WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced last week that Florida, New Jersey and New York have obtained federal certification of their rail transit State Safety Oversight (SSO) programs.
The three states were the last of 30 to get the required approval before a mid-April federal deadline.
Federal law requires states with rail transit systems to obtain FTA certification of their SSO programs by April 15, 2019.
“FTA is pleased that Florida, New Jersey and New York have developed safety oversight programs that meet federal certification requirements and will strengthen rail transit safety,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.
Read the full press release here.

In Florida last week, the people prevailed as a federal district court ruled Florida voters have every right to restrict the state legislature’s ability to redraw the election map willy-nilly to favor incumbent members of Congress and the state legislature.

UTU Florida State Legislative Director Andres Trujillo and his state legislative board were in the thick of the battle, fighting for “fair election districts” that ensure voters decide their politicians rather than politicians deciding their voters.

Two incumbent Florida politicians unsuccessfully argued before the federal court that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures “complete discretion” in drawing the boundaries of election districts. The federal court ruled otherwise, saying Florida voters can bind their own state legislature through amendments to the state constitution, as they did at the ballot box in 2010.

Redrawing election districts to accommodate changes in population occurs in every state every 10 years following completion of the U.S. Census.

Frequently, the majority party in the legislature attempts to establish a political advantage for their party by manipulating the geographic boundaries of congressional and state legislature voting districts. The term is known as “gerrymandering” after 19th century Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who led an effort that so contorted congressional election districts in that state that one was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.

Gerrymandering “encourages the politics of division and extremism, and allows for the underrepresentation of Florida citizens’ interests, in legal, civil, legislative and government matters,” Trujillo said. The NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union agree, saying the state constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in Florida strengthens protections for minorities.

Trujillo, with assistance from his state legislative board, arranged for the ballot initiative’s spokespersons to appear before public forums and newspaper editorial boards, solicited contributions to help fund state-wide advertising explaining the ballot initiative to voters, and helped organize petition drives to place the initiative before voters last year. On Election Day, the UTU Florida State Legislative Board helped to get out the vote. 

The federal court upheld the successful ballot-box initiative, meaning the Florida legislature is now prohibited from drawing voting-district lines to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party. The legislature must, instead, use existing political and geographical boundaries such as city or county limits, and geographical features like canals, bays and oceans. The federal court said voters approved a valid regulation of the legislative process.

Trujillo noted that the ballot initiative began in response to 430 separate elections for the legislature where only three incumbents were defeated. This was seen as evidence of the effect of past Florida gerrymandering to protect reelection of incumbents.                                                          

MIAMI – By a four-to-one margin, UTU-member train and engine workers employed by Veolia Transportation — operator of South Florida Tri-Rail — have approved a new agreement. The UTU represents both sides of the cab on Tri-Rail.

The agreement includes pay increases retroactive to July 1, 2010, an increase in certification pay for engineers, certification-pay parity for conductors, overtime pay for employees assigned to training classes or examinations on rest days, improvement in bereavement leave, restrictions on the use of videos for purposes of discipline, a cap on health care insurance contributions, and the addition of a vision plan.

UTU International Vice President John Previsich assisted with negotiations. He congratulated the negotiating team, which included General Chairperson Roger Lenfest (Amtrak, GO 769), Local 30 (Jacksonville) Chairperson Andy D’Egidio and Vice Local Chairperson Steven Klemm for “an excellent job of bringing the membership’s wishes to the negotiating table.

“Because of their efforts, the negotiating team was successful in securing the excellent pay increases, certification pay and positive changes to the contract that the members desired,” Previsich said.

South Florida Tri-Rail operates over 71 miles for former CSX track linking West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, and is owned by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

In January, employees of Tri-Rail’s operations center voted to be represented by the UTU.

Siemens, an international engineering firm with its U.S. headquarters in Washington, D.C., and plants throughout the United States, is hungry to build high-speed train sets for a proposed Florida high-speed rail line.

Tampa Bay online (tbo.com) reports that Siemens, which has built high-speed trains in Austria, Belgium, China, France and Germany, has erected a billboard in Tampa showing one of its trains and proclaiming, “More Speed. Less Gas. With Siemens’ Answers for Florida High-Speed Rail.”

Florida is intent on completing a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando by 2015 – and Miami by 2018 — and some $3 billion is in play for winning bidders, says Tampa Bay online. A lead contractor will be chosen within the next year.

Actually, 40 companies are showing an interest in the project, reports Tampa Bay online.

If the Florida project proceeds as its Department of Transportation expects, Florida’s 88-mile line between Tampa and Orlando will be America’s first, says Tampa Bay online.

“The Federal Railroad Administration has created a set of strict ‘Buy America’ standards for high-speed rail contracts being financed through the Obama administrations $8-billion nationwide high-speed rail program,” reports Tampa Bay online, and Siemens points to its California plant that has built rail equipment in the U.S. for a quarter century.

Florida already has received $1.25 billion in federal money for its project – nearly half the total projected cost for the Tampa-Orlando line.

Retired member Joe Alenduff is again organizing an annual picnic for railroaders in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area.
The event, scheduled for Saturday, March 20, will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Shelter 15 in Ft. DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg.
Coffee and iced tea will be furnished. Participants are urged to bring two covered dishes to share, their own place settings and cups.
All railroaders, their friends and relatives are welcome and encouraged to pass the word, Alenduff said.
Take U.S. 19 South, or Exit 17 on I-275 at St. Petersburg and follow the signs.
For more information, contact Alenduff at (727) 522-6808 or send an e-mail to him at jalenduff@tampabay.rr.com.