UTU to FRA: ‘Say no’ to Mexican safety checks

December 9, 2010

First it was Union Pacific wanting to have its trains inspected in Mexico.

Now BNSF is making the same plea to the FRA — and as the UTU and other rail unions did in the case of UP — the FRA is being advised to, “just say no.”

Putting safety first cannot co-exist with farming out crucial safety inspections to the lowest bidder, the UTU and the other labor organizations told the FRA in the case of both UP (in October) and BNSF (in December).

To begin with, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 established standards to be met when railroads seek safety waivers, such as wanting trains inspected south of the border.

The UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and the American Train Dispatchers Association contend that neither UP nor BNSF have demonstrated that the inspections in Mexico will meet minimum FRA standards.

In fact, neither UP nor BNSF has shown that the FRA will have the uninhibited authority to examine the Mexican facilities where the safety inspections would be made.

Furthermore, said the UTU and other labor organizations, moving the inspections south of the border would be in direct conflict with congressional policy — and eminent common sense — to preserve employment in the U.S. during this lengthy and stalled recession.

The labor organizations told the FRA that “it is common” for cars from Mexico to enter the U.S. “with handbrakes applied, retaining valves set, angle cocks closed and bad order cars located within the train.

“Not to be overlooked is the fact that these trains also frequently are transporting hazardous materials cars,” the UTU and other labor organizations told the FRA.

“Historically, the FRA has denied requests for waivers of air brake and mechanical safety inspections on trains entering the U.S. if the request involves movement of the trains past a point where the inspections can be performed,” said the labor organizations.