NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio (Dec. 19) — SMART Transportation Division is assisting as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducts its investigation and offers its sincere condolences to the victims and families of those affected by the Dec. 18 Amtrak Cascades derailment outside of DuPont, Wash.
Members of SMART TD’s national Safety Task Force have responded to the accident scene and will work along with the NTSB and other rail investigators to help determine probable cause of the accident and to make appropriate safety recommendations at the conclusion of the investigation.
SMART TD has a Party Status agreement with the NTSB that makes the federal agency the chief source of information for this and other accident probes involving trains. Because of this, neither the union nor its representatives will make any official comments as to the status of the accident investigation or the events leading up to the accident. All media inquiries should be directed to the NTSB, which will provide details about the accident and the investigation. Any comment on the investigation from current or former members does not speak for the union or its membership.
“We will await the facts of the investigation and will not speculate in any way about the circumstances leading up to this accident,” SMART TD President John Previsich said. “We offer our sincere condolences to the victims and families of the victims of the Cascades derailment, and our personnel will help investigators as they look for answers as to the cause of this tragedy.”


The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

In early 1998, a Federal task force was created to examine railroad switching fatalities. Coordinated by the FRA, this working group consisted of representatives from both rail labor and carrier industry management.

For 22 months they poured over data from the 76 switching deaths that occurred between 1992 and 1998, as well as reviewed the limited data collected from similar fatal events from 1975 – 1991. Every conceivable factor involving each member’s fatality was charted, analyzed and examined in this exhaustive effort to determine the factors that contributed to our deaths as railroad workers.

On October 28, 1999, the very first Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) report containing the Findings and Recommendations of this group was made public. Click here to view the first report.

This first SOFA report contained five major railroad operating recommendations designed to prevent critical injuries and fatalities among our craft, later titled the Five Lifesavers;” the very first recommendation – SOFA number 1 began with these two sentences:

Any crew member intending to foul track or equipment must notify the locomotive engineer before such action can take place. The locomotive engineer must then apply locomotive or train brakes, have the reverser centered, and then confirm this action with the individual on the ground.”  

Sound familiar?

Now, some members have reported that they have been told to go between rail cars without establishing any such protection (3-step, Red Zone, etc.) and that they would face discipline for delaying trains if they took the time to do so.
But it so happens that over the past two decades, some members also have been disciplined and terminated over alleged failures to obtain such protection when fouling tracks.
This chaos imposed upon a good portion of our membership affects all of us. Couple this with today’s prevailing political philosophy against the supposed evils of regulatory oversight of corporations, especially concerning industrial occupational safety, and we find that protecting ourselves on the job is up to us — now more than ever!
Further, it’s a pretty safe bet that all of us know someone who was injured or worse while railroading. We all understand the hazards associated with our line of work, and we are all familiar with the old saying “the rules are written in blood.” Contrast this with those reports mentioned above that exhibit a blatant intentional disregard of safe working procedures that have been browbeaten into our conscience from our first day in railroad training, and we have no choice but to lead.
Our union’s structure is built upon our ability to look out for each other, and each local has a legislative representative (LR) who is our first line of safety.
Legislative representatives were around long before the carriers started forming company-run safety committees.
We do not oppose these safety committees, and we do rely on the carriers to live up to their responsibility for safety. But remember: We are the leaders in safety — always have been, always will be!
Your Safety Task Force encourages and urges you to work through your local LRs to ensure unsafe conditions and practices are documented, reported and corrected. Email us any question, condition, unsafe trend etc., and we will work to find a resolution.

It is time to lead, 

SMART Rail Safety Task Force


Are you prepared to make the decision?

  • How many times have you been a part of a crew-induced emergency?
  • Conductors, how many times have you alerted your engineer to take action to stop the train?
  • Engineers, do you discuss parameters with your conductors for emergency brake application in your job briefings?
  • Conductors, have you ever pulled the emergency brake (dumped the air) to stop your train?
  • Do you discuss the possible situation of emergency in your job briefings and develop an action plan?
  • Did you know that on the BNSF only three percent of crew-induced emergencies are performed by the conductor?

According to the SMART Rail Safety Task Force, this message is not intended for conductors to take control of the locomotive from the hands of the engineer. This message is meant to encourage crews to work together for safe train operation. Conductors must know they are empowered to take action if deemed necessary after assessing the situation with their engineer. It is paramount for both crewmembers to stay engaged and focused on the task at hand for safe train operations.

