On a beautiful Kansas spring day, legislators, their families, and community members gathered for a special train ride hosted by SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Rock Island Railroad.

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo speaks at Baldwin train depot before the excursion trip.

The event provided an opportunity for advocacy and education on rail safety legislation, community involvement and the development of industry partnerships.

SMART-TD Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo spoke with the legislators at the historic Baldwin city train depot and a safety briefing by the train crew followed before everyone came aboard.

As the train rolled through the scenic countryside, legislators engaged in discussions with TD representatives, learning about the importance of rail safety and the need for comprehensive legislation. The SMART-TD team shared their firsthand experiences and emphasized the crucial role of rail safety in protecting both workers and the public.

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo speaks with a fellow passenger during the Kansas excursion trip.

The train ride also showcased the strong community involvement in rail safety. Leaders from statewide organizations representing first responders and firefighters attended and demonstrated their readiness to respond to any emergency situation. Their presence highlighted the importance of collaboration between rail workers and emergency services to ensure the safety of everyone involved and the need for common-sense minimum rail safety legislation.

SLD Dragoo gives a passenger an assist.

Key to the event was the partnership between SMART-TD’s Kansas contingent and the Rock Island Railroad in Baldwin City.

“Rock Island provided the historic train and the tracks, creating a unique and memorable experience for all participants,” Dragoo said. “The partnership demonstrated the commitment of both organizations to rail safety community engagement and a shared interest in advancing rail safety legislation.

“It was an awesome event. Special thanks go to the crew members and Robert Riley, CEO of the Rock Island Railroad, for their dedication and hard work in making the legislative train ride a success. Their contributions ensured a safe and enjoyable event for everyone involved.”

Dragoo said that he hopes that the excursion becomes a regular event because it can educate and strengthen understanding among legislators about the industry in a practical way.

Making two-person crews the rule of the land in the state of Kansas took an atypical route to the finish line but got there just the same.

It has been the goal of SMART Transportation Division Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo for years and it was finally achieved. When asked about how he made this happen, Brother Dragoo cited persistence and patience as the keys, along with some out-of-the-box thinking.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who began her second term in Topeka in January, has been a friend to rail labor throughout four terms in the state Senate as well as in her first term as governor. Throughout her public service, she’s accomplished quite a bit for rail members and their families in Kansas, and during her first term as governor, she and SMART-TD thought that 2PC had been made the law of the state.

On July 27, 2020, Kelly signed a safety rule establishing a minimum railroad crew size — making Kansas the ninth state in the country to have accomplished this goal. Just one formality stood in the way of that being a reality.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly poses with Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.

At the time she signed the rule sent to her desk from the Kansas Department of Transportation, the state’s attorney general was a man named Derek Schmidt, a Republican who was in the beginning stages of campaigning to challenge Kelly for governor in 2022. In an effort to flex his political muscle and block his future opponent from the accomplishment, Schmidt opted not to sign the safety rule, allowing it to die on his desk. As they say, “Schmidt happens.”

What did not die that day was the drive of Brother Dragoo and his team of LRs to secure the conductor craft in Kansas.

As the political fight card for Kansas’s statewide races coalesced for the 2022 election cycle, it was no surprise to see Schmidt squaring off against Kelly to take the reins. This was obviously not in the best interest of our membership, so Dragoo and SMART had a clear-cut role to play. SMART-TD and all Kansas’s labor movement worked hard to secure Kelly’s narrow 11,000-vote re-election in 2022. As a bonus, Schmidt’s failed gubernatorial ambitions meant that he forfeited his seat as the state’s attorney general.

Having learned the hard way that having a rail labor-friendly governor in office was not enough on its own to get a 2PC rule into state law, Dragoo and his team of LRs also got involved in the state’s race for the AG’s office.

In that race, rail labor had the luxury of having both candidates for the job open to our message. In an unconventional manner, Dragoo and SMART-TD endorsed both Democrat Chris Mann and Republican Kris Kobach. Both candidates had advocated for rail safety, and that is what matters to our organization. Political party affiliation is not what qualifies someone to earn our endorsement, a commitment to rail safety is. As it happened, SMART-TD was the only trade union in the state of Kansas that endorsed Kobach. It was a distinction that did not go unnoticed, and, appropriately on May Day, Kobach didn’t forget about his labor support.

