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What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 2021

At first glance, the casual observer from outside of the rail industry is prone to say that single employee train operation sounds dangerous. “What if the engineer has a heart attack?” is an often heard question. And while this question has merit, there are many other and far more complex and unanswered questions about just how single employee train operations could be accomplished safely and efficiently for the train crew, the railroad and the general public. How will the train make a back-up move? What happens when the train hits a vehicle or pedestrian? How will the train crew member deal with “bad-order” equipment in his/her train, or make pick-ups and set-outs en route? What about job briefings and calling signals, copying mandatory directives and reminders of slow orders? These are just some questions that we take up in this article.

Remote Control and “Utility Conductors”

In recent years, the Class I rail carriers have been biding their time, slowly but surely inserting language into recent contracts with both unions of the operating crafts that will facilitate their schemes to run over the road trains with a lone employee. They have made arrangements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET) to allow the BLET represented crew member to make use remote controlled locomotives. With this scenario, the lone operator would strap on a belt pack, dismount from the locomotive, and run the locomotive by remote control operation (RCO) using radio control from the ground. And the carriers have also made deals with the United Transportation Union (UTU) to allow for “utility conductors”; i.e. a conductor who can “attach” to one or more over-the-road trains during the course of a single tour of duty. Between the two arrangements, the rail carriers apparently believe they can safely and efficiently operate road trains with just one employee aboard as opposed to the current standard of two. We disagree.

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation: Shifting towards climate-just mobility

By staff - Stay Grounded, February 2021

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Read the text (PDFs: EN | DA | DE | ES | FR | PT ).

RWU Statement to Pipelines & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in Regard to Proposal to Ship LNG by Rail

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, August 6, 2019

Docket Management System
U.S. Department of Transportation
West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12–140, Routing Symbol M–30 1200
New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590

August 6th, 2019

Comment Re: PHMSA–2019–0100, Draft Environmental Assessment for a Special Permit Request for Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail

To William S. Schoonover, Associate Administrator of Hazardous Materials Safety, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:

Railroad Workers United (RWU) urges you to deny the special permit requested by Energy Transport Solutions, LLC to ship large quantities of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) using unit trains of DOT-113C120W tank cars. Rail shipments of LNG would pose dramatic health, safety, and environmental risks to railroad workers and com-munities across the United States. LNG train derailments could cause fires and ex-plosions, property damage, mass injuries and fatalities - impacts that are largely ignored in PHMSA’s cursory, 23-page analysis.

As an organization of working rank & file railroad workers from all crafts and all car-riers, Railroad Workers United is deeply concerned about the casual attitude to-wards shipping LNG by rail. Over the course of the last six years or so we have wit-nessed the danger inherent in shipping Bakken crude oil by rail with limited over-sight and regulation, a danger that continues to this day.

It is obvious that the proposal to ship LNG by rail likewise is inherently dangerous for train crews, trackside communities and the public at large if it is not moved in a safe manner. Most of the oil trains which have crashed over the last six years or so - re-sulting in spills, fires, and explosions – were in fact made up of DOT-113C120W tank cars, ones of the type that apparently are being proposed now for LNG trains. Therefore, before any LNG is moved in unit trains across the U.S., Railroad Workers United recommends the following regulation:

  • LNG shall not be moved by rail unless it is moved in tank cars that have been crash tested to withstand puncturing. Many of the rail cars currently in service are not capable of safely transporting LNG and should not be used in this capacity.
  • Electrically Controlled Pnuematic (ECP) braking should be employed on all unit trains of LNG as a means of possibly preventing a disaster, and/or mitigating the extent of the disaster in the event of a derailment/crash.
  • The longer and heavier the train, the greater the propensity for it to derail, and having derailed, the greater chance of disaster. We recommend all such dangerous trains be limited to no more than 50 cars.
  • All such trains must have a minimum of at least two persons in the cab of the locomotive to ensure safe move-ment and delivery of the product, and to mitigate against disaster throughout its routing, should there be a mishap.
  • Prior to departure from the originating terminal, all such trains must undergo a thorough and proper inspection by host railroad employees who are properly trained and certified to do the work.
  • Prior to movement on the mainline, such trains should have an advance “high-rail” escort service to ensure that the track ahead is clear and in proper condition for the safe passage of the train.
  • After a string of oil train derailments, fires and explosions, crude oil train speed was limited to 40 mph in urban areas. Unit trains of LNG should likewise be so restricted.

Only once these safety features at a minimum are adopted would RWU be comfortable in supporting the proposed shipment of LNG by rail.

Ron Kaminkow
General Secretary
Railroad Workers United

Download (PDF).

Fritz Edler on Green Unionism

Fritz Edler interviewed by Labor Network for Sustainability, July 6, 2017

Rail union RMT responds to Jo Johnson speech

By Mick Cash - RMT, February 12, 2018

General Secretary Mick Cash said:

"If you were serious about cracking on with the phasing out of diesel trains you wouldn't be scrapping key ele‎ctrification projects which will mean the commissioning of more diesel operated fleet. That scrapping of long-planned electrification rail works by Chris Grayling makes a mockery of Jo Johnson's "aspiration" to scrap diesel units by 2040.

"There is also the question of who pays for this. There must be no free ride for Britain's rip-off private rail companies at the tax payers expense.

"The bottom line is that if we hadn't had over two decades of privatisation and profiteering on Britain's railways we wouldn't have ended up jammed in the slow lane. The money siphoned off by the spivs and speculators would have enabled us to keep pace and build a railway fit for purpose.

