State Senate has rail safety bills regarding two-person crews and train length before it

Michigan State Legislative Director Donald Roach served as a primary source as The Detroit News published articles this week (subscription required to read) centering on two pieces of rail safety legislation in the state Legislature.

Michigan State Legislative Director Don Roach
Donald Roach

After reviewing the circumstance of derailments and details of recent rail accidents in the state, the piece highlighted the renewed focus on the need to examine freight rail safety in the wake of the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment.

S.B. 100 would codify the long-standing standard and safe rail practice of requiring two operating crew members aboard a train. S.B. 139 places a-length limit of 7,500 feet on trains.

“Any time if there’s an incident along the rail, whether it be a pedestrian strike, or a car in a crossing, or there’s trespassers along the way, the conductors are always the first responders,” Roach told the Detroit News. “… They could be walking back to a fire. They could be walking back to just a set of wheels on the ground. It could be anything.”

State Sen. Erica Geiss, who introduced both the train-length and crew-size legislation, told the Detroit News that she expected the state Transportation Committee to consider these bills this spring.

Neighboring Ohio passed and saw a two-person crew signed into law at the end of March.

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.