Dragoo and the Kansas State Legislative Board had secured the needed support in both offices to solidify the 2PC rule, so when Gov. Kelly again sent the DOT’s proposed safety rule to the AG’s office, it was signed and sealed into Kanas state law.

“We always need to remember that elections have consequences all the way up and down the ticket,” Brother Dragoo said about the five-year-long multi-party, multi-office, multi-administration battle to secure the role of freight conductors in his state. “SMART-TD and labor in general cannot allow ourselves to confine our thinking to the standard way of doing business in our state capitals. This holds especially true in red states that are traditionally less friendly to our causes.”

When asked about the ramifications of the rule becoming the law of the land in Kansas, Dragoo went on to say: “This is the proudest day of my career. It took every one of our LRs in the state to get this done, and I’m eternally grateful to my team as well as Gov. Kelly, AG Kobach and their staff for safeguarding our members and the public through the work they have done on this regulation.”

SMART-TD is very proud of the work being done in Kansas. Not only have they cemented the two-person crew in the state this year, but in the 2023 legislative session in Topeka, they also presented a noteworthy 13 bills in their efforts to bolster safety on the state’s railways.

Time will tell if these bills have the legislative support to be signed into law in the future, but if the past two years have taught us anything, we know that Brother Dragoo doesn’t take no for an answer very well, and these bills will be given every opportunity to be considered one way or another.

The 2PC regulation will take effect upon the publication of the Kansas Administrative Regulations (KAR) that follows the conclusion of their general assembly for the year. Brother Dragoo anticipates that this will happen in a matter of weeks.

Kansas is a state with a population of only 2.94 million people — ranking as the 35th largest state in the country, population-wise. In contrast to that number, according to the American Association of Railroads’ website, Kansas ranks sixth in the nation for distance of rail with 4,252 miles. With 16 railroad companies operating in the state and this high density of rail, the industry plays a very important role in the landscape of the Jayhawk State and keeps SMART-TD’s Kansas State Legislative Director (SLD) Ty Dragoo very busy.

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo

Currently, Brother Dragoo is working for the good of our membership as well as the people of Kansas by fighting to pass Senate Bill 215, known as the Kansas Rail Safety Improvement Act (KRSIA). In SB 215, Dragoo and bill sponsor Sen. Carolyn McGinn (R-31st District) have built an aggressive package aimed at reversing the effects Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has had on the highly rail-dependent state. The railroad lobby has strong roots in Kansas and SB 271 was introduced with components of SB 215. While SB 215 is the goal, SB271 is the start in a state that has not seen any railroad safety laws passed in five decades.

Sen. McGinn introduced SB 215 in the second week of February, and it was quickly assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee. To date, SB 215 has sat on a shelf in committee having not been given a hearing for five weeks while UP scattered rail cars across the state in a pair of high-profile derailments. However, through negotiations with legislative leadership Dragoo has secured hearings on SB 271 and action is anticipated.

SB 271 will limit freight trains to a length of 8,500 feet within the state’s borders.

In order to prevent accidents at rail crossings, the bill also creates a minimum distance between road crossings and standing equipment left in sidings. The bill states that rail cars in a siding can’t be any closer than 250 feet to the edge of a road. With this 250-foot gap, the bill seeks to create clear lines of sight for motorists to be able to adequately determine if the crossing is safe to use without rail cars impairing their view of potential oncoming trains.

All in all, this bill being backed by SMART-TD is positioned to bring about significant improvement to the quality of life for Kansas rail crews. Ending the era of unrealistically large train consists, reducing the number of critical incidents at road crossings make for an impressive list of safety enhancements in a state that has seen its share of rail incidents this month. On March 4 and March 12, two separate incidents involving Union Pacific trains resulted in a combined 31 cars of mixed freight leaving the rails in Riverdale and McPherson, Kan. Though neither of the two derailments were as devastating to the communities as the toxic spill in East Palestine, Ohio, that has been grabbing headlines nationally since early February. Two of the cars in the McPherson derailment did leak denatured alcohol and caused a grass fire.

No one was hurt in either incident and officials have assured both communities that there are no immediate or long-term health threats from these two derailments. Even with this being true, the timing of these incidents has shed light on the importance of Dragoo’s bill.

