Tag Archives: United Transportation Union

California Governor signs law requiring minimum 2-person freight train crew

From the Press Release
[See also: 9/11/15 coverage on Progressive Railroading.  – RS]

Governor signs Wolk rail safety bill into law

Bill requires minimum two–person train crews

 
September 9, 2015 

SACRAMENTO—Late yesterday Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed 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.

 

“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. This new law will provide greater protection to communities located along rail lines in California, and to railroad workers.”

 

Senate Bill 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. 

 

“This new law will help keep us at the forefront of rail safety,” said Paul King, Deputy Director of the Office of Rail Safety for the CPUC. “This law will 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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Melissa Jones-Ferguson

State Senator Lois Wolk – 3rd District

Phone: (916) 651-4003

E-mail: melissa.jones@sen.ca.gov

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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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      Why rail companies are pushing for one-person train crews

      Repost from Fortune

      Why rail companies are pushing for one-person train crews

      By David Z. Morris, June 11, 2015, 8:17 AM EDT
      A BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. Photograph by Matthew Brown — AP
      As technology advances, train crews shrink. But is safety on the line?

      Most freight rail lines still operate with two-person crews, a minimum is now enshrined in labor contracts held by the United Transportation Union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. But railways, citing in part the rise of automated safety systems, are pushing to change that.

      “Most rail corporations would like to get rid of as many workers as possible,” says Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of Railroad Workers United, a group that opposes smaller crews. “Right now, they believe they can operate trains with a single employee.”

      Both sides claim safety is their main priority, but there are clearly other motivations—unions want to preserve jobs, while railways are striving to cut labor costs.

      Regulators seem to be siding with labor on the question of staffing. The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing a proposed Federal Railroad Administration rule that would require at last two railroad employees on a train at all times.

      The move to one-person crews would be the culmination of a long process. Mirroring sectors from manufacturing to stock brokerage, technology has allowed the rail industry to shed jobs even as revenues rise. Since the 1960s, innovations including diesel engines, better radios, and wayside monitoring gear has meant less need for warm bodies. U.S. railway employment declined 3% in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. Those changes and more, says Kaminkow, led to the standardization of two-man freight train crews in the 1990s.

      But the replacement of workers by technology has coincided with a massive improvement in railway safety. According to data from George Bibel, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of North Dakota, derailments have decreased from over 3,000 in 1980 to less than 500 in 2010. A recent Northwestern University study found similar steep declines in rail fatalities.

      Nonetheless, rail workers say that reducing crews to a single operator is a step too far. The RWU argues that routine operations like attaching and detaching cars from a train would be unsafe without a team able to see surroundings.

      There are more dramatic cases, such as the May 12th derailment of Amtrak 188. Though the incident is still under investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board has looked into the possibility that engineer Brandon Bostian was either distracted by his phone or incapacitated as the train hit a curve at more than twice the posted speed limit. In those scenarios, the fatal crash might have been prevented by a second engineer.

      Another tragic incident occurred when a solo engineer improperly parked the train for the night above Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013. It rolled into downtown Lac-Mégantic and exploded, killing 47 and destroying much of the town’s central district. That train was operated by a smaller line not subject to the labor contracts in effect for so-called Class I carriers.

      Kaminkow says that freight engineers operate on unpredictable schedules, generating fatigue that can lead to this sort of mistake.

      Unless and until the proposed FRA rule passes, there is no national rule on train staffing levels. U.S. states including Washington, Utah, and Iowa are considering their own rules, but these could be vulnerable to challenge under interstate commerce law.

      Regardless of the FRA rule, technology will continue to erode rail jobs. With BNSF piloting a program to inspect rail using drones, track crews may shrink. And though Positive Train Control has been touted primarily as a safety measure, Kaminkow says the technology is a major step towards something more radical.

      “If PTC comes online,” he says, “[Railways] will then point out that the train is basically capable of running itself.”

      From there, driverless trains would be possible, at least in theory.

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