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.

The state of Michigan is a great microcosm of the United States as a whole. It has major metropolitan areas, heavy industry, expansive agriculture and a diverse transportation network.  

Train tracks crisscross “The Big Mitten,” moving people to and from the state and getting products to both national and international markets. Belying their role in the supply chain, Norfolk Southern, CSX and a large number of shortlines have loomed large over the State House in Lansing for decades, peddling the kind of influence that reflects their role in the state’s economy as well as their bottomless lobbying budgets.  

Unfortunately for the carriers, another thing Michigan is known for is a hard-nosed and organized workforce. The most-recent demonstration of this has come from SMART Transportation Division’s own Don Roach — our state legislative director (SLD) in Michigan. Despite being outspent and outmanned in Lansing during his more than three years as SLD, Brother Roach and everyone on the State Legislative Board have not been outworked. This is being made readily apparent by the early results in this year’s legislative cycle with four pieces of legislation introduced and carrying momentum. 

First on the agenda is SB 100, Michigan’s two-person crew bill. With state Sen. Erika Geis as primary sponsor (she’s also chair of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee), it also has the additional push of nine cosponsors. With these 10 backers, the bill is already halfway to the total number of votes needed to get through the senior chamber.  

In addition to the 2PC bill, Michigan’s Senate is also looking at SB 139 to legislation limiting freight trains in the state to 7,500 feet with fines to carriers of up to $5,000 per infraction. With the number of auto rack trains rolling out of Detroit, having this law in their state of origin will help train crews up and down the Midwest and eastern seaboard. When the rack trains start coming out of Michigan with 75 cars rather than the 200-car monsters we’ve been wrestling with during Precision Scheduled Railroading, Michigan’s crew bases won’t be the only ones who benefit from this new law. Both rail congestion and road traffic congestion due to blocked crossings should see improvement. 

A third bill Michigan’s legislative team has in the works aims to defend our brothers and sisters in passenger rail and bus service. This bill that is ready to be dropped in Lansing seeks to make it a felony in Michigan for anyone to assault an employee of a commuter or passenger train or a bus driver. In addition to upping the level of criminal classification for such actions, the bill also seeks to strengthen the fines for these crimes, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per conviction.  

Finally, our Michigan contingent have their eyes on SMART-TD’s national goals. The most-recent legislation put on the state’s agenda is a resolution stating support from Michigan’s Legislature for the Railway Safety Act of 2023 introduced in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan collaboration. State resolutions of support will play a large role in garnering support from Michigan’s members of Congress as well as serve as a lead for other states to follow. 

To sum it up, our union is leading by example in labor’s war against PSR. All of us at SMART are excited to see the progress being made in Michigan and elsewhere and look forward to what comes next. 

Last week, your union put out a story discussing the 49 pieces of legislation that SMART was pushing in 17 states. As state legislatures are all hitting their stride in this year’s cycle around the country and focus on rail safety is as high as it has been in decades, these numbers are growing by the day.  

This week, we can report that the number of states we have bills in has reached 20, and the number of pieces of legislation we’re endorsing for passage has skyrocketed to 70 bills. 

These bills range from two-person crew (2PC) legislation, to train-length restrictions, to strengthening penalties on those who are convicted of assaulting bus drivers and commuter train employees to become felonies. All in all, it is safe to say that SMART Transportation Division members are getting a high return on investment out of their State Legislative Directors (SLDs) and National Legislative Department.  

Some of the bills are being advanced through state houses that haven’t seen a rail safety bill get past the committee level in decades. Momentum is with us and SMART-TD’s LRs and SLBs are seizing the moment.  

With 70 bills in front of 40% of our nation’s state legislative bodies, it is impossible to report on each bill’s individual progress every step of the way — that information is available on the Take Action page of the SMART website, but we will continue to compile weekly roundups of some of the highlights around the nation. If your state is mentioned, we ask that you follow the link to SMART-TD’s Legislative Action Center (LAC) and see how you can get involved in supporting your state’s bills. If your state is not on the list, please give our LAC a look anyway because there is a 40% chance that your state does have legislation in need of your support, even if it wasn’t mentioned in the article.  

