A victory for safety was achieved in June when the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Board denied a request by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to lengthen the “off-air” restriction from four to 24 hours for required brake tests and inspections.
AAR had written to FRA in December 2017 seeking a petition for waiver, arguing that safety would not be affected and that lengthening the off-air restriction would bring U.S. requirements in line with Canada’s 24-hour off-air restriction.
However, SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and union leaders from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) and Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (TCU/IAM)’s letter in February urged FRA officials to deny the request.
The waiver would be unenforceable and too far-reaching, the unions argued.
“Despite the carriers’ safety assurances, the labor organizations have concerns with this far sweeping request for waiver given the fact that it will cover AAR’s entire membership,” the unions said. “To allow such a sweeping waiver request to go forward, each railroad would have to demonstrate that the cars on their railroad had state of the art brake valves, dryers and automatic moisture drainage. It is hard to imagine FRA granting such a ‘one size fits all’ waiver to each of AAR’s member railroads.”
The FRA board agreed with SMART TD and the other rail unions, with Robert Lauby, FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety, saying in the agency’s June 19 denial letter that the petition was better considered as part of the rulemaking process.
The board also said that AAR failed to prove that the changes would not have an adverse effect on safety.
“Based on its review and analysis, the board concluded that granting the requested relief would not be in the public interest or consistent with rail safety,” Lauby wrote.
Lauby also said in the letter that the data provided by AAR to support its petition did not cover the variety of real-world conditions encountered while running trains.
“Absent more detailed data demonstrating that safety would not be compromised, the Board concluded that the waiver request was not justified,” Lauby said.

Registration remains open for rail workers in Arizona, western New Mexico and southeastern California for a 40-hour hazmat training session to be held in Winslow, Ariz.
The session on chemical emergence response lasts April 9 to 13 and is part of the docket of classes funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) that fulfills OSHA and DOT training requirements.
Class attendees must drive to the class. There will not be air travel to this session.
For more information, visit railworkertrainingprogram.org.

Washington, D.C. (January 31, 2018) – SMART Transportation Division announced today the introduction of the Safe Freight Act (S.2360) by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), which would require two crew members — one certified locomotive engineer and one certified conductor — on our nation’s freight trains.
S.2360 is a companion bill to H.R. 233, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska). As of its introduction, the Safe Freight Act has five cosponsors in the Senate. H.R. 233 has 74 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
For several years, SMART Transportation Division has asserted that a minimum two-person train crew is a vital component of rail safety and sound public policy. In 2013, Transport Canada established a government mandate requiring two-person crews in response to the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster when a freight train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people after its single crew member left the train unattended. The United States has yet to follow suit with a federally promulgated rule or law, and only five states have implemented a two-person train crew requirement.
“We are very pleased that Sen. Heitkamp has introduced this vital rail safety legislation, said John Previsich, President of the SMART Transportation Division. “For the same reasons that we have a pilot and copilot on commercial jetliners, two qualified crewmembers are essential to the safe operation of trains through our nation’s communities. Bottom line economics should never be permitted to stand in the way of employee and public safety. The only safe way to operate a train is with two crewmembers on board the locomotive.”
Heitkamp has long supported requiring two-person train crews and is a key advocate for rail safety. On July 15, 2016, Heitkamp testified in favor of the pending two-person crew federal rule before the Federal Railroad Administration. The derailment of a crude oil train near Casselton, N.D., had led Heitkamp to launch an initiative to address emerging challenges in the wake of the state’s energy boom.
“When a disaster like the Casselton derailment sends shockwaves through our communities, we must do everything we can to prevent accidents and improve our ability to respond in the future,” Heitkamp said. “After the Casselton derailment, it was clear that having two crewmembers on board the train made all the difference to prevent the fire from escalating and threatening those living nearby. My legislation is a commonsense way to make our communities strong and safe while supporting an industry that is vital to North Dakota jobs and prosperity.”
S.2360 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for further consideration.
Joining Heitkamp as cosponsors are U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).


The SMART Transportation Division, formerly the United Transportation Union, is the largest rail union in the United States representing members in all operating crafts, including engineers, conductors, trainmen, switchmen and yardmasters.

After derailments, blocked crossings and other complications, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have asked for the federal Government Accountability Office to study the effects of longer freight trains.
In the letter dated Nov. 7, ranking members Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass., made the request after referencing the derailment Aug. 2 of a CSX train in Hyndman, Pa.
The derailment of 32 cars from the train that consisted of five locomotives and 178 rail cars caused the evacuation of about 1,000 town residents and destroyed a house. The representatives noted in their letter that the average freight train consists of about 70 cars.
“Recent press reports indicate that some railroads are now operating trains with close to 200 or more cars that are more than two miles long,” they wrote. “We have concerns that longer trains can create unusually long delays at grade crossings and may pose safety risks to train crews and the public.”
DeFazio, a ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Capuano, a ranking member on the Railroad Subcommittee, also mentioned operational challenges for rail workers, such as possible loss of radio contact, or service delays as a direct result of the longer trains.
“We appreciate that these congressional leaders have asked for a review of these dangerously long trains.” SMART-TD President John Previsich. “This issue was also addressed by John Risch, our national legislative director, at a recent STB hearing.”
Risch appeared Oct. 11 in Washington D.C. before the Surface Transportation Board at a listening session focused on problems with CSX’s service.
“Urging CSX to do better will not fix the problems that excessively long trains cause,” Risch said during his testimony. See a full article and video of that testimony here.
DeFazio and Capuano’s letter asks the GAO to look into various aspects of longer trains from the perspective of rail worker and public safety and also to examine the levels of oversight available on the federal, state and local levels to remedy safety concerns posed by longer trains.
To read the letter, follow this link.

