The SMART Transportation Division in Illinois has been a beacon of productivity and progress for years.  

Mirroring the state’s central role as a hub where the nation’s major Class I carriers operate, SMART-TD’s Illinois operation has plenty of accomplishments and fights won over the last two-plus decades. 

During this period of success, there’s been one consistent throughline. For the last 23 years, the steady hand on the wheel has been Tina O’Brien.  

Tina O’Brien, right, shown with her husband, John, is retiring from the Illinois State Legislative Board’s office after a long career of providing support in one of SMART-TD’s busiest states.

Tina has announced her retirement effective at the end of the month, and SMART-TD would like to thank her for a career of outstanding service to our members.  

She started with SMART-TD in 2000, hired by Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo. In the intervening years, she was part of the movement that saw our Illinois members advance two-person crew legislation all the way to the governor’s mansion, play a central role in infrastructure strategy around Chicago and elsewhere and move ahead with enhanced protections for transit members working for Metra and elsewhere. 

“Tina was so much more than an administrative assistant or office manager – she was always an integral part of the team working together to serve the membership,” said Szabo, who later became Federal Railroad administrator.  “I owe a great debt of gratitude to her, and her husband John. They both have earned a long and happy retirement!”  

In 2009, Szabo went to D.C. to assist the national legislative office before his confirmation as FRA administrator, and the reins of the Illinois State Legislative Board were handed over to current SLD Bob Guy. Luckily for Brother Guy, Tina stayed on and was an invaluable source of institutional memory. O’Brien and Guy have proven to be a formidable combination.  

“From Day One, Tina has been instrumental for me as I grew into the position of state director. I leaned on Tina for so much early on since I couldn’t reach out to my predecessor, Joe Szabo, as he had headed off to lead FRA,” Guy said. “Her commitment to our board and our Illinois members is evident to anyone who knows her.  She’s always been proactive in helping solve problems or answer questions for our members when they call.  Knowing the industry intimately herself, she has always taken pride in helping our members through the rough times, especially the work she did in helping us assist our locals through the early stages of the COVID pandemic and through the national agreement fight and near strike last year.

“Tina was invested in those fights, just as she was when helping me with materials when moving legislation in Illinois, like our successful effort to pass a two-person crew bill in 2019. Tina will be sorely missed by myself and our entire board, but I wish her and John a long, happy and healthy retirement. On behalf of our Illinois Legislative Board, congratulations Tina on a well-deserved retirement!”  

“Tina’s work for our members has resonated in a way that affects more than our operations in Illinois,” said Jenny Miller, chief of staff in SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department in Washington, D.C. “I’ve known and worked with Tina for over 20 years. Whenever I needed something, or a question answered – she was just a friendly phone call and email away from coming to my assistance. A major part of our victories in the National Legislative Office hinges on working closely with the state legislative boards.  Tina was a very important part of that successful relationship, and I’ll miss her a lot.” 

SMART-TD is indebted to Sister O’Brien, and we hope she and her husband John have a long and happy retirement full of all the travel and time with grandchildren that they can handle. 

Two-person crew legislation endorsed by our union progressed ahead in two state legislatures late last week.
In Illinois, S.B. 24 was passed by the state Senate by a party-line 36-19 vote on Thursday. The state House of Representatives’ Rules Committee has received the bill, which establishes a minimum crew size of two individuals, and will consider it. The bill’s primary sponsor in the Illinois House is state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D – Dist. 113).
“Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator, this couldn’t have been done without you,” The Illinois State Legislative Board said in a post on its Facebook page. “The General Assembly will now go on a two-week holiday break so please be ready to reach out to your State Representatives in their district offices.”
If you are a resident of Illinois, follow this link to find your state legislators and help to keep up the momentum for S.B. 24.
As previously reported here, the Nevada State Assembly’s Committee on Growth and Infrastructure passed A.B. 337, 8-4. The bill now moves to the full Assembly for consideration.
If you are a Nevada resident, you can find your state legislators by following this link.
A two-person crew bill also has been passed in Maryland and awaits the action of Gov. Larry Hogan.
Nationally, the Safe Freight Act two-person crew bill introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 1748) by U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska continues to gain sponsors through the vocal support of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees alike, the national legislative office in Washington reports.
National Legislative Director John Risch said that more than 1,500 messages from members and retirees have been sent to members of the House in support of the Safe Freight Act and the bill has been gaining co-sponsors.
“Hearing from their voters goes a long way to opening the door to our message in the halls of Congress,” Risch said. “This is a team effort, so keep up the emails and phone calls.”
To send an email in support of the national Safe Freight Act, follow this link.

