SMART published the first episode of SMART News – a new video/web show focused on issues of importance to SMART members and working families across North America – on September 27, 2022, responding to feedback from SMART workers on the information from their union that they find relevant.

“SMART News will focus on issues that matter to you, your job and your family,” said Paul Pimentel of SMART Communications during the first episode. “This is your news, your union, delivering information that matters to you.”

SMART News is intended to fill an information void for SMART members and other workers in North America by specifically addressing events and developments that impact their lives and their communities – in other words, news that often goes uncovered. The first episode features an update from SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson on freight rail contract negotiations; information on new megaprojects and indoor air quality work for sheet metal workers; a discussion on progress made for SMART members with General President Joseph Sellers; an overview on the FRA’s proposed two-person crew regulation from TD Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity; and much more.

Watch the full episode above, or find specific links to segments of the show below. To watch an extended interview with TD President Ferguson, text RRContract to 667336.

Jump to a segment in this episode:

Since November 2019, SMART members in the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department on Class 1 freight railroads have been engaged in intense negotiations with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), a coalition of employers representing the railroads. Throughout that entire time, the NCCC has continued its assault on labor by seeking agreements which are both unfair to workers and bad for the industry.

The NCCC’s wage proposals would result in an actual reduction in employee earnings in “real wages” (adjusted for inflation). The carriers have proposed such measures as increases to the amount of work that is contracted out and changes to the 40-hour work week, all while demanding that workers pay more for H&W coverage. Despite posting record profits during the pandemic, employers refuse to admit that it is the workers who have risked their lives to keep trains running. And after the experience of the pandemic, the carriers still refuse to agree to paid sick leave. Apparently, management doesn’t see the link between their higher earnings and the harder work performed by our members.

One thing is clear: Our members are prepared to seek the protections, wages and respect they deserve.

Unlike many at SMART, those working on the railroad negotiate with employers (the carriers) under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), a law enacted in 1926 to settle labor disputes using arbitration and mediation instead of the more familiar collective bargaining model under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Because of the particular structure of bargaining under the RLA, parties often end up negotiating through the National Mediation Board (NMB), an independent federal agency that helps resolve contract issues. Repeated failures to reach an agreement can even result in negotiations being pushed to an emergency board established by the president of the United States.

After 18 months of unsuccessful bargaining, SMART’s coalition requested mediation from the NMB in June 2021. After several sessions of both mediation and “super mediation” – in which no productive dialogue occurred and carriers only offered deals that would substantially diminish any increase in compensation while simultaneously refusing the unions’ proposals – the NMB finally released the parties on June 17, starting a 30-day cooling off period.

On July 15, in order to avert a shutdown of the rail industry, President Biden established a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), an entity that is tasked with investigating rail disputes and issuing non-binding recommendations. Under the RLA, if a PEB concludes and the parties do not accept its recommendations within 30 days, the parties may then exercise “non-violent self-help” (strike or lockout). Ultimately, however, Congress has the final authority to impose a resolution, and it has done so in the past in order to avoid such an outcome.

While this process is complicated, we are hopeful that it will provide the framework for an agreement that is beneficial to workers. One thing is clear: Our members are prepared to seek the protections, wages and respect they deserve.

The reported that just days after a backpack filled with explosives was found near a New Jersey train station, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and  Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), its ranking member, submitted a bill that would mandate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allocate funds to secure and protect rail and transit transportation hubs.  Read the complete article here.

By DOT Assistant Secretary Greg Winfree

DOT_Logo_150pxIt’s no secret that freight rail and rail transit services are growing. With transit ridership breaking records year after year and expanded domestic fuel production putting more energy freight on the network, the rail industry in North America just continues to grow. This growing demand for rail services is exactly why the new Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rail Tech and Engineering Center (RailTEC) is so important.

Last month, I had the pleasure of touring the new lab and helping celebrate its official opening.  There’s no question that this world-class facility –funded by DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, the Federal Railroad Administration, railroads, and rail industry suppliers– underscores RailTEC’s status as a national leader for rail transportation research and innovation.

DOT’s University Transportation Centers (UTC) program supports critical transportation research at competitively selected colleges and universities like Illinois around the country. As the lead UTC for rail research, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign works with rail industry leaders and state organizations to ensure that the research and curriculum continue to be relevant and timely.

The Research and Innovation Laboratory makes another powerful argument for why every dollar spent on priority transportation research ultimately pays huge dividends.  Cutting edge technologies like the Track Loading System and Rapid Component Degradation System housed in RAIL give researchers state of the art tools for developing safer and more resilient track designs while informing industry standards and best practices.

As impressed as I was by the technologies housed in the RAIL facility, I was even more impressed by the people I met along the way. The students and faculty of RailTEC bring innovative ideas and a tireless commitment to making rail transportation an even stronger force for enduring economic prosperity—and a more environmentally sustainable transportation network for freight and people.

 Rail is one of the fundamental reasons why the United States became a global economic power in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rail transportation remains critical to American industry; countless businesses depend on our nation’s 140,000-mile freight rail network to keep their supply chains moving safely and efficiently. So, ensuring the safety and vitality of our rail network is essential to remaining competitive in the global economy of the 21st Century.

The University of Illinois’s Rail and Innovation Laboratory is exactly what this country needs to prepare for the future.

Some people lie on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train. Some walk defiantly in the direction of a train as it hurtles toward them, or stand in place until they can look directly into the eyes of the terrified engineer.

