Tag Archives: Train crew size

Rail workers score big safety win in California

Repost from People’s World
[Editor:  See earlier coverage:  News Release from California Senator Lois Wolk.  – RS]

Rail workers score big safety win in California

By: Mark Gruenberg, August 26 2015
lacmegantic

Photo: Police helicopter view of Lac-Mégantic, the day of the derailment. Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more missing and presumed dead. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Commons

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (PAI) – Rail workers scored a big safety win in California on August 21 as state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill mandating two-person crews on all freight trains.

The measure, pushed by the Teamsters and their California affiliates, the Rail Division of SMART – the former United Transportation Union – and the state labor federation, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who is expected to sign it.

Rail unions nationwide have been pushing for the two-person crews while the rail carriers have been pushing for just one, an engineer. Several months ago, the head of one carrier, the Burlington Northern, advocated crewless freights.

The unionists told lawmakers presence of a second crew member would cut down on horrific crashes such as the one that obliterated downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, two years ago. Then, a runaway oil train crashed and exploded, killing 47 people. That train had only an engineer. There has been a string of similar U.S. accidents since, especially of oil-carrying trains. Recent oil train accidents were near Galena, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and in West Virginia.

The proposed California statute requires trains and light engines carrying freight within the nation’s largest state – home to one of every eight Americans – to be operated with “an adequate crew size,” reported Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from SMART, the Teamsters and other unions.

The minimum adequate crew size, the bill says, is two. Railroads that break the law would face fines and other penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission supported the bill, SB730.

“Today’s freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gas, and acids that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” said sponsoring State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Solano.

“With more than 5,000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever present danger. I urge the governor to sign this bill into law, providing greater protection to communities located along rail lines in California, and to railroad workers.”

“California has nearly 7,000 miles of railroad track that winds through both wilderness and urban areas, making train safety a priority issue,” said California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith. “SB730 will help to protect railway workers, the public, and the environment from freight train derailments by ensuring trains operate with a two-person crew.

“The labor federation is proud to support this critical legislation and we’re urging the governor sign it into law.”

The rail workers union and Railroad Workers United have also pushed for two-person crews at the national level, but they’ve run into indifference, at best, in the Republican-run 114th Congress. Meanwhile, the carriers lobby federal regulators to let them have one-person crews.

Dennis Pierce, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the Teamsters Rail Conference, told the U.S. House Transportation Committee in June that while another safety measure – positive train control (PTC) – would also help cut down the possibility of accidents, it’s no substitute for two-person crews.

“PTC can’t replace the second crewmember,” Pierce said then. “It doesn’t provide a second set of eyes and ears trained on the road ahead or monitor the ‘left’ side of the train for defects like hot wheels, stuck brakes or shifted lading, or observe the ‘left’ side of highway-rail grade crossings for drivers who fail to stop, or separate stopped trains that block crossings to allow first responders to cross the tracks.”

SMART, the Teamsters and other rail unions and workers are pushing the Safe Freight Act (HR1763), mandating the two-person crews, introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the senior Republican in the House.

SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said, “The safest rail operation is a two-person crew operation. With several major train derailments having occurred in the last few months…our lawmakers and the general public must understand that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though it can fly itself. Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different.”

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Rail safety bill sent to CA Governor – requires minimum 2-person crews

Press Release from California State Senator Lois Wolk
[Editor:  Significant quote: “According to the CPUC, of all the industries subject to their oversight — energy, water, telecommunications, and transportation — rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year”  See also coverage in The Reporter, Vacaville, CA.  – RS]

Wolk rail safety bill sent to Governor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 21, 2015, Contact: Melissa Jones, (916) 651-4003 
Bill requires minimum two–person train crews

SACRAMENTO—The State Assembly voted 51-28 yesterday to approve legislation by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to protect communities along rail lines and railroad workers by requiring trains and light engines carrying freight within California to be operated with an adequate crew size. The bill now goes to the Governor.

“Today’s freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gas, and acids that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” said Wolk.

“With more than 5,000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever present danger. I urge the Governor to sign this bill into law, providing greater protection to communities located along rail lines in California, and to railroad workers.”

SB 730 prohibits a freight train or light engine in California from being operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least two individuals.   It also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to assess civil penalties, at its discretion, against anyone who willfully violates this prohibition.

The CPUC supports SB 730, stating that requiring two-person crews is a straightforward way of ensuring two qualified crew members continue to operate freight trains in California.  According to the CPUC, of all the industries subject to their oversight — energy, water, telecommunications, and transportation –rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year.

“Senator Wolk’s legislation helps keep us at the forefront of rail safety,” said Paul King, Deputy Director of the Office of Rail Safety for the CPUC. “Senator Wolk’s bill would ensure that freight trains continue to have the safety redundancy that a second person provides. Such redundancy is a fundamental safety principle that is evidenced in certain industries, such as using two pilots in an airplane cockpit, or requiring back-up cooling systems for nuclear reactors.”

The bill is also supported by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, International Brotherhood of Teamsters; California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO; California Teamsters Public Affairs Council; and United Transportation Union.

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U.S. sets new final rule on oil, ethanol trains: crew size, briefings, locks, brakes

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  See the Federal Railroad Administration’s press release.  Also, the Final Rule.  – RS]

U.S. sets new final rule on oil, ethanol trains

By David Morgan, Jul 29, 2015 3:35pm
An aerial view of burnt train cars after a train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec July 8, 2013, in this picture provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.  REUTERS/Transportation Safety Board of Canada/Handout via Reuters

An aerial view of burnt train cars after a train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec July 8, 2013, in this picture provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. REUTERS / Transportation Safety Board of Canada / Handout via Reuters

WASHINGTON |  The Obama administration on Wednesday released a new regulation intended to prevent explosive rail disasters such as the 2013 oil train derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed part of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

The new rule by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires two qualified railroad employees to ensure that handbrakes and other safety equipment have been properly set on trains left unattended while carrying dangerous materials such as crude oil or ethanol.

A series of oil train accidents in recent years led the United States and Canada in May to announce sweeping new safety regulations that require more secure tank cars and advanced braking technology to prevent moving trains from derailing and spilling their contents.

The new rule is directed specifically at trains left parked on main lines, side tracks and in rail yards.

On July 6, 2013, an unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota rolled downhill and derailed in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic. The FRA said a leading cause was that the train had not been properly secured.

“Requiring that an additional, trained individual double check that the handbrakes have been set on a train will help stop preventable accidents,” acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said in a statement.

The new rule also contains requirements that involve briefings for train crews, exterior locks on locomotives and the proper use of air brakes. It applies to trains carrying substances that can cause harm if inhaled and any train carrying 20 or more cars of “high-hazard flammable materials.”

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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