safety_signA pair of House committees is planning to hold a hearing on U.S. rail security after a thwarted attack by a heavily armed gunman on a high-speed train in Europe.

The House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittees on intelligence and on transportation security and counterterrorism will meet Thursday, September 17, 2015, to discuss protections for U.S. train passengers after three Americans stopped a gunman and saved hundreds of passengers on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

Read more from The Hill.

Senators urge TSA to immediately complete measures required in 2007 legislation. 

“Tens of millions of riders use our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems every day, and these networks serve as the backbone of economic activity throughout the country…While aviation security is a vital focus of the TSA, your agency also has a critical role to play in protecting rail and transit passengers.” 

TSA-SealWASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to immediately implement outstanding security and safety improvements to the nation’s passenger rail systems that were mandated in legislation passed by Congress in 2007. In a letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, Blumenthal and Booker noted the attempted terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train last week in which three Americans successfully subdued the attacker and the need to ensure basic protections for the tens of millions of people who every day rely on America’s public transportation systems.

In 2007, Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, measures the 9/11 Commission urged Congress to adopt to ensure greater security on all of America’s transit systems. The legislation required TSA to create a regulatory framework that addresses the threats facing our passenger rail and transit agencies by having security plans in place, ensuring proper security training for employees, and requiring thorough vetting for those working on the systems. 

“Tens of millions of riders use our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems every day, and these networks serve as the backbone of economic activity throughout the country,” the senators wrote. “Our rail and transit networks carry significantly more people per day than our airlines do. Penn Station in New York City, for example, handles half a million passengers each day – making it busier than all three New York City regional airports combined, and the busiest transportation hub in our country. While aviation security is a vital focus of the TSA, your agency also has a critical role to play in protecting rail and transit passengers.” 

“Action on many Congressional mandates has languished for far too long…The legislation was enacted in August 2007 and these items were all due within one year of that date. As of August 2015 – over seven years since the last deadline – we still do not have final action on these requirements. These are urgent priorities and completion of these mandates will further prepare us for emerging threats on the horizon.” 

“Last week, three Americans traveling in Europe heroically subdued an armed terrorist attempting to attack and kill passengers on a Paris-bound train. The swift action of these men averted a catastrophe that could have claimed many lives. This close call requires that we consider the vulnerabilities this incident – and several other high-profile attacks on rail and transit elsewhere globally – expose for our rail and transit passengers. This is why we ask for action on long overdue requirements placed on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by Congress.” 

safety_signRailroads and other industry stakeholders must deploy new technology to combat rail safety accidents, according to a report released today by the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure.

Titled “Back on Track: Bringing Rail Safety into the 21st Century,” the report examines the nation’s aging rail infrastructure and highlights current deficiencies in the rail system.

Using government data, the report’s authors found that about 73 percent of all derailments between 2011 and 2014 were the result of faulty track integrity and human error. Such incidents are likely to continue to occur unless those issues are addressed, according to the report.

Read more from Progressive Railroading.

MPR news interviewed Vice General Chairperson of Union Pacific GO 225 Randy Raskin and Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy, both of Local 650 (Minneapolis), during an ongoing series of conversations about rail safety in Minnesota.

MPR News’ Tom Weber interviewed Raskin and Qualy for their expertise on trains from the inside out.

They talked about the jobs of conductors and engineers and what role they play in ensuring the safety of our railways.

Listen to the interview from MPR News.


Raskin and Qualy

Federal Railroad Administration chief Joseph Szabo testified April 10 before members of the Surface Transportation Board regarding the negative impact service degradation on the nation’s railroad network could have on rail safety and Amtrak on-time performance.

His prepared oral testimony follows:

Chairman Elliott and Vice Chairman Begeman, on behalf of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the negative impact service degradation in our Nation’s rail network can have both on rail safety and on Amtrak’s on-time performance.

Let me first talk about FRA’s top priority – rail safety.

Over the past decade, our-data based oversight and enforcement has helped the industry achieve a 47 percent decrease in both train accidents and derailments, and a 35 percent decrease in highway-rail grade crossing accidents.

By most measures, Fiscal Year 2013 was the safest year on record. But we owe it to the public to always do better.

And that’s why the railroad’s weekly metrics showing railroad performance declines among Class I carriers are a big concern to us.

As railroad performance declines, rail velocities diminish, cars on line increase, terminal dwell time increases – and above all, our experience tells us, safety can suffer, too.

We learned this with the significant service degradation Union Pacific/Southern Pacific faced about 15 years ago – when we testified before the Board – as an example of how quickly operating conditions can change and affect safety.

Experience tells us there can be a safety breakdown, for example, when it comes to the ability of supervisors to perform their jobs, as a consequence of additional work pressures.

Ineffective crew utilization can lead to employee fatigue. And in order to ensure adequate rest, crews need absolute predictability as to when they go to work.