Others walk along the tracks listening to music through earbuds, purposefully oblivious to the approaching train that will end their life.

However they do it, suicides by train are on the upswing in New Jersey, leading NJ Transit and the state Department of Human Services to work together with a sense of urgency on new programs aimed at stemming the tragic trend.

Click here to read more. 

IAHA logoVANCOUVER, Wash. — The International Air and Hospitality Academy has added a new program called the Northwest Railroad Institute. The new degree program will be the fourth such program offered in the U.S.

Students taking the six-month program will be provided with training for freight railroad careers including freight conductors, conductor trainees, brakemen, switchmen and yardmen. Training for engineers and passenger conductors is not yet available.

The degree will consist of nine units including yard switching operations, air brakes and train handling rules and hazardous materials practices and handling.

The institute reckons that nearly 20 to 25 percent of the rail workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next couple of years and entry-level jobs will become available.

“A diploma from the Northwest Railroad Institute soon will be a ticket for landing an entry-level job in the railroad industry,” said Terry Keene. Keene is a member of the school’s advisory committee and worked for BNSF Railway for 39 years and was a member of UTU Local 1977.

To start the academy will only be accepting 50 students to the program. Students must have a high school diploma or GED to apply and be at least 18 years of age. The school will start to accept applications for the program beginning June 15 and classes are set to start July 15. 

Similar programs are offered at two locations of Modoc Railroad Academy near Sacramento, Calif. and Marion, Ill., and at the National Academy of Railroad Sciences at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.

America is still mired in recession, but the railroad industry continues to show financial strength.

Most railroads over the past week reported strong improvements in profit and operating efficiency for the first quarter 2011. Stocks of Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern hit 52-week highs this week, while Norfolk Southern’s stock reached an all-time high.

For the first 16 weeks of 2011, U.S. rail carloadings are up 4 percent over the same period in 2010, while intermodal (trailers and containers atop flat cars) are up 8.9 percent.

In expectation of an improving economy, railroads have boosted orders for new freight cars, ordering as many during the first quarter 2011 as for the entire calendar-year 2010.

What’s driving the rails? Fuel efficiency has a lot to do with increased intermodal traffic. The Federal Railroad Administration says railroads are from 1.9 to 5.5 times more fuel efficient than trucks, and with diesel fuel prices spiking, there is a clear competitive advantage available to railroads so long as they can maintain reliable and consistent service quality.


Railroad intermodal (the movement of trailers and containers aboard flatcars) is poised to enter a “golden age,” reports the Journal of Commerce.

The magazine estimates that 2011 could set an intermodal shipment record, eclipsing the record 14.2 million trailers and containers hauled by rail in 2006. In 2010, railroads hauled 13.4 million trailers and containers.

For the six weeks ending Feb. 12, the Association of American Railroads reports trailer and container loads are running more than 7 percent ahead of the same period in 2010.

Given a spike in fuel prices owing to Mideast turmoil, and the fuel efficiency advantage of rail over truck, that surge is expected to continue.

In his state-of-the-union speech Jan. 26, President Obama mentioned the word “railroad” eight times — the most mentions of “railroad” in more than 30 years of state-of-the-union messages delivered by five different presidents.

Yes, there are those who keep count.

In fact, the Washington, D.C., public policy advocacy firm of Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell used their research skills to trace back to the turn of the 20th century — more than 110 years ago — mention of the word “railroad” in state-of-the-union speeches.

As the table below indicates, railroads were a pretty common topic of statecraft prior to World War II, not the least of reasons being that they were the primary means of moving people and freight in America. That, of course, was before commercial air travel — especially jet aircraft — and Interstate highways. Indeed, Teddy Roosevelt said “railroad” a whopping 153 times in state-of-the-union speeches during his presidency (1901-1909).

The dearth of the word “railroad” in state-of-the-union speeches in the decades between Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) and Jerry Ford (1974-1977) ended with Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). Carter mentioned “railroad” 26 times in state-of-the-union speeches — and for good reason. During Carter’s presidency, railroad deregulation was among the top domestic priorities of his administration. It was Carter who signed into law the Staggers Rail Act, largely deregulating railroads, in 1980.

Comes now iron-horse champion Obama, who, in word and deed, is looking to resurrect rail passenger service — more precisely, world-class 21st century high-speed rail service — as a principal alternative to commercial airlines and automobiles.

Below is a table, courtesy of Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, breaking down the mention of the word “railroad” in state-of-the-union speeches since 1901.


PresidentTotal “Rail” Used
Barack Obama8
George W. Bush1
Bill Clinton1
George H.W. Bush1
Ronald Reagan3
Jimmy Carter26
Gerald Ford2
Richard Nixon0
Lyndon Johnson1
John Kennedy1
Dwight Eisenhower0
Harry Truman2
Franklin Roosevelt3
Herbert Hoover14
Calvin Coolidge29
Warren Harding32
Woodrow Wilson37
William Taft62
Teddy Roosevelt153


To read more about what President Obama said about railroads in his state-of-the-union speech, click on the following link:

WASHINGTON — Rail traffic for the week ending Jan. 15 continued its upward climb, reports the Association of American Railroads.

Carloads were up by 7.5 percent compared with the same week in 2010, and intermodal (trailers and containers on flat cars) showed a gain of 5.8 percent over the same week in 2010.

The AAR reported that for the first two weeks of 2011, U.S. railroads reported an increase of 13.5 percent in carloads and 7.2 percent in intermodal.