Utah HB 63SLD Dan Brewer’s bill establishes the Office of Rail Safety in the state to regulate and inspect all aspects of rail safety and will be funded by the rail carriers who operate in Utah rather than taxpayers. HB 63 passed through both the House of Representatives and the State Senate and is pending a signature from the governor! 

Missouri SB 702SLD Jason Hayden’s train length bill limiting trains to 8,500 feet has been assigned to the Missouri Senate Transportation Committee. 

West Virginia HB 3059SLD Bryan Goodson’s blocked crossings bill made it out of the state House and has been sent to the Senate. 

Oklahoma SB 257SLD Kyle Pense’s 2PC bill has been assigned to the transportation and infrastructure committee in the Senate. 

Arizona HB 2526SLD Scott Jones’ bill to mandate heightened oversight and inspection of rail and equipment is ready to go in the House of Representatives.  

The state of Washington and its State Legislative Director (SLD) Herb Krohn have had legislative victories in the past. Washington is one of the states that has succeeded in passing a two-person crew regulation into law, with their state crewing law being the most stringent in the nation. Now Washington state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-District 37) has sponsored a bill in the state Legislature that may end up being the first of its kind.

Herb Krohn

With HB 1839, Tomiko Santos is seeking to limit the length of trains in the state to 7,500 feet.

This bill would go a long way toward the safety of our crews traversing the state and create additional trains for our members to operate.

HB 1839 also has a provision in it that states rail carriers in Washington can seek permission from the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to run trains up to 10,000 feet in length on specified routes. However, carriers would have to add at least one additional crew member to all trains between 7,500 and 10,000 feet under this provision, the state UTC can require additional crewmembers if it determines doing so is in the interest of reducing risk, such as on key trains. These 10,000-foot trains would not be as advantageous as their 7,500-foot counterparts in terms of train handling, but the addition of a third or more crew members would prove to be an advantage when yarding trains of this size. The requirement for railroads to request UTC approval to run larger trains and the restrictions on what subdivisions they can run on will also serve to discourage carriers from trying to work around the 7,500-foot restriction.

This bill seems to have momentum, making its way from initial introduction through the House Transportation Committee in just four days and passing out of committee with a do-pass recommendation Feb. 23 by a vote of 15-9. (Five members voted do not pass, and four members voted that they did not have a recommendation on the bill. One committee member was absent and did not vote).

HB 1839 has the potential for rail labor and common sense to regain a foothold in an industry that carriers have corrupted with Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The effort to get this bill signed into law is being led by Rep. Tomiko Santos with strong support by SMART-TD and SLD Krohn.

“The prospect of imposing reasonable train length limitations and eliminating the dangers of monster length trains will increase public safety as well as reduce the risks on train crews across the state of Washington,” Krohn said. “This legislation will go a long way toward reintroducing rational, common-sense regulatory oversight of how trains are operated.”

SMART-TD and our National Legislative Department are very proud of Brother Krohn and the work he’s doing in his state. The next step in the process for HB 1839 is to pass it forward from the House Rules Committee onto the House floor calendar. If it’s successful there, it will advance to the state Senate for committee hearings and votes.

In the June 2021 Talking SMART episode, we dug into freight rail safety issues that affect both railroad workers and the safety of communities around the country. Our featured guests were SMART Transportation Division Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo and former Transportation Division Nebraska State Legislative Director Bob Borgeson.

SMART Kansas SLD and freight rail safety expert Ty Dragoo
Ty Dragoo

Brother Dragoo followed his father into the railroad industry and hired on as a conductor for Union Pacific in 2005. He has served as a legislative representative of Local 1503 in Marysville, Kansas, been the state’s legislative director since 2010 and helped lead efforts to create a transportation safety task force in his state. Ty spoke with us about his work in Kansas, including two-person crew legislation and the downsides of so-called precision scheduled railroad.

