As of April 18, the suspect remained at large with no reports of an arrest out of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

General Chairperson John Ellis issued the following public statement on April 18:

“SMART’s Union represents 5,000 Bus and Rail Operators. Our priority has always been the safety of our Brothers and Sisters as they carry out an essential transportation public service.  These distressing incidents MUST stop.  No one should have to endure these traumatic encounters whether as a passenger or one of our members.

“I continually speak on behalf of our members and have emphasized the critical importance of implementing the safety barriers on all buses. The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated. No one should have a fear of going to work and they should all feel safe.

“I am viewing a barrier prototype on display this afternoon. The enclosure is designed to provide our Operators a sense of protection. After Operator input and endless meetings with Metro, today’s viewing will be the first step to approve the mass production of the retro fit of enclosures on Metro’s fleet for the driver’s area. 

“Together we are united in our commitment to create a secure and safe work environment for our members who are essential heroes.”

At 8:30 p.m. April 13, one of our SMART Transportation Division members was brutally attacked on the job. As of now, the suspected attacker has not been arrested and is still on the loose.

SMART-TD wants all of our bus and transit members in the L.A. area to be on the lookout for the suspect in this attack. Please do not allow this man, who is being sought by law enforcement, to enter your bus or train. He is considered to be armed and dangerous.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of this man, please contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at (213) 541-2558.

The Federal Railroad Administration published a safety bulletin Dec. 29 regarding an unintended release of a train’s air brakes while stopped at a signal. The text of the advisory as published in the Federal Register is reproduced below.

FRA is issuing Safety Advisory 2022-02 to make the rail industry aware of a recent issue encountered by a train crew that experienced an unintended brake release of a train’s automatic air brakes while stopped at a signal, and to recommend steps addressing the unintended release of train air brakes.


On June 22, 2022, during a significant thunderstorm, a crew consisting of a locomotive engineer and conductor operated a conventionally powered, intermodal train with 3 head-end locomotives, 47 loaded cars, and 6 empty cars, totaling 9,204 feet in length and 7,392 tons in weight. The engineer stopped the train on a downhill grade of 0.9-1.18% near the signal governing the train’s movement, set the train’s air brakes at approximately 12 pounds, and fully set the locomotive consist’s independent brakes. After being stopped for approximately 3 hours, the engineer and conductor, located in the lead locomotive cab, observed the train roll towards the signal interlocking displaying a stop indication. This train experienced an unintended automatic brake release. The locomotive consist’s independent brakes remained fully applied but due to the grade, tonnage and wet rail could not solely hold the train without the automatic air brakes also being applied.

At that time, an opposing train on the same track was preparing to cross through the interlocking in front of the rolling train. The locomotive engineer of the rolling train applied full-service airbrakes and full dynamic braking but was not satisfied that the brakes were working effectively or fast enough. The conductor operated the emergency brake valve and stopped the train short of the signal and the train that was preparing to cross through the interlocking.

The crew then contacted the dispatcher and railroad management to report the unintended brake release and the conductor set a sufficient number of car handbrakes to hold the train on the grade.

FRA’s investigation of the rolling train’s event recorder, positive train control (PTC) system, and engine data logs, revealed: the PTC system had operated properly and would have initiated an emergency brake application upon reaching the signal; the Trip Optimizer was off; and the lead locomotive and consist did not cause the unintended brake release. Instead, FRA determined that, after approximately three hours with the air brakes set, the air pressure slowly bled down from some of the cars’ auxiliary reservoirs, likely causing localized brake releases.[1] The initiation of the brake release would enable the accelerated release functionality by taking some air from the emergency brake reservoirs and directing it back into the brake pipe resulting in a substantial number of adjacent car brakes releasing. Potentially contributing factors causing the train’s unintended movement included the downhill grade, wet rail, and the train’s tonnage.

Due to the potential for air brake system leaks, FRA prohibits unattended trains from depending solely on air brakes to hold equipment.[2] While the aforementioned rolling train was attended, it nevertheless engaged in an unintended movement.

Based on FRA’s review of this incident, and its awareness of other train incidents involving an unintended air brake release under similar circumstances, FRA believes operating guidance is warranted to help reduce the likelihood of similar unintended air brake releases, and therefore makes the following recommendations.