All too often when signals are run, speeding is excessive or train handling is improper, conductors say, “I thought the engineer had it.”

Tips for success:

  1. Job briefing: crews discuss parameters for conductors to take action and put that plan in place for emergency situations.
  2. Conductors must stay focused and alert your engineer that he or she needs to take action.
  3. Engineers must remain vigilant and aware of their situation.

CSX operating rule: 301 – control of train speed 

  • 301.1: Crewmembers must notify the locomotive operator of any condition that requires the train to reduce speed or stop not more than five miles, but not less than two miles, before reaching the condition.
  • 301.2: If the locomotive operator fails to control the train in accordance with authorized speed, other crewmembers must take action to ensure the safety of the train. When train speed exceeds authorized speed by:( a.) Less than five mph, other crewmembers must direct the locomotive operator to slow the train to authorized speed, or (b.) five mph or more, other crewmembers must direct the locomotive operator to stop the train and immediately report the occurrence to the proper authority. The train must not proceed until released.
  • 301.3: Make an emergency air brake application to stop the train if the: (a.) automatic braking system fails to respond as expected, or (b.) locomotive operator fails to take action when the train is required to stop or (c.) locomotive operator becomes incapacitated.

Do you see an unsafe trend developing, do you have an idea that will make our work place a safer one? Click here to email your SMART Rail Safety Task Force.

(This is Safety Alert #10 in a series of alerts posted by the SMART Rail Safety Task Force.)

As most railroaders can attest, there are times that procedures and operating rules set by the FRA or imposed by carriers can be difficult to understand. The language may seem vague, and the ballast-level application often is left up to interpretation, which leads to ambiguity and confusion.

Other rules and procedures are crystal clear, but the ballast-level application depends on an individual’s level of training and professionalism.

With conductor certification, this responsibility has been highlighted and enhanced, and retaining certification can depend on proper ballast-level application of operating rules.

This brings us to the proper application of one of the most important and consistent rules throughout the nation, which was put into place by the FRA to protect life, limb and property during circumstances that require the utmost attention to detail and all crew members’ undivided attention: restricted speed.

The foundation of restricted speed for all rail carriers is found at Code of Federal Regulations, Section 49, Part 236, Subpart G-Definitions § 236.812, dealing with speed restriction. It requires “A speed that will permit stopping within one-half the range of vision, but not exceeding 20 miles per hour.”

Many will read that statement and proceed at the limits of that definition — a speed of 20 miles per hour — completely overlooking the true intent of the regulation.

Restricted speed is not a posted speed that we strive to maintain. It is as crystal-clear a word that can be used in a procedure: Restricted based on circumstance –circumstance that only those in the locomotive cab can truly apply to ensure safe operation.

Is there a train ahead? Broken rail? Faulty signals? The circumstances surrounding the use of restricted speed may vary, but the importance of protecting life, limb and property never changes.

In short, restricted speed is a warning that something in front of you has the ability to get you fired, hurt or killed. 

When restricted speed is required, the warning should bring one out of your seat – make the hair on the back of your neck stand – because that is how dangerous the situation is at that point.

When speed is restricted, every element of your job should have your undivided attention, looking for what lies ahead — moving at a speed that will allow stopping in an instant when the unknown becomes known.

An in-depth job briefing among crew members is a must, and at times should include contacting the dispatcher for as much pertinent information as possible.

When speed is restricted, engineers and conductors must insist that each other drop all other activities, remain vigilant and attentive at the task at hand.

Conductors must be in position to stop the movement immediately should any doubt arise that the train is not under control using the provided emergency brake handle on their side of the locomotive.

With conductor certification, you are now held accountable, and it is only logical that you place the train into emergency 10 times than to gamble with your life once.

In some cases, we struggle to find examples of others’ misfortune to bring to light our urgency to comply with rules and procedures. Unfortunately, during 2011 there were five serious accidents where, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, crewmembers “failed to operate their trains at the required restricted speed.” Two of these accidents resulted in crew fatalities:

* Red Oak, Iowa, April 17, 2011, on BNSF

* Low Moor, Va., May 21, 2011, on CSX

* Mineral Springs, N.C., May 24, 2011, on CSX

* DeWitt, N.Y., July 6, 2011, on CSX

* DeKalb, Ind., Aug. 19, 2011, on Norfolk Southern

Be wise and learn from the mistakes of others who failed to follow rules, procedures and signal systems that were designed over decades to prevent such collisions.