The facts on the ground dictate that it’s time for the legislators in Topeka to give Brother Dragoo’s legislation strong consideration. Residents and taxpayers throughout Kansas shouldn’t settle for anything less.

It is of the highest importance for all our members in Kansas, along with their family and friends, let their state senators know that they demand action on behalf of the Transportation Committee. They need to act as soon as possible. Please follow the link provided to SMART-TD’s Legislative Action Center and enter your address. It will give you the contact information of all your state and federal representatives, then click on your state senator and take a moment to send him/her even a 2–3-line message that encourages them to take up the issues of SB 271.

The time is now to push for the passage of rail safety legislation across our country. Please put your shoulder to the wheel and help SMART-TD’s legislative department in Kansas and in every other state do the work to safeguard our brothers and sisters as well as the communities we all live in.

Good labor relations with elected officials can be summed up by knowing that the people who represent us in our state legislatures and Washington D.C. are familiar with our needs and concerns, and that they keep us informed on what is going on in their committee meetings and about legislation that might affect our membership.

Great labor relationships are when elected officials value our opinion and actively seek it out to help decide their votes and what legislation they write to bend the actions of government to the best interests of our membership. The latter is what is happening in Kansas under the leadership of State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo (Local 1503, Marysville, Kan).

In February of this year, Brother Dragoo was chosen to introduce Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kans., Dist.-3) at an event discussing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (previously known as the IIJA — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). This was a great showcase of the role that SMART plays in the labor community of the state. What’s more important is that on October 19, Secretary Buttigieg came back to the state to hold a series of events and round table discussions about how to move forward and Brother Dragoo was brought into the thinktank to be consulted. 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh meets Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo on Oct. 19 in Kansas.

Along with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Secretary Buttigieg and Rep. Davids, SLD Dragoo helped form discussions surrounding the implementation of federal dollars in both Kansas and nationwide. In one of the multiple events of the day, SLD Dragoo was the only representative of the labor community at the table with the White House contingent along with a handful of contractors. Brother Dragoo’s role in these important discussions is indicative of the expanding role SMART-TD is playing in recent days when it comes to forming public policy.

When asked about the day’s events, Brother Dragoo described how refreshing it is to be treated as a contributing player of the team rather than being viewed as an opponent. He went on to say that the access that our union has been given to the Biden team is unprecedented in his 12 years as the SLD of Kansas. 

In his words, “With past administrations, labor was considered and given a spot at the table on some issues, but with the Biden administration, the meeting doesn’t happen unless labor is represented.” 

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo, left, meets with federal Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Oct. 19 in Kansas.

The emphasis the administration has placed on labor has given SMART added clout with Congress as well. SLD Dragoo receives calls weekly from Davids to discuss upcoming votes she has and how to best represent SMART members in Kansas.

“It’s this kind of a productive relationship that allows us to create a better future for our members,” Dragoo said. 

In the past year, Kansas has seen the fruits of these relationships in the form of 26 newly funded projects for the Kansas Department of Transportation. These projects are beneficial to Transportation Division and Sheet Metal members alike.

It’s said that change is inevitable, and it’s up to you whether you merely react to that change or if you become the agent of it. SLD Dragoo and SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department have positioned themselves well to have a big hand in what is to come in Kansas as well as in the rest of the country. 

“SMART really has become the leader of labor in Kansas,” Dragoo emphasized. “With continued support from SMART members, we can create better careers and a better country for all of us.”

The governor of Kansas Laura Kelly (D) recently demonstrated her support for SMART-TD members and their safety by submitting comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in support of a national two-person crew regulation.

Pictured in the governor’s office in April, left to right: Senator Carolyn McGinn (R); Mike Scheerer, LR Local 94; Troy Fansher, Local 1503; Governor Laura Kelly (seated); Nick Davis, Local 527; Ty Dragoo, SLD Kansas; Chad Henton, ASLD Kansas; Kyle Brooks, Local 1503.

“I am pleased to announce that Governor Kelly has joined our fight at the federal level,” Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo said. “We asked her to support our efforts with the proposed rulemaking by issuing comments from the state of Kansas, and she has shown once again that she is with rail labor.”