1. Train crews should not expect a service rate or emergency brake application to indefinitely maintain application of a train’s air brakes.

2. If a train is stopped with air brakes set, and the train begins moving, the crew should immediately apply the emergency brake. After the train is stopped, the crew should set a sufficient number of handbrakes to secure the train from further unintended movement before releasing the brakes and recharging the train’s air brake system.

3. Each railroad should adopt and implement an air brake procedure consistent with Recommendations 1 and 2 that addresses unintended brake releases.

4. Each railroad should have an operating supervisor conduct a face-to-face meeting with each locomotive engineer and conductor to explain and reinforce the contents of this advisory.

FRA may modify Safety Advisory 2022-02, issue additional safety advisories, or take other appropriate necessary action to ensure the highest level of safety on the Nation’s railroads.

Issued in Washington, DC.

John Karl Alexy,

Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety, Chief Safety Officer.


1.  FRA notes this type of prolonged pressure release would likely not be identified during a periodic single car air brake test. Back to Citation

2.  49 CFR 232.103(n)(2). Back to Citation

A safety alert was issued this week after the discovery of tripwires by a Class I worker Aug. 19 stretching from rail spikes to a sign across the ballast near Harrisonville, Mo.

“The affixing of these wires – difficult to find even when looking for them, much less see while performing professional duties along the right-of-way – presents a substantial hazard for railroad workers,” the Railway Alert Network alert issued Aug. 22 stated.

View the full alert here. (PDF)

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issued an alert late last week in response to three rail fatalities that have occurred since early March.
Two of those incidents resulted in the loss of life of SMART-TD members — Taj Ellis and Buddy L. Strieker — and occurred during shove movements.
The third incident occurred on Pan-Am Railways in Newington, N.H., on May 19 when a worker was fatally injured while attempting a coupling on a curve.
“While these recent cases have not yet been analyzed, the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the three fatalities that have already occurred during 2021 and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting shove movements, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearance hazards. Last, but not least, remember to hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes,” the group said in its alert.
A flyer of the alert to print and share is available.

December 18, 2020
Brothers and Sisters:
As we find ourselves amid what is historically the most dangerous season of the year, I must unfortunately caution you of new additional intensified dangers borne from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) most recent Final Rulemaking. On Friday, December 11, 2020, the FRA granted an extensive and exhaustive list of regulation changes, the vast majority of which served to lower the bar of safety and increase the profit margin for this nation’s rail carriers. This is evidenced in the no less than two dozen references of cost savings to the carriers as a result of this rulemaking. Not only has the FRA once again vacated its role as the country’s chief safety regulator, but it has also failed in its own mission statement, vision, and purpose.
As you are aware, a known unsafe condition exists with the DB-10 brake valves in cold weather conditions. In fact your Union, on December 15, 2019, petitioned the FRA to issue an Emergency Order that would prioritize safety over productivity by requiring the replacement of the defective valves and disallow the railroads’ attempts to apply stopgap procedures that only camouflage and exacerbate the seriousness of the situation. That petition was unfortunately denied by the FRA muzzling our request for the safest course of action.
Due to the FRA’s reckless action, rolling stock is now permitted to be off-air for 24 hours before requiring a new brake inspection. This means that the only true method of identifying the faulty brake valves has been reduced immeasurably, if not eliminated altogether on certain properties. As a result, the regularity of brake inspections has now been reduced to a fraction of the previous standard, and, thus defective brake valves will be permitted to remain in service longer and be more apt to adversely affect a train’s braking capabilities. Given the consequence of these faulty valves remaining in place is that they render a train’s emergency brake feature inoperative, I am asking all to please remain diligent in your daily duties and to take nothing for granted. This includes railroad workarounds designed to mask flawed brake valves like drawing the brake pipe pressure down to zero before making a separation. Should a carrier official ask you to perform such a task, please notify my office as soon as it is safe and proper to do so, so that we may address it with the carrier and applicable government agencies.
The railroads have historically had trouble maintaining an accurate record of when a train or car(s) initiates its “off air” status (and that was with the four-hour limit). I highly anticipate major complications regarding the determination of actual time off air when going on-duty or making a pick-up. If you feel as though you are being instructed to move equipment that has been off air greater than twenty-four hours, please report it to your supervisor and to my office. Do not be insubordinate, but also do not allow the instance to go unreported or undocumented. We will progress the report accordingly.
In addition to the time off-air regulation, the FRA has also made changes to regulations regarding single-car air brake tests, end-of-train devices, helper service, brake maintenance, additional brake-related items, utility employee duties, and various other rules and/or processes.
It is clear the intent of these changes was not to improve safety, but rather to widen the avenue in which railroads can operate without oversight or guidance – a devastating scenario we just experienced with the Boeing 737 Max. As such, please rest assured that our legal department is currently in the process of filing a formal appeal and petition of reconsideration to overturn this extremely dangerous and egregious action. However, until a recourse can be achieved, it is on all of us to have our brothers’ and sisters’ backs. It is clear that the FRA and carriers do not.
Fraternally yours,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President – Transportation Division
Click here to view this letter as a PDF.