"Instead of promises of jam tomorrow we need to tackle the crisis on Britain's railways today and that means a planned service, publicly owned and free from the exploitation that has left the British passenger paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on clapped out, rammed out and unreliable trains where private profit comes before public safety."

What in the World is going on at CSX and Amtrak?

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United, February 7, 2018

The latest round of tragic incidents at CSX and AMTRAK is causing a number of news outlets to reach out to Railroad Workers United to gain a rank & file worker perspective. In the past few months, RWU has been contacted by The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and several other news outlets, including a business journal that is based in none other than CSX’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL.

The Voice of the Working Railroader is what is Needed

The questions are wide ranging, understandably well intentioned, and urgent. The common complaint from the journalists that we have talked to is that they lack the perspective from union officials and working railroaders. Many of the journalists report that the company press agents as well as the unions are only willing to release broad generalized statements that offer no real content that would help them with their investigative reporting. RWU hopes to engage rank and file workers in the discussion, providing the media and the general public with the invaluable “inside” perspective that only working railroaders can provide.

CSX Background to Disaster

Before Mantle Ridge and their CEO, superstar Hunter Harrison hedged their way into CSX, employees had already been through several recent rounds of harsh top down management changes, decreed under Cindy Sanborn’s leadership. Union safety programs that were working with management were abolished. Company safety councils were implemented with no input from or involvement with union safety coordinators. Rules violations that were historically not a disciplined offense were now considered major rules infractions.

Very strict rules were put into place that were designed to address safety, especially rules pertaining to switching operations. Draconian attendance policies were put into place. Employees needing to mark off to visit the doctor were being disciplined due to the inhumane nature of these new policies. Seniority rosters were being dovetailed, causing workers to qualify at locations far from their home terminals, being forced to qualify upwards for thirty days or more on their own time (i.e., no paycheck) with no reimbursement for lodging.

Brain Labor Report 1.31.18 - JP Wright, Railroad Workers Safety

By Wes Brain - Brain Labor Report, January 31, 2018

On the Brain Labor Report for January 31, 2018 we talk with J.P. Wright, railroad worker, singer, songwriter and organizer with Railroad Workers United. We discuss safety and the deadly impact of austerity and missed priorities.

Download Here - Via archive.org

Drop ALL the Charges NOW! Rail Safety Requires No Scapegoating

By staff - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 29, 2018

On Feb 5, 2018, Canadian railroaders Tom Harding and Richard Labrie are ordered back to court to face addition federal charges, even after being acquitted in a 3 month frame up trial related to the Lac-Mégantic oil train wreck of 2013.

Set up to fail!  Every danger was put in place by out-of-control railroad managers and policy makers, while the government looked away. None of those dangers was created on July 6, 2013. They were all in place long before that and part of a system and a culture of recklessness.  But no owners or top manager decision makers are ever going to face trial.  They are actually free and running trains around the world right this minute.

The continued targeting of Harding and Labrie is part of the ongoing attempt by the Canadian government to save face and divert attention away from worldwide calls for a real investigation of who set up the dangerous factors that killed 47 and destroyed the downtown.

The charges now being prosecuted under the Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act are part of an ominous recent move to criminalize workplace rules which has been a long time goal of employers who wish to shift all liability onto their work forces.  They also represent a significant abuse of power by the government in this case, since a jury has already acquitted the two.

The essence of why real rail safety requires that the Canadian government must drop ALL the Charges NOW.

Canada rail workers win fight against frame-up

By John Steele - The Militant, February 5, 2018

The rail bosses and federal government were handed a stinging defeat when the three-and-a-half-month frame-up trial of locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train traffic controller Richard Labrie, both members of United Steelworkers Local 1976, and low-level former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway manager Jean Demaitre, ended here Jan. 19. The 12-member jury declared the three former employees “not guilty” on all counts from the July 2013 derailment and explosion of a 72-car runaway oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

Harding, the main target of the frame-up, was also acquitted on two lesser charges. The jury announced the verdict to a packed courtroom on the ninth day of deliberations.

“I am very happy with the verdict,” retired worker and Lac-Mégantic resident Jean Clusiault, told the media at the courthouse. Clusiault’s 24-year-old daughter, Kathy, was one of those killed at the Musi-Café near the tracks when the train derailed and exploded. “They treated these people horribly, like killers,” he said, referring to the three framed up men. “They broke their lives.”

Many people from Lac-Mégantic attended the trial. Clusiault was there every court day. When reporters asked him who he thought was guilty, he pulled a rumpled piece of paper from his pocket and started reading a list of high company officials, beginning with former CEO Edward Burkhardt.

“This is a victory for workers,” Gilbert Carette, a former Quebec highway maintenance department worker, told the Militant. “This tragedy, caused by company negligence and government deregulation of the rail industry, was placed on the shoulders of innocent workers.”

Carette is active in the Citizens and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety in Lac-Mégantic, which has been fighting for the federal and Quebec governments to build a railway bypass around the town.

“The Citizens Coalition,” said spokesperson Robert Bellefleur in a post-verdict press release, “has always insisted that the three employees were ordinary actors in a business scheme planned at high management levels to ensure maximum benefits for top company officials and shareholders of the oil and railway companies involved.”

'Bomb Train': Oil Execs Try to Blame Workers for Tragic Accident

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