CLEVELAND — The closing session of the SMART Transportation Division 2024 National Training Seminar recapped significant safety advancements driven by our railroad members over the last year.

The key to continuing those improvements is sharing safety concerns at every level. Several examples were presented at the seminar.

Officers in Minnesota won hours of service cap for yardmasters

TD President Jeremy Ferguson recognized Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich who, along with Alternate Vice President Christopher Bartz, pushed legislation to create hours-of-service limitations for yardmasters in the state.

Passed in May 2024, Minnesota became the first state to protect yardmasters from excessive fatigue and overwork. After listening to their members, and with evidence in hand, they were able to make a positive change. Their shifts in the tower are now capped at 12 hours.

“They were successful, and I want to thank them for a job well done in getting hours of service protections for our yardmasters,” Ferguson said.

The push for federal protection for yardmasters continues in Washington, D.C.

Railroad union and FRA continue working for C3RS

SMART-TD officers also were instrumental in getting a pilot program for the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) together on three Norfolk Southern properties — the first time in recent years that a Class I has committed to anonymous safety reporting.

After the East Palestine, Ohio, rail disaster, the Association of American Railroads committed its member railroads to take part in C3RS. Already routine for aviation workers, the anonymous reporting system is independently administered by NASA.

“They said they were in,” Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity said, but the carriers balked during discussions with the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). They wanted to keep the ability to punish their employees.

“So, we’ve not made a lot of headway,” Cassity said. “I am not going to stop our fight to pursue C3RS on Class Is across the country, and for every railroader, because the reality of it is the data’s there.”

Norfolk Southern’s pilot and BNSF, with its dispatchers and signal maintainers, are the two exceptions.

C3RS has been established on 31 freight and transit operations nationwide, with about one-third of those properties with SMART-TD representation. Passenger rail properties such as SEPTA, Metro North, MBTA and Amtrak, and a smattering of short lines are among the participants. As a result, those SMART-TD members can anonymously report incidents that could have resulted in an accident.

“It works in the aviation industry. They’ve had it for more than 40 years. We’ve had it for 20 years,” Cassity said. “It’s a proven product.”

Local union officers learn how to bring C3RS to their property

Rob Castiglione, staff director of safety partnerships and Liz Gross, legal counsel from the Federal Railroad Administration, outlined how to get a freight or passenger carrier to take part in C3RS.

FRA’s Rob Castiglione speaks during Day 3 of the National Training Seminar in Cleveland on July 11.

First, the local chairperson on smaller properties or general chairpersons on larger properties must reach a memorandum of understanding with carrier management. It’s not difficult, as FRA and labor set up a template in 2003.

“It’s important to get FRA involved early,” stressed Castiglione, who once served as an FRA inspector. “Once you start having conversations about what an agreement or an IMOU (initial memorandum of understanding) looks like, get us involved. We are a stakeholder — this is a tri-party agreement between labor, railroads and the FRA.”

Next, encourage union members to use the system. Unless people on properties with the program make reports, it won’t be useful.

“We can’t promote this program all by ourselves,” Castiglione said. “This program does not succeed if members do not participate. It really starts at the grassroots level with your local chairpersons. Some of those folks who work side by side — the engineers and conductors talk about this program and how it works.”

Finally, provide all the details in those reports. Sometimes it’s a struggle to collect usable information due to railroaders’ guarded nature, he said.

“Too often we get reports that lack sufficient detail for the peer review team to understand what the hell happened,” Castiglione said.

But NASA, which has handled close to 2 million reports since the program began, eliminates any personally identifiable details from the reports. Workers shouldn’t be wary of taking part.

“Never once has NASA breached confidentiality for either the carrier or the worker,” Castiglione said.

The safety benefits are well-documented. C3RS has resulted in 19 safety alerts, nine notices to industry at large and 90 immediate alerts to individual carriers.

Properties who take part see marked improvements in safety with no risk to those who take part — a more than 25 percent improvement in incidents from years before.

“Close-call reports will never put people in a worse place,” Gross said.

C3RS and related links

FRA C3RS home page:

Volpe Center Lessons Learned:

NASA C3RS page:

NASA C3RS database search tool:

The largest railroad union in North America scores another win for their members, this time as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signs four bills into law on the final day of the 2024 legislative session.

Minnesota State Legislative Director (SLD) Nick Katich and the State Legislative Board worked tirelessly to provide a 12-hour cap on yardmaster shifts, new insurance requirements and a complaint procedure for crew van services, and a state-run review of wayside detector operations.

“The 2023-24 Minnesota legislative biennium has been quite the ride. We passed 2PC last year and now are bringing more wins to the members,” SLD Katich said.

The SMART Transportation Division’s Minnesota State Legislative Board

Yardmasters protected from double shifts

This groundbreaking law defines new hours-of-service rules (HOS) that limit a yardmaster’s shift to 12 hours. Similar rules already protect conductors and engineers from overwork.

SMART-TD is pursuing this goal in multiple states, with an eye toward a national policy. Hats off to the Minnesota Legislative Board for being the first to get the job done.

This win protects railroaders throughout Minnesota as the yardmaster is at the center of everything that happens in a railyard. Due to investor-lead business practices, yardmasters have been forced to cover multiple yards remotely, and work up to 16 hour shifts. When working conditions become more stressful and include longer shifts, everyone’s job is less safe. This law will allow the overworked yardmasters to gain much needed rest which in turn can potentially save lives.

Double insurance requirements for contracted cab companies

SLD Katich and Minnesota’s legislative board assisted in getting the Crew Van Law passed which doubles the amount of uninsured/underinsured coverage to $2 million. It also creates a complaint process that is sent directly to the Minnesota Department of Transportation Rail Safety Office for crews regarding cabs hired by the railroad. MNDOT will investigate the complaints and enforce any penalties. This law will give our crews more control over their safety while being transported by outside cab companies.

State to examine wayside detectors

A third legislative victory mandates MNDOT to study the technologies and inspection practices of railroad wayside detectors. The study will support future legislation intended to protect all Minnesota residents from derailments and other unsafe railroad operations.

Finally, Minnesota’s legislative board passed legislation that helps railroad police officers uphold the law and investigate accidents without the influence of railroad managers.

Big support from legislators got things done

This was only possible because of the work put in by everyone involved and our friends in the legislature. Sen. Rob Kupec, Rep. Jeff Brand, and Sen. Jennifer McEwen carried our bills and represented our interests with diligence and passion. The chairs of Senate and House transportation committees, Sen. D. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein, have been tireless advocates for rail and worker safety, proving their dedication to doing what is right. These legislators are WITH US. The new laws would not have been possible without the work and support of the State Legislative Board and all the members who contacted their legislators.

Katich is ready to recalibrate the board’s focus until lobbying season begins again.

“I’m looking forward to getting back into the local meetings and reconnecting with everyone,” said Katich. “It’s been very hectic, and I am eternally grateful for the unwavering support the membership has shown me.”