The UTU Safety Task Force urges you to operate at a speed that will allow you to go home to your family in once piece — never allowing others to set your level of personal safety.


UTU Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes

Steve Evans

Jerry Gibson

To read other Rail Safety Alerts from the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, click on the following link:


SOFA LogoA UTU-member conductor employed by Canadian Pacific in LaCrosse, Wis., suffered a severe injury – being pinned beneath a freight car that derailed and tipped over — during a switching operation Sept. 5. The 43-year-old conductor had less than one year of service.

During the first six months of 2011, 37 serious injuries occurred during switching operations, resulting in three fatalities and eight amputations, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

These accidents emphasize that there is no more dangerous civilian occupation than working in a railroad switching yard, where accidents too often kill, maim and end careers.

Yard safety requires situational awareness, which is a state of mind coupled with teamwork, communication and uninterrupted attention to the task at hand.

To combat yard fatalities and career-ending injuries, the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) Working Group was formed in 1998.

It is a peer review group comprised of representatives from labor, management and the Federal Railroad Administration — all collaborating to bring railroaders home in one piece.

SOFA’s five lifesaving tips that can save yours:

* Secure all equipment before action is taken.

* Protect employees against moving equipment.

* Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.

* Communicate before action is taken.

* Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA Working Group also warns of special switching hazards:

* Close clearances

* Shoving movements

* Unsecured cars

* Free rolling rail cars

* Exposure to mainline trains

* Tripping, slipping or falling

* Unexpected movement of cars

* Adverse environmental conditions

* Equipment defects

* Motor vehicles or loading devices

* Drugs and alcohol

The SOFA Working Group’s lifesaving tips are proven to reduce your risk of a career-ending injury or death while on the job.

The UTU is represented in the SOFA group by Louisiana State Legislative Director Gary Devall, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy and Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.

To view recent SOFA Working Group reports, and advisories related to inexperienced employees, close clearances, industrial track hazards, job briefings and mainline train hazards, click on the following link:

The UTU also has a Rail Safety Task Force charged with creating action alerts to reduce rail-employee risk while on the job.

Leading the task force is UTU Arizona State Legislative Director Greg Hynes, who is assisted by UTU Arkansas State Legislative Director Steve Evans and Michigan State Legislative Director Jerry Gibson.

The task force works with UTU state legislative directors, UTU general chairpersons, the FRA and carriers in seeking to identify and communicate best practices and techniques to improve situational awareness and keep situational awareness at its highest level.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to view its advisories, click on the following link:

Train and engine workers are the eyes and ears of railroads — the first to spot trouble, and the first to suffer when trouble occurs.

On railroads, trouble too often means career-ending injuries and death.

The UTU Rail Safety Task Force was created by UTU International President Mike Futhey to develop strategies to reduce rail-employee risk while on the job. Members include Arizona State Legislative Director Greg Hynes, Arkansas State Legislative Director Steve Evans and Michigan State Legislative Director Jerry Gibson.

Earlier this year, the task force asked UTU members to share their workplace concerns. The member survey revealed overwhelmingly that fatigue, harassment and intimidation are distracting members from situational awareness and placing them in harm’s way.

The comments, below, have been culled from some 1,300 member responses. Some have been edited to correct grammar and spelling, and to remove names of railroads and individuals.

President Futhey will be sharing these member comments with carrier officials. The national legislative office will be sharing them with FRA officials.

Here is a sample of comments from UTU members:

We have an increased burden thinking of what will happen to our home and family because of harassment and constant operational testing. It affects everyone when a few easy targets are harassed.

The harassment has to stop. You cannot do your job without worrying about these officials.

An alarming number of workers are in fear of losing their jobs. Harassment is now the number-one concern in the discharge of duty.

The number-one problem is horrendous lineups. I would say if the carrier could get a handle on when they run trains, members could get properly rested to go work.

Intimidation is the prime motivator for these new young managers, who have zero clues as to how a conductor/trainman performs his or her tasks.

I have never seen any other companies harass and retaliate against employees like the railroad. They got the military beat.

Biggest safety issue? Bad lineups, bad lineups, bad lineups.

I always tell friends or strangers when asked about employment, to look elsewhere. I tell them about the working environment that is almost unbearable. The carrier is all about intimidation.

