The following message was sent to the UTU National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo:

Whenever one is discussing an ambitious, long-term program, like our high speed and intercity passenger rail program, it is helpful to remind ourselves – and others – about the original vision we committed to in 2009.

Since the very beginning, we have been executing a clearly laid out plan for a passenger rail network that includes high-speed trains, upgraded regional service, and improved connections for emerging markets. All three are interdependent and fundamental components of passenger rail operations in countries around the globe where high speed rail service is successful. This vision was announced by the president when we released our April 2009 strategic plan Vision for High Speed Rail in America

I often make the analogy to our modern highway system. In the same way you would not take an interstate highway directly to your neighborhood, one would not use a high speed train for every passenger rail trip. Our interstate system works because we have a robust network of state, county, and local roads that feed into the Interstate system. This same tiered-service concept applies to passenger rail.

With investments focused extensively in five mega-regions, we are moving forward with 152 passenger rail projects in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 50 percent of our investments are producing world-class high speed rail, some 45 percent higher-quality regional service, and the balance higher-performing feeder service. All improve the customer experience by reducing trip times, improving reliability, adding additional frequencies, or improving passenger amenities, and help build a high-performing passenger rail network. And we are doing all of this while preserving or enhancing our thriving freight rail network.

Four years ago we made a promise to deliver on a vision for a more comprehensive passenger rail network and we’re keeping that promise. By executing good project fundamentals, with the leadership of our state partners, we’ll continue to bring projects in on time and budget and advance this next generation of transportation.

The following message was sent to the UTU National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo:

In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama spoke about the importance of investing in our infrastructure as a path to create new jobs and lay a foundation for America’s economic success.

Joe Szabo

In the last three years, American businesses have added 6 million new jobs, including a half-million in manufacturing. But there’s more to be done. And while construction jobs are often the most visible, our investments can continue remaking America as a magnet for manufacturing.

In a new report, the Environmental Law and Policy Center highlights the scope of the railway supply industry in the Midwest.

The report found 122 suppliers in Ohio, 99 in Indiana, 49 in Michigan, 84 in Illinois, 73 in Wisconsin, 26 in Minnesota and seven in Iowa. The Midwest is not alone. Railway suppliers are located in 49 out of 50 states and employ 94,000 people.

Manufacturers like Cleveland Track Material in Ohio are benefiting from the $12 billion the U.S. DOT has invested in passenger rail over the last four years. Started by Vietnam Veteran Bill Willoughby in 1984 in an impoverished section of Cleveland, the company was one of 53 across 20 states that received an order from Maine’s Downeaster service expansion project. Last year, Cleveland Track invested over $5 million in new production equipment at their plant. The company employs 300 people in Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. 

Manufacturers are opening new plants in the United States. Recently, the state of California awarded the newly-opened Nippon Sharyo plant in Illinois with a contract to build 130 rail cars that will run on the state’s existing corridors.

Amtrak and California High Speed Rail Authority have answered our call to work together to explore a bundled procurement for the next generation of high-speed rail equipment – equipment designed to reach up to 220 mph. Combining orders will provide incentives to high-speed rail manufacturers to build factories domestically, creating new high-quality jobs and tremendous opportunities for suppliers.

Investments in freight rail will also mean new jobs at suppliers. Last week, the Association of American Railroads announced the industry would invest more than $24 billion this year in its network.

President Obama also recently signed into law the Shortline and Regional Railroad 45G Tax Credit. The Railway Tie Association estimates that when the 45G credit is in effect, between 500,000 and 1,500,000 additional railroad ties will be installed each year.

For the first time in more than a decade, America is adding new manufacturing jobs. Continued investment in our rail network will put Americans to work in factories today, and lead to economic expansion over the next generation.

Last year was the safest year in the history of the railroad industry, based on performance measures tracked by the Federal Railroad Administration.

For the fifth fiscal year in a row, the industry has improved on all six of the FRA’s official safety performance measures, including the rate of grade crossing incidents, human factor-caused train accidents, track-caused accidents, equipment-caused accidents, signal and miscellaneous train accidents, and non-accidental rail hazmat releases.

The industry has also met the Department of Transportation’s set safety performance goal for rate of rail related accidents and incidents.

Those performance measures were highlighted in a message to railroad industry and labor leaders from Federal Railroad Administration head Joe Szabo.

“We thank our partners at the railroads, their employees and communities across America for their commitment to achieving these results. Keeping our railroads safe is a team effort,” Szabo said.

These statistics are somewhat welcome news to the UTU and its membership. In 2012, six members of the UTU were killed while on active railroad duty. That is the least number of UTU rail members killed on active duty since 2009.

“While there is a bright side to the data released by the FRA, there are still some clouds in the sky,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey. “Even one death on the railroad is one too many.”

Szabo acknowledges there is more work to be done.

“This year, we will continue to take proactive measures to prevent accidents and incidents by aggressively advancing Risk Reduction and System Safety Programs. We will also stay focused on our collaborative effort with industry and labor to eliminate electronic device distraction. Together, we can make 2013 even safer,” he said.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration will soon publish final rules instituting conductor certification and imposing new hours-of-service limitations on intercity passenger-train and commuter employees in safety sensitive positions.

FRA Associate Administrator for Safety Jo Strang made the announcement at the UTU’s regional meeting June 21 in San Antonio, Texas.

She observed that since former UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo became FRA administrator, the partnership between the UTU and the FRA in seeking improved workplace safety “has certainly been strengthened.”

Conductor certification, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2012, “recognizes the level of professionalism required by our conductors today,” Strang said.

A notice of proposed rulemaking on conductor certification was published in November and is the product of a collaborative effort through the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee, which includes carriers, rail labor and the FRA.

UTU members serving on the RSAC Conductor Certification Working Group include Local 1470 Chairperson David Brooks, General Chairperson (CSX, GO 049) John Lesniewski, Local 538 Legislative Rep Ron Parsons, Local 645 Local Chairperson Vinnie Tessitore, National Legislative Director James Stem, Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch, and UTU safety consultant Larry Mann.

Strang said the passenger hours-of-service regulation will apply sleep science and fatigue management to railroad hours-of-service, “which is the first time in our industry’s history that this has been done. It recognizes the inherent differences between freight and passenger service.”

For example, intercity passenger and commuter railroads operate on fixed schedules. Commuter railroads operate primarily during daylight hours, and most commuter employees return to their home terminals every night.

The passenger hours-of-service regulation will “balance the need to manage fatigue with the need to maximize income,” Strang said. “The rule also recognizes the significant safety contribution that a defined start time has for the employees involved. When the employee knows when they must report for service, they can manage the necessary lifestyle adjustments. The outstanding safety record of our passenger and commuter rail operations is an excellent example of just what it means to have a regular start time.”

Strang also mentioned risk reduction programs, acknowledging that their FRA-sponsored implementation on some railroads “have earned a bad reputation. Let me be clear about FRA’s viewpoint,” Strang said. “Building strong safety cultures can only be accomplished through the establishment and nurturing of voluntary risk mitigation policies and procedures — setting realistic benchmarks and milestones, and favoring constructive corrective behavior over punitive discipline. To be clear, both railroads and labor have to define boundaries since compliance with the rules is at the heart of safety.

“Railroads have had the same culture for 180 years,” Strang said. “We have been trying to change it for five years.”