And, as a railroad rushes to gain the upper hand on service issues, it becomes necessary to hire new employees. Without adequate training that instills the proper safety culture, the number of accidents is likely to rise.

As large of a role as the Nation’s freight railroads have in serving our Nation’s businesses and economy, no concern must ever come before safety.

That’s why we have been monitoring this service situation closely and meeting with railroad CEOs to gain assurances that the carriers are operating in the safest manner.

In BNSF’s letter to the Board in response to the Western Coal Traffic League’s request for a proceeding concerning rail service problems, the railroad announced that it will be hiring 5,000 employees in 2014 to relieve these service pressures.

While laudable, it is imperative that the railroad undertake the proper training to ensure that the railroad operates in the safest manner.

We also have noticed a marked increase in delays to Amtrak trains and an associated degradation in on-time performance.

DOT and FRA provide financial assistance to Amtrak to partially fund its operations and capital investments, and work to support Amtrak’s efforts to enhance its passenger rail services. For these reasons, Amtrak’s financial performance is of great interest to us.

And in keeping with our nationwide mandate to improve the safety of passenger and freight railroads, we focus closely on the safety of Amtrak’s facilities, equipment, and transportation operations.

It should be noted that Amtrak has set ridership records in 10 out of the last 11 years – and last year was relied upon by more than 32 million travelers. So, service issues that ultimately delay intercity passenger trains have many negative implications for travelers, Amtrak, and the transportation network as a whole.

Late trains may cause travelers to miss connections or abandon their travel plans entirely. Reduced ridership and additional operating delays cause Amtrak immediate and, potentially, long-term financial harm.

A slower, less efficient passenger rail network reduces travel options for some and may put more strain on other modes of transportation, as well.

DOT and FRA closely monitor the on-time performance of Amtrak services, because even just a few months of poor performance have the potential to cascade into long term problems.

Over the past twelve months, we have witnessed a steady decline in timeliness of Amtrak trains, particularly those that operate over the freight rail network.

Only about 63 percent of Amtrak’s Long Distance trains reached their endpoint on time between March 2013 and February 2014 – 12 percent worse than the previous 12 months.

From December 2013 to February 2014, half of all Long Distance trains were late to their final destination.

On-time arrivals to intermediate stations on Long Distance routes were even less frequent, at 48 percent over the last 12 months and just under 40 percent this past December through February.

Shorter, State Corridor trains did not fare much better, with nearly a quarter, 22 percent, of all such trains arriving late over the past 12 months.

Amtrak’s on time performance has been a long-term interest of this Department and of Congress – and Amtrak tracks and reports all train delays to the FRA.

For February 2014, the month for which data was most recently reported to FRA, delays attributable to the host freight railroad were the highest in over 5 years. The largest category of Amtrak delays in recent months has been host freight train interference.

Such a designation is based on the Amtrak conductor’s immediate observable cause.

The extreme delays to Amtrak and other users of the network are a symptom of a fragile network that is strained and struggling to react.

Thank you for providing DOT the opportunity to comment in the proceeding. I would be happy to answer questions.

FRA_logo_wordsRailroad accidents pose significant safety risks to railroads, their employees, passengers, and the public.

FRA oversees safety of the nation’s railroads. In light of three high profile accidents in 2012 involving fatalities or hazardous materials, GAO was asked to review FRA’s oversight processes and the challenges to railroad safety.

This report examines (1) the overall framework that FRA, the states, and the railroads use to ensure rail safety; (2) the extent to which FRA and the railroads assess safety risks and allocate resources to address those risks; and (3) what challenges, if any, exist to FRA’s current safety framework, and what ongoing and emerging issues FRA faces.

GAO analyzed FRA accident and incident data, reviewed the analytical models FRA uses to incorporate risk into its inspection program, and interviewed FRA headquarters and field safety staff, officials from the seven largest freight railroads and 11 smaller railroads, industry associations and seven rail labor organizations.

Click here to view the report.

WASHINGTON – Three senior Democratic senators have asked the General Accountability Office – informally known as the congressional watchdog – to review the state of railroad safety and how the Federal Railroad Administration, state rail safety agencies and other stakeholders cooperate to ensure the safe transportation of rail freight and passengers.

The review as requested by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chair of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee; Jay Rockefeller(D-WVa.), chair of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee; and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant majority leader and second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.

Lautenberg said that the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 “took important steps to address rail safety, but recent accidents have shown the need to continue examining safety and reducing the risk of accidents and fatalities.”

As the recession takes its toll, an increased rail safety threat is emerging – the theft of rail spikes and tie plates from active railroad lines.

In Woodbine, N.J., last week, police arrested four men suspected of stealing spikes and tie plates from five miles of New Jersey Transit track — used by Cape May Seashore Lines for passenger and freight operations — and selling the metal for scrap, reports the Cape May Herald newspaper.

It’s just something else rail employees must be on the lookout for – an additional aspect of situational awareness that ensures train and engine crews go home to their families in one piece.

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 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