The FRA’s Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) working group recently released two new documents — one on the importance of job briefings and the other a safety alert following three switching accidents that have occurred since August.
In the safety alert, SOFA warned, “the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the 159 injuries that occurred this year through August 31, 2020, and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting the shove movement, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearance hazards. Last, but not least, remember to always hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes.”
Click here to read the full safety alert. 
In their “SOFA Lifesavers – Why Job Brief?” notice, SOFA details the importance to perform job briefings and points out that one in five switching operations fatalities lacked an adequate job briefing.
Click here to read SOFA Lifesavers – Why Job Brief?
The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis working group was formed by the Federal Railroad Administration in the early 1990s in an effort to analyze switching accidents and prevent future accidents and fatalities. The group consists of representatives from the FRA, labor and management.
Click here to visit SMART-TD’s SOFA page where these and other SOFA documents are available.

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


The Association of American Railroads issued a a safety alert for all railroads in North America after the recent discovery of a razor blade wedged into a safety appliance handhold on a covered hopper car.

The condition was discovered by a shop worker from the Anderson’s Inc. at the car repair shop located in Bay St. Louis, Miss., April 16. A photo of the condition is below.

James P. Grady, AAR assistant vice for technical services, asks that this information be widely distributed to all coworkers, contractors, customers and all who deal with freight cars.

Be on the lookout for any similar acts of vandalism.


The Federal Railroad Administration has called attention to an injury where a conductor, while lifting the operating lever on a freight car, was dragged four car lengths after the lever became tangled in the hammer loop of his coveralls.

The FRA recommends cutting off the hammer loop on coveralls or securing the hammer loop to the pants leg so that it does not create a hazard.

Career-ending personal injuries and fatalities have continued to increase in the rail industry.

To educate members on the circumstances of these incidents, and in attempts to avoid them in the future, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, appointed by International President Mike Futhey, urges that each of you continue to look out for each other and forward your ideas and concerns about workplace safety to them so they may address them.

Interactive communication and “looking out for each other” is imperative to bringing us all home from work in one piece.

To ensure we all go home to our families in one piece, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force asks for a 100 percent commitment to rules compliance and to the following eight activities:

  1. Job briefings: Ensure all crew members are present for job briefings, and focus on risk assessment.
  2. Situational awareness: Constantly be aware of your surroundings and maintain situational awareness to avoid risks associated with the required tasks and work within the limits of your capabilities.
  3. On/off standing equipment: Keep hands free of other objects and maintain three point contact, always being vigilant for equipment movement.
  4. Avoid slips, trips and falls: Keep your eyes on the footpath and report any unsafe walking conditions to your local legislative representative for handling.
  5. Radio communications: Always use proper identification, provide car counts when shoving, do not engage in excessive chatter; use “over and out.”
  6. Put safety first: Performing a task safety is more important than the time it takes to complete it. The only “good move” is one done 100 percent by the rules.
  7. Ask questions: If any uncertainty arises, take the time to ask questions. Do not take risks or assume anything.
  8. Be in charge of your own safety: Do not let others set YOUR level of safety. Report harassment and intimidation.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to communicate with the task force, visit the task force’s interactive Web page by clicking:

this link

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force
Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director