How can you work safely if you know they are watching you perform your work? That person is taking your mind off your job.

If you take too long to get out of the yard you have just put a target on your back and they will try to fire you.

I have never worked in industry with so much aggression, from management toward its employees.

Lineups are our biggest concern. Deadheads not being in the lineup before they are called causes many people to go to work without being rested.

The policy of the carrier is to intimidate, harass and assess capricious discipline on all its employees. We have gone from about three investigations last year at my location to over 20, just in the last three months.

The issue with rest isn’t time off; it is knowing when you are going to work.

The carrier uses testing to discipline and to dismiss, not for training.

Harassment is daily, and when you go to work you always wonder if you will make it through the day and have a job the next.

It’s bad when you’re out doing your job as safely as you can do it and wondering if a trainmaster or official is hiding behind the trees or bushes to try to catch you doing something wrong.

The carrier follows you around, hiding in the bushes, waiting for you to break a rule.

I can only figure when I’m going to work about 10 percent of the time.

Their safety program is based on nothing more than threats, harassment and intimidation.

Testing is so rampant that we’re afraid to look back around a curve for fear of missing a yellow board or other test.

If it takes too long to do a job safely the carrier will start to impose operational testing and follow employees around.

Managers frequently change their stories and make their stories fit the definition of a failure if they find out that the initial operations test failure in the field was not a valid failure under the written rule.

They interpret rules and assess failures based on their interpretation rather than what the rule states in black and white in the General Code of Operating Rules. This environment has caused a workplace that is less safe because of employees being more concerned about how rules will be interpreted.

The engine cab is our office, and they are never cleaned! This is basic; here is where it starts.

Efficiency tests in our terminal have increased, with an increasing number of petty failures.

Carrier intimidation creates animosity between crewmembers.

It affects everyone when a few easy targets are harassed.

They don’t care about our safety; it is all about the budget.

Many incidents, injuries and/or fatalities occur during the final portion of our duty hours. Taking into account fatigue issues, “running for the quit” is a common and dangerous practice.

Some carrier officers are very disrespectful.

It is pretty bad when you feel the need to look over your shoulder constantly.

They change jobs, starting times, crew sizes at will without regard to the men and women on the front lines. It would be nice to discuss upcoming changes rather than have them shoved down our throats without any input from the members who perform the service.

Many times I would be first out on the same extra board for more than 16 hours, and as soon as I try to get more rest the call comes in for a 12-hour run out of town. It’s a lineup for an accident.

Twelve hours off at the other end of my run is too long. I can only sleep four or five hours and then I stay awake, waiting for a call. By the time I go to work I am tired again.

When I am writing in my signal awareness form all the info the company wants, I am not looking up and around to see any unforeseen or possibly a event that could be prevented. We need more time looking instead of writing with head down, potentially missing or seeing late an important situation arising ahead of the train.

It appears carrier officials only want employees to comply with rules when they are watching/testing.

Rest is a problem on account of laying over 18 to 30 hours at away-from-home terminal. When you lay around a motel that long you are wore out.

Long lay-in times between shifts in through freight pools and extra lists is the number-one cause of fatigue in the rail industry and the carriers are increasing those times to break consecutive days worked.

The biggest safety issue in my opinion is the lack of training. There are too many people forced to do their jobs without the adequate experience to do it.

Unfortunately there is no rule or test for common sense.

All we do is watch the computer because we are constantly run around by deadhead crews while we are waiting for a train.

Affecting workplace safety is the revolving-door rulebook that changes daily.

I have been tested 21 times, had four failures, with 132 different rules, and not once has an officer ever said that we were doing a good job.

I believe there needs to be much better training on territory qualifications.

The only time a switch gets oiled or adjusted is if someone calls it in as being hard to throw. If one person were to call all of them in, management would think they are whining.

There is nothing wrong with listing a train’s movement in station order on the line it is running on ahead of other trains even if it will get run-around enroute at some point, which should give a better idea when we might be going to work.

Employees feel threatened by mass confusion and constant change, which leads to loss of focus and bitterness.

Many trainmasters have little knowledge of railroading beyond their limited
classroom training. They have a “gotcha” attitude that creates an environment that is adversarial rather than cooperative.

Not knowing when I am going to work and not knowing when to get my rest is a definite safety hazard. Usually both of us on the crew are equally tired.

Some test to get it done and some keep at it until they find something.