Bob Borgeson

Brother Borgeson represented SMART in a state – Nebraska – with a high concentration of Transportation Division members, where he worked to bring greater public attention to the important work our members do. Bob spoke with us about the negative impacts of long trains, efforts to move two-person crew legislation in Nebraska, and the innovative media and outreach tools SMART has used recently to bring attention to key rail safety issues in his state.

In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responded to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.

Return to Talking SMART index page.

Talking SMART is a member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network — working people’s voices, broadcasting worldwide 24 hours a day.

Legislators in both the North Carolina state House and Senate have introduced bills to keep freight rail operations on the state’s more than 3,300 miles of track running safely and efficiently. A bus safety bill is also in the works in the state.
H.B. 408 and S. 348 require a crew of at least two qualified people in the operating locomotive of trains transporting cargo and hazardous materials in the state for public safety. H.B. 408 has four bipartisan primary sponsors including Rep. Wayne Sasser (R – Dist. 67), Rep. Carolyn Logan (D – Dist. 101), Rep. Charles Graham (D – Dist. 47) and Rep. Verla Insko (D – Dist. 56), and 30 co-sponsors. The Senate version of the bill got a late start due to the Ninth Circuit court ruling and so S. 348 only has two Democratic primary sponsors including Sen. Sarah Crawford (D – Dist. 18) and Sen. Julie Mayfield (D – Dist. 49), and three co-sponsors. Both bills have had their first reading and have been referred to the Transportation Committee and Rules Committee, respectively.

Ron Ingerick, SMART-TD North Carolina state legislative director

“It is vitally important to maintain the presence of two crew members in the locomotive,” said Ron Ingerick, North Carolina state legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division. “Despite any advances in technology, there is a safety factor called ‘the Rule of 2’ in having the engineer and the conductor in the cab, just like how airplanes have pilots and co-pilots. With the size and complexity of the modern freight train, each crew member has responsibilities, and simultaneously performs duties in providing safe and efficient operation. These crew members are the first responders to a grade crossing collision, derailment or other emergency situation.
“The public safety of our communities is non-negotiable, and H.B. 408 and S. 348 will help prevent potential accidents or derailments. The citizens of North Carolina deserve to feel safer with two crew members in the cab in the trains that roll through their communities, day and night.”
Another bill filed in the House looks to curtail railroads’ use of giant trains that block crossings. H.B. 438, filed March 29, has three Republican representatives as primary sponsors: Rep. Howard Penny (R – Dist. 53), Rep. Jerry Carter (R – Dist. 65) and Rep. Mike Clampitt (R – Dist. 119). The bi-partisan bill currently has 21 co-sponsors — two of which are the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Transportation Committee — and is still accepting more. H.B. 438 intends to place a limitation on train length, which has been growing from an average length of a mile and a half five years ago to now sometimes exceeding four miles. The main culprit is an operating strategy initiated in 2017 by the nation’s biggest railroads called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).
“Since the evolution of PSR, trains in this state have increased in length and weight, with haphazard train builds, fewer safety-critical inspections, and maintenance being deferred —increasing the risk of derailments,” said Ingerick, who is an active railroader, as well as our N.C. state legislative director who brings awareness to legislators in Raleigh. “A train that is longer is harder to operate. Also, concerns have risen from local communities and emergency responders as these longer trains have increased instances of blocked crossings.”
Blocked rail crossings cause an inconvenience for motorists, who must find alternate routes, especially in rural areas. They also pose a safety risk to pedestrians who may attempt to go under or climb over rail cars to continue their travels. A blocked crossing can play a part in delaying or detouring emergency responses when seconds or minutes count, sending responders out of their way when their aid is needed.
“Railroads are looking at returns and how their stocks are doing on Wall Street,” Ingerick said. “PSR puts safety last and profit first and makes a dangerous business even riskier.”
Lastly, Ingerick reports that the Bus Safety Risk Reduction Act has been released from bill drafting and will be filed in the coming week. The bill will include risk analysis, barriers, de-escalation training and data collection.
“Overall, I feel that we’re in a good position right now concerning these bills, but we need continued involvement from the membership in order to get these bills passed,” Ingerick said.