Rail safety legislation championed by the SMART Transportation Division’s Virginia State Legislative Board is on the cusp of landing on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

The Virginia House on Wednesday followed the lead of the state’s Senate earlier passage of the two-person crew bill this week. Once it has gone through parliamentary procedures, it’ll be off to the governor’s desk.

“Members showed up, and the groundwork we did with legislators in both chambers worked wonders in making this crew-size bill a success in the Legislature,” Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs said. “We’re just one signature away from maintaining current safe operating procedures on our state’s rails.”

Amendments made through the legislative review process reduced the scope of the bill. It had been initiated with provisions regarding train length and other safety matters.

The bill was supported by state Delegate Shelly Simonds in the House and state Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy in the Senate.

For immediate release 
March 1, 2023 
Phone: (216) 228-9400  
Department email:news_td@smart-union.org   

“This legislation goes a long way toward protecting American families and communities while fortifying the rail industry to be sustainable and safe long into the future. The voices of SMART-TD’s brothers and sisters have been heard by these senators and are echoing through the halls of the United States Congress.” 

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (March 1, 2023) — Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART-TD), is calling for national support of The Railway Safety Act of 2023, a bipartisan bill that acknowledges the real-world conditions that shape the day-to-day safety concerns of the railroad workers who haul America’s freight.  

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have listened to the concerns of their constituents and put forward a comprehensive package in the Railway Safety Act that lives up to its billing — prioritizing the safety concerns expressed by the public and rail worker alike. In this bill, they give credence to the common-sense safety measures that our union and others in rail labor have advanced for years. 

“The provisions in this act add up to the end of the era of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) and attempt to take back control of our nation’s supply chain from Wall Street’s ‘profit at any cost’ mentality. It offers a chance for the nation to make the giant rail corporations take rational measures to get the industry to do what it’s designed to do — move freight through our nation safely and efficiently and be an example for the rest of the world to model,” President Ferguson said. “SMART-TD is proud to support this bill and its efforts to bring about generational changes in this country and to take a major step to stop PSR. We will work tirelessly with this team of like-minded Senators to realize their vision for a safer and stronger rail industry.” 

The safeguards offered in the bill include, but are not limited to: 

  • A nationwide mandate for well-trained two-person crews on all freight trains; 
  • Restrictions on train length and weight; 
  • Regulations on the installation, frequency, upkeep, and response to wayside defect detectors; 
  • Speed restrictions; 
  • Drastically increased fines for rail companies and management employees who do not adhere to rail safety protocols; 
  • Universalized track maintenance standards; 
  • Universalized rail-car maintenance standards; 
  • Higher standards for tank cars carrying hazardous material; 
  • Emergency response plans for carriers and communities; 
  • Phasing out of rail cars that do not meet strengthened safety requirements; 
  • Annual government audits of rail carriers to validate compliance to new heightened safety standards. 

“Hedge fund management of rail companies and their PSR strategy have careened the United States rail industry into a dark and dangerous place in the last six years. This bill has the potential to put safe operations into its rightful place as the gold standard in railroading and not what the next quarterly report can bring. We owe it to the people of East Palestine, Ohio, and to all communities that have railroad tracks running through them to have members of Congress do the right thing — to support this bill and insist that it makes it to President Biden’s desk without being watered down by negotiations or the special interests that will seek to stop it and claim that it is too ‘burdensome’ for a highly profitable industry to implement,” Ferguson continued.  

A recently released Ipsos-USA Today poll shows that 53% of Americans believe that strengthened rail industry safety regulations could have prevented the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. 

Read the text of the bill

Fact sheet about the bill

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SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees and airport personnel.

If you’re interested in speaking more about the Railway Safety Act of 2023, PSR, East Palestine, rail safety, and the next steps for the rail industry, we’d be happy to connect you with:  

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson 

President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mic., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Ferguson headed the recent national rail negotiations for the union with the nation’s rail carriers. 

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes 

Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019. Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007-2014. In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards. 