Some don’t understand the rule they are watching us for. We never have a rules or safety class.

The piling on of new rules and frivolous demands are distractions in themselves.

While working, most members of our crew look for testing, not actual safety hazards. This is due to managers wanting us to fail.

Production quotas always take priority in the daily switching operation. When a defect is reported a manager evaluates the problem and says it’s okay to use anyway.

Trash and tripping hazards everywhere.

I always have to be thinking about if they are hiding in the weeds.

I’m not perfect by any means, but the rulebook is thicker than the Bible! Even someone who tries to work by these rules cannot possibly do so.

The carrier does not allow power naps. I have been with engineers that stayed awake in sidings and at stop signals only to have them have a hard time staying awake finishing the trip.

Our train lineup is not accurate enough for us to plan our rest.

I have noticed when I report unsafe conditions on the hotline, the carrier at times shows the condition to be corrected, when in actuality it really is not a true statement. It only looks good when someone is reading the reports.

It is the inability to plan our rest that creates the danger.

An employee who is always looking over his shoulder for a company officer hiding in the bushes trying to find you breaking a minor rule, especially a young employee, will never work safe and will never be focused on his job and will be danger to himself and others.

I heard a first line supervisor say don’t drag the job or you will get a failure.

My biggest concern is when I get called for a job I’ve never done and the carrier denies me a pilot. It’s very dangerous being on a job in an unknown area for the first time.

The changing of the lineup happens at one time or another almost each day. This seems to be, for me, the most crucial element of not being able to get proper rest before having to report for duty, especially at the away-from-home terminal.

Dispatchers will ask how long a task will take and want a time commitment. The company wants us to hurry, yet the word “hurry” isn’t anywhere in the rulebook.

As a yardmaster the most unsafe thing we do is work while we are tired. Yardmasters do not fall under the hours-of-service law. We are required to double through to a second shift if nobody else is available. This means we are required to sit in the same location, without the ability to leave, for 16 straight hours.

I have seen engines reported for defects at least five times in the last month yet no one knows anything about it and your ordered to just take it because “there is no one here that can fix it.”

Biggest distraction is conductor’s log. Because penalty for multiple missing entries is so severe it takes precedence when, at times, situational awareness would dictate focus in other job areas.

Even when I report safety issues it seems that the carrier doesn’t address them in a timely manner.

Good railroaders need mentoring. Give me a chance to develop these young, talented railroaders. When they are ready, let their peers decide.

The things that we most often are being tested on are minor rules infractions. This puts a great level of stress on the employee.

Far too many officers have no experience doing real railroad work yet are told to tell us what to do and how to do it. Far too often we are asked to operate unsafely because they really do not understand what is happening.

At times I feel forced to hurry by company officials that stand and watch and, at times, hide and watch. The threat of constantly being disciplined is extremely distracting.

There have been too many changes in rules and too many different interpretations by company officers, so even though I might think I’m complying some officer might not.

It seems that managers try to get creative to compete with the knowledge of either the employee or another manager. I often find myself looking, nervously around, for tricky managers rather than focusing on the task at hand.

We are more concerned about not missing a little step in the procedure and losing our job than the job at hand or safety.

Way too much rushing you out the door when you get to work. No time to update time books, get operating bulletins, job briefings, etc. Every day is the same story. The second you walk in the door “we need you to get going right away….gotta get this train out and moving.”

Having a trainmaster hover over me while I look over my train papers or utilize the bathroom is just ridiculous.

Biggest problem is being watched by inexperienced supervisors.

The morale has never been so low and lack of truly experienced carrier officers so high.

When I report issues, I get the feeling they do not really care until somebody gets hurt.

We need bosses to tell us when they see us doing something wrong, instead of trying to fire us.

We are tested constantly and are treated with no respect whatsoever.

The last rule added to test brake effectiveness is a good example. It may work well for road trains left in a pass, but working trains, locals to be specific, are really hampered by the rule, and in some cases you don’t have enough cars to place brakes on to hold the balance of the train that is going to cut away. I was told to use my railroad experience in such cases. The rulebook is used only when it is convenient to the carrier.

This is my 35th year on the railroad and I have been in a constant state of unrest for practically the whole time. I’m not sure when anyone will realize I am the only person that can tell you when I’m tired. No amount of regulating, policymaking or rulemaking will ever change that fact.

I love my job. I want to work safe, but the company keeps saying that we are taking too much time.