John Harold Burner, 75, of Robinson, Ill., a former assistant state director for the United Transportation Union, died at 10:50 p.m. Oct. 22, 2017 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Ind. He was born April 21, 1942, the son of Harold & Edith (Comer) Burner, both of whom preceded him in death. John Harold Burner
“John was more than an assistant director, he was a true partner when it came to representing rail workers in Illinois,” said Joe Szabo, a former Federal Railroad Administrator who also served as legislative director for the union in Illinois. “His ‘country boy’ manner resonated with members of the Illinois General Assembly, and he was trusted by both Republicans and Democrats. Together we accomplished a lot, and I owe John so much – as does every rail worker in this state. ”
SMART TD Legislative Director for Illinois Bob Guy also said that rail workers in his state are better off because of Burner’s efforts.
“The list of issues and topics that John worked on over the years is far too large to describe, but rest assured that our members are better off today for having John Burner representing us, I know I am,” Guy said. “So on behalf of all of our Illinois members, active and retired, I want to thank John for his service to our union, and I want to especially thank his wife Shirley and the rest of the Burner family for sharing him with us all those many years.
“We owe you, John — you won’t soon be forgotten, rest in peace my friend.”
John was a 1960 graduate of Palestine High School, and went on to further his education at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill. In 1962, he started working as an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad, where he worked for 34 years before becoming assistant state director for UTU. He retired in 2008, and was a man who truly enjoyed his work, as anyone who knew him could attest.
Burner married Shirley Kay Corder on July 28, 1963, and she survives. He is also survived by his son & daughter-in-law, John S. & Kirsten Burner (Ventura, Calif.); by his daughter & son-in-law, Tammy & B.J. Fralicker (Palestine, Ill.); and by his grandchildren, Nick Halterman (Robinson, Ill.), Kiara Fralicker (Palestine, Ill.), and Sophia Burner (Ventura, Calif.); as well as a number of nieces and nephews.
In his free time, John could often be found on the water. In his younger days, he enjoyed water skiing. As he grew older, skiing turned to fishing, and this brought him so much joy through the years. He was also very active locally with the Boy Scouts. A former Eagle Scout, John was instrumental in starting the scout camp north of Palestine years ago. He was also active with girls’ softball for many years. Though John was many things to many people, he was first and foremost a family man. No one could doubt the love he had for his wife, children, and grandchildren, who have lost a friend, partner and patriarch.
John was a member of the Crawford County Bass Club and the Palestine High School Alumni Reunion Committee.
Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26 at Goodwine Funeral Home in Palestine, Ill. Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27 at the funeral home, with burial following in Palestine Cemetery. Celebrant Curt Goodwine will be officiating the service.
Memorials may be made to the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis.


CHICAGO — The Federal Railroad Administration told SMART Transportation Division it has filed a violation against the Union Pacific Railroad in response to a union complaint that the railroad ordered a train crew to work outside its assigned territory while being piloted by a manager who was not qualified on the physical characteristics of the territory.

FRA Region IV Administrator Steve Illich informed SMART TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy of the agency’s action in a letter dated October 27.

The incident under investigation by the FRA was reported to the Illinois Legislative Board by a member of the crew of a Bloomington-based local assigned to UP’s Springfield Subdivision.

Although the southern boundary of the territory for which the crew was qualified ends at Milepost 222, Carlinville, Ill., the May 28 job was ordered to retrieve some maintenance-of-way equipment spotted at milepost 234 near Shipman, Ill., 12 miles further south in territory over which none of the crew members were qualified.

“The standard procedure in such cases is to supply the crew with a pilot, normally a fellow transportation employee, who is qualified over the territory,” Guy said.

“But it turned out the UP manager assigned as pilot wasn’t qualified on that territory either,” Guy said. “In fact, he had never been over that track on a moving train, and he not only admitted his lack of qualification but claimed it wasn’t important.”

In his report to the SMART TD Illinois State Legislative Board, the conductor said that he and the engineer, “made it very clear that we were not comfortable having a pilot that he himself [admitted] was not qualified on the territory. His reply was that it was CTC, how hard could it be?”

The conductor asked the manager whether he had a copy of the work orders for the assignment. The manager allegedly replied that all he needed to know was that the ballast undercutter, two flat cars and two hopper cars of ballast were restricted to 25 miles-per-hour.

“The only paperwork I saw was that he had a timetable,” the conductor told the legislative board.

Guy said the crew handled the incident in exactly the right way.

“They notified the manager pilot that they weren’t comfortable,” Guy said. “Then once their tour was over they documented the incident and forwarded the details to local SMART TD officers for handling.”

“The FRA investigator in charge even noted the accuracy of the crew members’ statements regarding the manager pilot,” Guy said. “Once confronted, another UP manager stated that the pilot was not qualified on that segment of track.”

Guy also said he was “appalled” by the cavalier attitude of the manager pilot as witnessed by the crew involved in the May 28 incident.

“It’s not just that this official violated Part 240.231 of Section 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations,” Guy said. “It’s that he did it in such a flagrant and dismissive manner.”

Guy said the manager’s attitude is even more inappropriate in view of the territory where his violation occurred.

“The UP main line between Joliet and Alton has been one continual construction zone so it can be upgraded for 110-mph Amtrak service,” Guy said.

“This territory is full of equipment and manpower, and the track and bridge work migrates to different locations every day,” Guy said.

“Slow orders, Form Bs and other notices related to train movements can be issued and abolished quickly, which is why a crew unfamiliar with the track needs a pilot who knows not only the geography of the alignment but the way the railroad is using it from moment to moment.

“If a train crew is not familiar with the pilot assigned to their job, they should always question the qualifications of that pilot to determine if in fact the person is suitable to serve in that capacity.”