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity

Jared Cassity was elected by his peers in 2019 and currently serves as the Alternate National Legislative Director. In addition to his elected roles, Cassity has also been appointed as the union’s chief of safety, serves as the director for the SMART-TD National Safety Team (which assists the NTSB in major rail-related accident investigations), is SMART-TD’s voting member on the Federal Railroad Administration’s C3RS Steering Committee, and is the first and only labor member to ever be appointed to the Transportation Security Administration’s Surface Transportation Safety Advisory Committee. 

The Legislature in Nebraska’s capital of Lincoln is not known to be a hotbed of activity for rail labor lobbying success stories, but SMART Transportation Division’s newest State Legislative Director (SLD) Andy Foust is actively making moves to change that. In his first week on the job, Brother Foust introduced two strong pieces of legislation that have gained bipartisan support. 

Nebraska State Legislative Director Andy Foust

The Legislature has initial hearings scheduled in March for SMART-TD’s two-person crew bill as well as a blocked crossings bill. Brother Foust’s 2PC bill, LB 31, was put forward by state Sen. Mike Jacobson, (District 42) sponsoring. The bill also has picked up traction in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature by adding an impressive list of seven bipartisan co-sponsors, including Sens. Jane Raybould (District 28); Danielle Conrad (District 46); Tom Brewer (District 43); Lynne Walz (District 15); Myron Dorn (District 30); George Dungan (District 26) and Sen. Robert Dover (District 19). 

LB 31 was referred to Nebraska’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and is slated to have its first hearing before the committee March 6.

At its core, LB 31 is a bill regulating two-person train crews on all freight trains that travel within the borders of Nebraska. However, it also includes language that aims to levy fines against rail carriers for violations of the two-person crew. The fines start off as low as $250 for the first infraction (which is already around the same rate as paying a basic day to a second employee) and quickly goes up to be as high as $10,000 on a third offense and stays at that rate for additional offenses going forward. 

Foust and Sen. Jacobson have included the series of fines to ensure that there is no financial incentive for carriers to bypass the law, if approved by legislators. With $10,000 on the line for every train they improperly crew, carriers will not be able to chalk violations up as the cost of doing business and continue their pursuit of using single-employee engine crews augmented by roving (expeditor) conductors in company vehicles. As the UP and Norfolk Southern have both publicly spoken of plan to start experimenting with this new vision of rail crews in the near future, Brother Foust’s bill is well timed to stomp it out and defend the craft of on-board freight conducting. 

The blocked crossings bill, LB 234, sponsored by Sen. Walz also has been referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and is scheduled for a first reading, also on March 6. In LB 234, Foust and Walz have established a requirement for the railroad companies to report to the Nebraska State Highway Patrol and state Public Service Commission annually. Their report will need to include the number of public complaints each carrier received about blocked crossings. The report will also go into the specifics surrounding each complaint. They will have to report data on each complaint they receive to include information such as the dates, locations of the blocked crossing, the duration of time that each crossing was blocked, and the action taken by the railroad company to resolve the complaint. 

Making records of the complaints may be tedious enough for the railroads to handle, but the last requirement is going to prove to be the part the companies like the least. This bill is looking to force the carriers to put into public record what efforts they make to listen to the people of Nebraska, be accommodating corporate neighbors and to respond to residents’ needs and concerns. 

It is our hope that with this bill’s passage that carriers such as UP, BNSF, KCS and others there then engage in some much-needed self-reflection. It will be very telling about their corporate outlook on the role of being a considerate community partner when they attempt to massage language to talk about how the Precision Scheduled Railroading business model of ever-longer trains is compatible with access to emergency services and the free flow of vehicle traffic in the state’s rural and urban areas alike.

SMART-TD applauds the collective efforts of SLD Foust and the Nebraska state senators for doing the people’s work. You are all taking the path less traveled to defend our members and citizens of your state and are doing a wonderful job at pulling on the threads of PSR itself. With momentum around the country in state legislatures, we have every intention of helping you succeed in unraveling it!

Please help SLD Foust, and all of SMART-TD’s legislative team to achieve this overarching goal. It is the challenge that defines our time in the rail industry.

For information on how to contact your state legislators to support these and other bills being considered in Nebraska and beyond, please follow this link to the SMART-TD’s Legislative Action Center.