“As Governor of the state of Kansas, I directed my Department of Transportation to submit a proposed regulation requiring railroads that operate in the state to maintain a two-person crew in the controlling cab of the lead locomotive unit of each train. I believed that this was a needed step to preserve safe operation of the rail industry in Kansas. Having one person responsible for an 18,000+ ton train hauling hazardous materials jeopardizes the safety of our crews and the public at large,” Governor Kelly wrote in her comments.

Not only did Gov. Kelly write in support of two-person crews, she also cited instances of when two-person crews were necessary to protect her state during derailments and pointed out that as two persons currently operate trains on nearly all railroads in the state, no additional costs would be incurred by the regulation.

Follow this link to read Gov. Kelly’s full comments.

If you have not yet submitted your comments in support of a two-person crew regulation to the FRA, follow this link to do so now.

Follow this link to read the proposed rule.

Members of the SMART Transportation Division and other unionized rail workers came together for a day of protest May 10 outside the North American Rail Shippers (NARS) annual meeting.

Early in the day, SMART TD Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo, New Mexico State Legislative Director Don Gallegos, TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller and many other union members, spouses and supporters spent hours outside and around the Kansas City Marriott Downtown in Kansas City, Mo., to draw attention to Class I carriers’ Precision Scheduled Railroading scheme, BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” attendance policy and the fact that National Rail Contract negotiations are approaching a third year.

“We had people joining in just walking by, people honking showing support as they drove by,” Dragoo said. “We had people from many different Class 1 railroads there, not just BNSF.”

Some of the protesters outside the North American Rail Shipper conference hold signs May 10 in Kansas City. (Photo courtesy Kansas SLD Ty Dragoo)

Dragoo thanked many of the lead organizers of the event, including SMART-TD National Safety Team Alternate Director — East and Kansas State Legislative Secretary Dan Bonawitz (Local 1409, Kansas City, Kan.), Kansas State Alternate Legislative Secretary Mike Scheerer (Local 94, Kansas City, Kan.), Legislative Representative Tim Alexander (Local 1532, Kansas City, Kan.) and Local 1532 Trustee Matt Collins, as well as 1532 member Jason Bluett and member Rodney Sparks of Local 5 (Kansas City, Mo.).

“Dan Bonawitz and his team have done a tremendous job getting the word out. These events are crucial as we wage the war of public opinion in legislatures across the country and congress,” Dragoo said. “Citizens need to know that their communities are in danger not only by reducing crews from a public safety standpoint, but the economic impact that has on communities when good union jobs leave. We will keep the fight up and we won’t back down!”

The demonstration outside the NARS gathering, which was attended by C-suite-level executives from many of the Class I freight railroads, was not the only coordinated demonstration that has taken place.

More than 100 people took part in informational pickets in Guernsey and Gillette, Wyo., Local 465 Chairman Kevin Knutson told the Platte County Record Times.

“The goal of this informational picket was to raise awareness with the public of the BNSF Railway policies that are not only degrading our workforce and harming our families but directly impacting our communities and increasing the cost of goods for all Americans,” he told newspaper reporter Mark DeLap. “The informational picket was also an effort to spotlight how BNSF Railway is directly at fault for the regressive policies causing these hardships.

“We, as families, friends, employees and retirees, have never experienced such an antagonistic approach to a workforce and their employees before,” Knutson said.

SMART TD Local 445 was in attendance at the May 15 rally in Ft. Madison Iowa.

A protest coordinated by TD officers, the SMART TD Auxiliary and other rail labor groups also occurred April 30 at BNSF parent company Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting.

Another rally was hosted by the Lee County Labor Chapter on Sunday, May 15 in Ft. Madison, Iowa. Dozens showed up at the informational protest and a news crew from ABC-affiliate WQAD8 was on hand to interview the protestors about their dissatisfaction with the Class I carriers.

There are two more informational protests scheduled in the greater Chicago area on May 25 and 26.

The first protest will be at the CN Glass Palace on Wednesday, May 25 at 5:30 a.m. Those attending should meet up on the corner of Ashland Ave. and Maple Rd.; or 1657 Maple Rd., Homewood, IL 60430. For more information see the first picture at the end of this post.

The second protest will be Thursday, May 26 at 5:30 a.m. at the Union Pacific Proviso Yard at 5050 W. Lake St., Melrose Park, IL 60160. For more information, see the second picture below.

Additional events will continue to be organized at all levels in order to inform the public and other groups about the concerns of rail workers.