Ohio State Senators Kenny Yuko (D) and Michael Skindell (D) are leading the effort to make Ohio railroads safer for crews and communities. The following three railroad legislative initiatives are scheduled for a first hearing Thursday, May 4 at 9:00 am at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Hearings are open to the public.
Click on the following three senate bills to support the legislative efforts introduced by Sens. Yuko and Skindell:
 Ohio Senate Bill 74 – Two Person Crews on all Freight Trains: A minimum of two crew members on all freight trains operating in Ohio.
Ohio Senate Bill 89 – Rail Yard Lighting: To establish standard for lighting in a rail yard; and to establish penalties for railroad companies that are in violation of those standards.
Ohio Senate Bill 90 Use of Walkway Stone in Rail Yards: Establish standards for walkways in rail yards; and to establish penalties for railroad companies that are in violation of those standards.
Take another minute to ask your federal representatives to support H.R. 233, the Safe Freight Act, which would mandate a minimum of two-person crews on all freight trains operating anywhere in the U.S. 
Click here in support of H.R. 233.
Click here for more information on H.R. 233, the Safe Freight Act.

A collective of rail unions and Michigan citizens lobbied the FRA to deny a CSX request that would discontinue use of vital safety signals along a busy freight rail line in Michigan – and won.
SMART Transportation Division, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen,  Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen successfully rallied the FRA to block CSX’s bid to discontinue the traffic control system (TCS) along the Michigan rail line that connects Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit.
Click here to read FRA’s letter of denial to CSX.

SMART TD’s John Risch, fourth from left.

WASHINGTON – John Risch, SMART TD National Legislative Director, participated in hearings as a member of the Roundtable on Emerging Railroad Technologies on March 21, 2017. Discussion focused on new and emerging trends in railroad safety including train crew size, recent advancements in train brake technology, and early warning systems.
“Thank you Chairman Schuster, Subcommittee Chair Denham, and Ranking Member Capuano for inviting me to the roundtable discussion on emerging railroad technologies. With nearly 40 years in the railroad industry, I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the importance of maintaining minimum crew sizes, implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), and most importantly investing in the installation of Electronic Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes, which are vital to safety of our railroads,” said John Risch, SMART-TD National Legislative Director.
“I look forward to working with the members of the committee to improve railroad safety as we discuss opportunities to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure,” Risch continued.
Click here to read Risch’s complete notes from the hearing.
Click here for information on participants and to view video.

The WashingtonPost.com recently reported that the rail industry is lobbying hard to stall or potentially reverse the FRA’s ruling that freight trains be equipped with ECP (electronically controlled pneumatic) brakes by 2021. Despite the growing number of rail crashes and fatalities involving freight cars transporting flammable liquid, and the growing consensus that ECP is vital to freight rail safety, rail lobbyists are angling for support from the Trump administration to roll back this and other safety mandates.
John Risch, SMART TD Legislative Director, who was interviewed for this article, described ECP brakes as “the foundation of safety in the future of the rail industry….ECP brakes can save the day.” Read the complete article here. 
SMART TD Legislative Action Center: Contact your elected representative to voice your support of lifesaving ECP brake systems on all trains by clicking here.

On Friday, October 14, 2016, SMART Union united with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), in a joint statement to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that voiced their collective opposition to a recent CSX petition requesting permission from the FRA to remove approximately 125 signals from a stretch of track in Michigan.
Citing reasons of crew safety and public safety, SMART Transportation Division (SMART TD) President, John Previsich and SMART TD Michigan State Legislative Director, Jerry Gibson, worked with SMART and SMART TD’s legislative offices and and leaders from the BLET, BWED and BRS in requesting that the FRA deny CSX’s request.
“Considering the number of residents, homes, schools and churches along this line, and the safety risk involved if these signals are removed, we oppose this request and ask the FRA to deny this wavier,” stated SMART Transportation Division President, John Previsich.
Gibson emphasized safety concerns and also connected the dots between the outcome of the presidential election and future decisions made by the FRA and other president-appointed federal industry boards.
“The SMART TD Michigan State Legislative Board opposition is based on the reason signal systems are put into place: Employee and public safety. As a former qualified engineer and conductor on this line, the territory has a winding path with poor long distance sightlines, making the operable signal system that is currently in place critical to crew and public safety.
“While many may not see the direct correlation between this issue and voting for those candidates endorsed by the SMART TD National Legislative office and State boards, it is a great example. The President of the United States appoints the Director of the Federal Railroad Administration, Surface Transportation Board, Railroad Retirement Board, Department of Labor, and Department of Transportation, to name a few – all of which have the power to determine if these requests are approved or denied,” he stated.
Gibson also added: “If we cast our vote in the wrong direction, the outcome of many issues that directly affect rail labor and their families with be compromised,”
To read the joint labor statement to the FRA, please click here.