railroad made that commitment to Biden and Congress. Along with employing thousands of our brothers and sisters in the SMART Rail, Mechanical and Engineering Department, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, TCU and all of our rail labor partners, Brightline West also committed to running their trains with SMART-TD crews.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes shakes hands with President Joe Biden on Friday, Dec. 8, after Biden’s announcement about funding a pair of high-speed rail projects in California and Las Vegas.

The project will provide hundreds of good, union jobs in the railroad industry, and it serves as an example of what can be accomplished when private industry, the federal government and a strong labor coalition are all pulling in the same direction.

“It’s a proud day for us, and we thank Congresswoman Dina Titus from Nevada’s First Congressional District, Congressman Steven Horsford from Nevada District 4, Congresswoman Susie Lee from Nevada’s Third District, and Nevada’s U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, along with the Department of Transportation, and of course, President Joe Biden himself for all of their work to make this dream a reality for our men and women,” Ferguson concluded.

Since 1998, trains coming across the Mexican border to the United States in Laredo, Texas, have been run by crews from Mexico that are not certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). These crews have been taking trains into Port Laredo, where they receive an initial Class I inspection and brake test on U.S. soil.

This practice was established back in 1998, when Union Pacific requested a variance from FRA. The variance was reconfirmed in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018 and was reapplied for in 2022. For years, the agency’s leaders responded to any request for renewal by saying, “Yes — if the railroad asked for it, it must be OK.”

But in 2023 — unlike the four prior requests — SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, National Legislative Director Greg Hynes, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity and Kamron Saunders, Texas’s state legislative director, officially requested FRA put an end to this practice. Along with our allies in the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department and other rail labor organizations, SMART-TD submitted strong public comments that pointed out many holes in the logic.

In October, FRA released its ruling on UP’s variance request. The carrier will continue to be allowed to perform Class I brake tests 10 miles into the U.S. in its yard in Port Laredo, Texas. However, in a clear victory for labor, a new rule was added:

“13. All trains crossing the international bridge at Laredo and destined for UP’s Port Laredo Yard must be operated from the bridge to that Yard by a properly qualified and certified UP locomotive engineer and conductor.”

Local Chairperson Eddy Castaneda of Local 1670 (Laredo, Texas) is also vice general chairperson of the San Antonio Hub, and explained that he is highly excited about the news out of the FRA.

“It has been a long fight to get this work back, and this is a big win for us. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone working together,” he said. “All the local chairs in the Laredo Hub — Scott Chelette, our general committee chair, and Kamron Saunders, our Texas state legislative director — as well as the International, have been relentless: working on Congress and the FRA to get these jobs back in the hands of FRA-certified crews.

“We are grateful for those of us here in Laredo, but we have a long fight still to go. There are many other border crossings and a lot more crew bases we need to fight for.”

President Ferguson was in Texas at a Houston rail labor rally shortly after the FRA released its ruling.

“The carriers involved gave our work to non-FRA-certified foreign national crews a long time ago to save a buck for their shareholders,” he said at the time. “Today, our members got back some work that is rightfully ours, and this country is safer and better off for it. I’m proud of the work SMART-TD has done to make this happen.”

Cassity said FRA’s action is a step towards normalizing cross-border regulation.

“It is great that we got this work back for our crews, but the big-picture win is that FRA listened to SMART-TD,” he explained. “They listened to the views of Kamron Saunders and didn’t blindly swallow whatever the railroads tried to sell them. This FRA isn’t afraid to deny the railroad what they want if it isn’t the safest policy for our workers and the country itself.”

For more information, read FRA’s ruling embedded below. 

Joint safety initiative provides employees confidential forum to report safety issues  

ATLANTA and INDEPENDENCE, OH (January 29, 2024) —  Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC), the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD), and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), announced Monday their joint participation in an FRA Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) pilot program designed to enhance railroad safety. 

“NS is proud to partner with our labor leaders and FRA to make another industry-leading advancement in safety,” said Alan H. Shaw, Norfolk Southern President and CEO.  “We are committed to setting the gold standard for rail safety, and we are proud to be the first Class I railroad to deliver on our promise to co-develop and launch a C3RS program.” 

Under the one-year C3RS pilot, covered NS employees can report safety concerns with the certainty that such reports will not result in discipline. NASA will deidentify data and provide it for review by a joint committee of NS and labor representatives, who, with FRA’s guidance, will identify and implement corrective actions to improve safety. 

“This is huge step forward for the safety of our brothers and sisters at Norfolk Southern,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. “SMART-TD has been a long-time champion of C3RS, and this new program will allow our members to speak up when they see unsafe conditions without fear of negative repercussions. I would like to thank General Chairpersons James Ball, Joe Borders, Tommy Gholson, David Phillips, and Dan Weir for their unwavering commitment to bringing C3RS to their members.” 

“It should be the goal of everyone who works in the railroad industry to continually improve safety,” said BLET National President Eddie Hall. “Providing a confidential platform to report unsafe practices allows us to harness the power of every worker’s voice. NS and its CEO, Alan Shaw, should be applauded for taking this step. I hope that this will become a model for other Class I freight railroads.” Added Hall, “I also would like to commend the leadership shown by General Chairmen Scott Bunten, Dewayne Dehart, and Jerry Sturdivant who helped make this happen by negotiating on behalf of our NS members.” 

Participation in this C3RS pilot underscores NS, SMART-TD and BLET’s shared belief that collaboration and transparency are foundational pillars of an effective safety program. Key goals of the C3RS pilot program include: 

  • Collecting currently unreported unsafe practices, behaviors, or situations; 
  • Identifying and implementing corrective actions; and 
  • Sharing general trends and statistics to enhance railroad safety. 

Throughout the program, FRA will provide oversight, guidance, and support to the parties as they analyze safety data and work to effect positive change. 

“FRA’s C3RS program provides a useful industry-wide platform to gather valuable insights from frontline railroad workers when they experience close calls – helping to uncover risks and providing opportunities for railroads and their workers to take actions to prevent serious safety incidents,” said Amit Bose, FRA Administrator. “We appreciate BLET, NS, and SMART-TD’s collaboration on this important partnership, and FRA remains committed to further expanding participation in the C3RS program to advance safety.”


About Norfolk Southern 

Since 1827, Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) and its predecessor companies have safely moved the goods and materials that drive the U.S. economy. Today, it operates a customer-centric and operations-driven freight transportation network. Committed to furthering sustainability, Norfolk Southern helps its customers avoid approximately 15 million tons of yearly carbon emissions by shipping via rail. Its dedicated team members deliver more than 7 million carloads annually, from agriculture to consumer goods, and is the largest rail shipper of auto products and metals in North America. Norfolk Southern also has the most extensive intermodal network in the eastern U.S., serving a majority of the country’s population and manufacturing base, with connections to every major container port on the Atlantic coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. Learn more by visiting

NS Media Inquiries: Media Relations; NS Investor Inquiries: Luke Nichols 

About the BLET 

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States employed in both freight and passenger rail.  Founded in 1863, BLET is the oldest union in the United States. The BLET also is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters. For more information visit the union’s website at 

BLET Media Inquiries: Jamie Horwitz 


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. More information about the union is available at

SMART-TD Media Inquiries: Ben Nagy