Why is it that every time a FRA official comes onto any carrier property, they are always joined at the hip by one or more carrier officials? They never come on property with union or state legislative officials to converse with crews.

One of the most dangerous things is wide-body engines that have the angle cock on the head-end on the engineer’s side. I’m constantly climbing over these engines to turn the angle cock just to climb back over to turn an angle cock on cars I’m switching. On the road you have to go to the live track side to get to these angle cocks.

I feel that there is a greater pressure on first-line supervisors to find failures than to promote safety.

Click here to see a summary, in percentage terms, of member safety concerns.

Also, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force has its own Web page, accessible at by clicking on the red “Rail Safety Task Force” button.

 July 19, 2010

(The following is a security alert from the UTU’s Rail Safety Task Force.)

Rail security remains a constant threat to the nation’s railroads and our members. President Futhey wrote of this concern in a recent leadership message, “We need training to spot trouble.”

Based on recent events, the UTU’s Rail Safety Task Force strongly encourages all railroaders to remain vigilant in our effort to recognize potential threats.

That message was hammered home at a recent FRA hazardous materials seminar in Hot Springs, Ark. The hazardous materials specialist told a chilling story of a recent routine inspection of a rail yard.

The FRA specialist was approached by a conductor and asked, “Are you back again? We were just inspected a few days ago.”

The FRA specialist inquired about the suspicious individual’s description and what happened. Immediately, he realized that the FRA had no one in the region that fit the description.

The facts became more chilling.

When the possible terrorist was asked by a crew member as to whom he was, the individual flipped out a badge and quickly closed it without giving the crew member an opportunity to inspect it. The suspicious individual went as far as to inquire about the chemicals vinyl chloride and ammonia nitrate — if there were any cars in the yard with those chemicals, and the frequency they were there.

With rail crews subjected to physical abuse, robberies and threats from public trespassers, the potential for a breach in security seems to be trending in the wrong direction.

The UTU Rail Safety Task Force reminds our members to focus on the following:

KNOW YOUR WORKSITE: Know your area officers, co-workers, FRA and TSA inspectors — if not personally, at least by name or face.

If a person or vehicle looks out of place, and you are unsure of who an individual is, or if suspicions arise for any reason, follow your railroad’s guidelines to ensure that person remains on the property. In many cases this may involve contacting the proper authority to handle the threat.

All federal agents are required to present proper identification upon request. In cases of trespassers, caution should always be taken and it may be best to let those authorized to handle such situations handle them.

 MAINTAIN SITUATIONAL AWARENESS: Be aware of suspicious individuals and items. We generally travel and work the same areas. If something looks out of place, report it immediately. Do not leave a potential threat for others to handle.

Be aware of high risk locations, such as fuel facilities, hazardous materials cars, radio towers, and dimly lit areas. Make sure to inspect safety appliances and use them if they are required.

Inspect all locks, gates, doors and derails that are used as safety devices, and report those that are found to be damaged or missing to the proper authority.

As always, our first line of defense is ensuring that any issues that may impair our personal safety are properly handled in an expedient manner. Those on the ballast see or hear it first, and it is those on the ballast who are most in harm’s way.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, click below:

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU Arizona state legislative director

Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director

Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director

The 24 days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 have proven the most deadly for railroad workers. More fatalities and career-ending injuries occur during this calendar period than any other.

With the holiday season upon us, we owe it to ourselves and our families to keep the season joyous and free from needless sorrow. Safety is a gift we keep giving our families.

Returning home to our families in one piece requires more than simply saying, “Be careful out there.”

Since 1998, the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group — comprised of representatives from labor, management and the FRA — has devoted itself to bringing railroaders home to their families in one piece.

SOFA’s five lifesaving tips can save yours, as they have saved countless other railroaders from death and career-ending injuries:

  1. Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  2. Protect employees against moving equipment.
  3. Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  4. Communicate before action is taken.
  5. Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA working group also warns of special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

UTU members participating in the SOFA working group are Louisiana State Legislative Director Gary Devall, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy and Kansas Assistant State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.

In the 17 years since 1992, only four have been fatality free, and almost 12 percent of all on-duty employee fatalities have occurred during the 24 days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14.

Staying vigilant and heightening your situational awareness — by following the SOFA working groups life-saving tips, by being aware of special switching hazards, and by encouraging increased communication among crew members, limiting task overload and focusing on the task at hand — is the most effective way to return home to your families in one piece.

And remember: almost as many injuries and deaths involve employees with many years of seniority as new hires.

Let’s not permit ourselves to drift into mental vacations. As the SOFA working group says, warnings “can be viewed as numbers on a page, but the loss of a railroad employee is real, and brings sadness to their family, co-employees and friends.”

The UTU Rail Safety Task Force extends a happy holiday greeting to all members and their families.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to communicate with the task force, click below:

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU Arizona state legislative director

Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director

Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director

By Assistant President Arty Martin

Viewers of the cable television sitcom, Fawlty Towers, may recall an episode in which Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) beat his broken-down car with a branch, blaming the car rather than his own failure to maintain it.

Being too negatively focused on a problem rather than identifying and pursuing a workable solution can be a costly error in the workplace.

Remote control operations come to mind. For sure, remote control cost jobs, but beating up on new technology has never preserved jobs in the long run, and diverts our productive energies from crafting a positive strategy to ensure new technology is safe and that those using the new technology are properly trained and compensated for their improved skills.

An example of positive problem solving through the identification of workable solutions is a recent joint petition filed with the FRA by the UTU and the BLET seeking a safety rule requiring a qualified conductor be aboard every freight train.

Indeed, a priority of the UTU International is finding positive solutions to problems affecting our membership.

Consider other recent initiatives:

In the face of an unacceptable increase in rail-employee fatalities and career-ending injuries, a rail safety task force was appointed by UTU International President Mike Futhey to gather information and make recommendations regarding employee safety. The task force has an interactive Web page accessible from the UTU home page at

Within the next couple of weeks, the task force will post a member survey on its Web page, seeking information on workplace distractions, carrier-enforced work practices, instances of worker fatigue, and other workplace safety problems.

The Web page also encourages direct communication with task force members, intended to help the task force gather detailed facts required to back-up recommendations the task force will be making to the carriers for remedial action; and, if necessary, by the UTU International to the FRA and Congress.

Moreover, the International leadership is meeting with other rail labor organizations to build a coalition aimed at convincing the carriers that intimidation, harassment and excessive discipline are jeopardizing the ability of workers to do their jobs efficiently and safely.

President Futhey’s column in the September issue of the UTU News, which will reach your mailboxes within the next 10 days, speaks more to that problem; and the column will be posted at next week.

President Futhey encourages members to contact local chairpersons and general chairpersons to alert them to workplace situations where members unnecessarily are forced to look over their shoulder rather than focus on doing their jobs efficiently and safely. State legislative directors should always be made aware of safety problems on the job.

A listing of contact information for International vice presidents and other senior International officers also will accompany that column. This is an open-door administration and we want to hear from you.

While the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 does not contain all we wanted — and contains some provisions we didn’t want — we are working with other rail labor organizations toward a fine-tuning of that law. The law did give us conductor certification, and President Futhey has appointed a UTU team to an FRA Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to work toward a carrier/labor/FRA consensus on certifying conductors.

Also, in a joint submission aimed at improving safety and the security of member paychecks, the UTU and the BLET have asked the FRA to clarify and simplify its interim policies and interpretations relating to hours of service provisions of the Rail Safety Improvement Act.

Additionally, in conjunction with the BLET, we are working closely with the FRA to ensure that the FRA’s rules on Positive Train Control — whose implementation is mandated no later than 2015 by the Rail Safety Improvement Act — include provisions to ensure the technology is properly tested and monitored, that operating crews are properly trained, and that employee and public safety be the number one priority over all other considerations.

With regard to our airline members, the UTU is working with others in transportation labor to gain legislation eliminating flight-crew fatigue and to bring flight attendants under protections of OSHA.

As for our bus members, the UTU is working through the AFL-CIO for changes in commercial driver’s license regulations that subject bus operators to loss of their jobs if they receive citations while operating personal automobiles. We also are working to gain legislation requiring improved crash-resistant buses, uniform driver-training standards, and required training in dealing with abusive and threatening passengers.

Finally, member suggestions as to what the UTU should propose in Railway Labor Act Section 6 notices (the first step in revising the national rail contract), have been catalogued and the District 1 Association of General Chairpersons will soon be finalizing them prior to our Section 6 notices being served on the carriers in November.

To keep current on what the UTU is doing on your behalf to protect jobs and improve wages, benefits and working conditions, sign up for e-mail alerts by clicking on the link below: