Oral comments on Train Crew Staffing
Docket Number FRA-2014-0033
My name is Fritz Edler. I recently retired after more than 37 years working for railroads, the last 25 years on the engine. I’m here for the literally millions of passengers who entrusted their safety to me and the other members of my train crews. I’m also here as a Special Representative for Railroad Workers United, an international cross-craft solidarity and advocacy organization. Our membership extends over most major and many lessor railroad systems in North America, passenger and freight. Nobody cares more about train safety than the men and women who work on the railroad.
I feel obliged to mention a third group as well. I just returned from the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. I was one of the speakers at the 3rd anniversary commemoration of the rail tragedy. Three years ago this month, 47 people died when a runaway oil train crashed and burned. I can’t presume to speak for them, or for the 27 Lac-Mégantic orphans.
But the truth is, this hearing is happening because of that train tragedy. The Lac-Mégantic wreck was the biggest international exposé of the dangers of single crew operations, although there was a long history leading to that incident. Lac-Mégantic is why there is FRA consideration of a Train Crew Staffing rule. The evidence is now clear from multiple investigations that single crew operation at Mégantic was a proximal cause of that wreck.
Safety rules are sadly often forged in fire. Fire safety rules in tall buildings came after 146 garment workers perished in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City. Now new Train Crew Rules will come from 47 graves in Lac-Mégantic in 2013.
I have appended the full statement submitted by Railroad Workers United to my remarks here. Let me summarize. One-person train operations are NOT safe.
The FRA should not be in the business of making rules for the unsafe operation of trains. The FRA should not be telling carriers that there might be some circumstances that would allow more risky operation of trains. The FRA should not be producing a roadmap or a manual on how to get “special” approval to run unsafe trains. That is a specific lesson of Lac-Mégantic.
No carrier promises or new operating rules and procedures change the basic fact that one-person trains are LESS SAFE. The FRA should not be working with the carriers to make them just a little bit less unsafe. The record is clear. The rail industry is incapable of self-regulating to eliminate the real risk of death from single crew operation. There are no credible authorities that support single crewmember operations as being as safe as multiple crewmember operations over time. Every time a one-person train goes out it is a high-risk gamble.
Former FRA Director Szabo was right when he said, “… safety dictates you never allow a single point of failure.” Not rarely allow, NEVER.
The FRA already has all the evidence demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that one-person trains are more unsafe. All railroaders know it. The airlines use co-pilots. Nobody would fly on a 777 that had a one-person crew. Freight trains are twenty times longer than the biggest 777. They are often longer than the airport runway and there is no autopilot for trains.
Even the carriers will say they don’t plan to run many one-person crew trains, but they want the flexibility, just in case. Just in case of what? A tight deadline? A drop in stock prices? Upcoming negotiations with the unions? Failure to fill vacant jobs?
There are already too many commonplace problems in regular rail operations that require more than one crewmember. At Lac-Mégantic single crew operations were accompanied by a simultaneous reduction of qualified backup crewmembers available for safety assurance. Carrier cost cutting and lax regulatory enforcement are a recipe for disaster
I wish I could have told the Lac-Mégantic survivors that the United States government has commemorated this tragedy by making sure no one-person train runs on any US railroad. We could even call it the “Lac-Mégantic Rule.”
It is not too late. The final FRA rule should not be a yellow light with an arrow saying, This Way To 1-Person Crew Trains. It should be a bright red light, a Stop Signal. If sometime in the future there is some new development in train operation that meets a strong scientific standard for train safety, the FRA should convene a new hearing and develop new rules. But today there is no safe way to operate trains with one-person crews. So the only rule called for is no one-person trains.
If the FRA fails, as did their Canadian counterparts, to guarantee minimum crew standards that prohibit single crew operations, it is absolutely certain that more people will die. In Canada in the aftermath of the disaster, the Trudeau government is scrambling to try to make up for the industry self-regulation that led to an industry that has reported more runaway trains each year since 2013, the year of the wreck. Communities and rail workers across the continent are watching and expecting the FRA to act to prevent even more deaths from such risky operations.
In September 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shamelessly lied to win the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo, claiming that the contaminated water leaking from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant was “under control” and there had been “no health problems,” nor would there be.
Now all the lies and cover-ups have been exposed. Over 1,000 contaminated water storage tanks already occupy almost all of the space at the nuclear plant site. The $300 million “ice wall” project,
once hyped as the most reliable solution for substantial reduction of contaminated water by preventing groundwater infiltration into the wrecked reactor buildings, has become a fiasco. Far from being a “wall,” it is now derided as a “lace curtain.” As many as 173 child thyroid cancer or suspected cancer cases have appeared in the last five years. The incidence rate in Fukushima ranges to around 50 times that of the general population.
The Abe government is forcing evacuees to move back to villages, towns and cities in Fukushima Prefecture that remain heavily contaminated. It is doing this by terminating all compensation payments available for evacuees by 2018. This amounts to economic coercion. The Japanese government has achieved a change to radiation exposure standards from 1mSv/y to 20mSv/y. According to the Japanese government’s post-disaster decontamination target, 20mSv/y is now acceptable. This is 20 times the maximum allowed dose for the general public! Moreover, on July 12th, the Abe government will lift an evacuation order for the bulk of Minamisoma City (designated a “zone in preparation for the lifting of the evacuation order”), which has been in place since the 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In accordance with Abe’s plan, on the same day JR East Japan will resume rail services between
Haranomachi Station and Odaka Station, which is about 16km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, on the JR Joban Line.
Japan’s Ministry of the Environment has raised the level of recyclable conta- minated waste to 8,000Bq/kg, 80 times more than the current norm. It also plans to recycle the waste for use in public works, espe- cially construction for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Even more incredibly, Tokyo Metropolitan Government is planning to build a cross-country course, rowing and canoe-kayak waterway and mountain bike course on a landfill called Central Breakwater Disposal Site, which is the most dangerous hot spot. The site has been a constant dumping ground for highly radioactive waste (8,000Bq/kg to 100,000Bq/kg), such as incinerator bottom ash, incinerated sewage sludge ash and clean water sediment.
The previous governor of Tokyo, Naoki Inose, cooperated with Prime Minister Abe and helped bring the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo, but was then forced to resign over a loan scandal. Inose’s successor, Yoichi Masuzoe, easily won the position with the full support of Abe, but has also now resigned due to yet another financial scandal. The Olympics are intrinsically linked to the interests of only a handful of large capitals and their governments. In order to secure their own survival, they put money first, rather than valuing the lives of ordinary people.
On June 24th, the Abe administration and Shikoku Electric Power Co. trampled on the protesting municipal workers and local residents, and started loading MOX fuel into the No. 3 reactor at Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture. Since April
14th and the Kumamoto Earthquake, tremors have continued to affect wide parts of Kyushu. This indicates that the Median Tectonic Line, the largest belt of faults running from central Honshu to Kyushu, has now finally started to move. In spite of a disaster as large as the Kumamoto Earthquake, the Abe administration and Kyushu Electric Power Co. still refuse to shut down Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, the only nuclear power plant operating in the country. And furthermore, they insist on reopening Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in July, which is located on the Median Tectonic Line.
“We care only about today, regardless of what may happen tomorrow.” This is the reality of Japanese imperialism and the Abe administration, which is desperate to survive in the worldwide economic depression.
Crush the Abe administration that is rushing to reopen Japan’s nuclear power plants!
Follow the example of Doro-Mito and refuse to work in conditions exposed to radiation!
Stop radiation-contaminated soil from being used for constructing Olympics-related facilities!
The Edinburgh Branch of the IWW extends our solidarity to Scotrail workers and RMT members across Britain over the issue of Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains . We support this strike on the principle of an Injury to One is an Injury to All.
The move to DOO trains will mean that without conductors, drivers cannot ensure the safety of passengers(especially the disabled) and further , drivers are put in a more risky and dangerous position themselves. Clearly Scotrail and other train companies across Britain are putting profit before safety, describing this move as “competitive” and “modernisation” and looking behind the rhetoric we can see that this is an attempt to open the way to future attacks on jobs and conditions.
This attack, this putting profit before people is in essence no different from the 19th century workhouse-like conditions of Sports Direct warehouses or the recent cuts in hours and pay for retail workers with the increased Minimum Wage.All we can learn from these instances is what should be by now plainly obvious- that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. Our interests are not just different but opposing factors within society.
Image, right:Alameda County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council president, Josie Camacho, flanked by dozens of Bay Area union leaders and members, representing 21 Bay Area unions (including the Bay Area IWW), join in with Oakland residents to oppose coal handling, storage, shipment, and exports in the Port of Oakland at a special City Council hearing, held June 27, 2016. At the conclusion of the meeting, the City Council voted unanimously, 7-0 with one member absent, in support of the coal ban. Image by Brooke Anderson.
The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:
By Matt Stannard - Occupy.Com, June 14, 2016 (image by Jon Flanders)
Trains have the ability to move America into a post-carbon economy with fewer cars, cleaner air and stronger communities. But railroad bosses are telling their workers they have to support more oil and coal extraction, and faster, more dangerous train routes in order to keep their jobs.
John Paul Wright is concerned about this contradiction. The husband and father is a locomotive engineer, union and labor organizer, and a singer of protest songs. As the national lead organizer for [Railroad Workers United] and a member of the organization’s steering committee, part of his job is bringing together railroad unions who’ve been told by the bosses that they have incompatible views and interests. “This is the very nature of big business craft unionism,” he tells me. “The workers are caught in the middle.”
Wright says that “the railroad could be the most efficient way to move anything we move today. But we’ve been sold on an economy that doesn’t represent our best interests.”
Part of our job as storytellers and advocates for a new economy is to articulate how the interests of working people converge with those of a healthy and just planet. Trains are a crucial part of that picture. “The railroads built the small towns, passenger service was the transportation policy before cars,” Wright says, “and small farming communities had access to larger markets.”
But now, the trains and often the land on which they travel are owned by big corporations. “So us workers are forced to move whatever America wants. We move coal, oil, products from sweatshops overseas, fertilizer, plastics, etc,” he says. All because corporate capitalism “sees no profit in a transportation policy built on service and access.”
This isn’t just the market following around people’s preferences like a faithful dog. The story of the decline of public transportation and railways is one of criminal manipulation by capitalists, not honest brokering. In the first half of the 20th century, a group of executives colluded to buy and literally dismantle the electric train systems in many of America’s major cities in order to artificially create a market for oil, cars, trucks and eventually an interstate system.
America’s public transit was like a Library of Alexandria for the United States: if it had survived and been regularly upgraded, we’d have quite a system today, one that would likely be transitioning to completely renewable power, as smaller nations are in the process of doing.
The potential ecological and socioeconomic benefits of rail are overwhelming. For transport of goods, trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. They also reduce highway gridlock, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce pollution. For personal travel, trains emit on average between 80 and 90 percent less carbon output than airplanes per passenger.
Although some trains still run on diesel and oil, and a growing number of cars are hybrid or totally electric, trains could make the jump forward by going totally renewable, as they have in other countries. And a well-planned and executed mass transit system could make travel virtually free, replacing vehicles that are expensive to buy and maintain.
As usual it comes down to who makes the decisions: citizens and railway workers, or corporate shareholders and bosses. The corporations are in control now, and the results are unsafe trains that are about to become even less safe due to labor-saving proposals to decrease crew members; trains speeding through ecologically sensitive areas carrying lethal crude oil and frequently causing spills and explosions; and a passenger transit system that doesn’t come close to living up to its efficiency potential. Contrary to what the railway bosses are telling workers and the public, these issues are interrelated and must be part of an agenda for economic and ecological justice.
On Sunday, May 15th in Whiting, Indiana, former RWU Co-Chair Mark Burrows was invited to speak to a group of community members and environmental activists about rail safety. Mark touched on the Lac Megantic tragedy and frame-up of railroad workers in Canada, crew fatigue and single employee train crews.
Public Comment Period Extended to June 15th at 11:59 PM EDT
Tell the FRA:
"No Single Employee Train Crews!"
Email Your Message today!
Dear RWU Members & Supporters:
On March 15th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) offricially announced a Proposed Rule on the whole question of crew staffing for trains in the United States. After careful consideration, RWU has come to the only conclusion possible: the Proposed Rule provides a road map for any and all rail carriers to obtain the FRA's blessing to run trains with a single employee. Therefore, RWU cannot support this Proposed Rule, period.
We continue to agree with the joint statement from nearly 7 years ago that the BLET and the UTU made in a joint Petition filed in June 2009 with the FRA on the question of traincrew staffing which reads: “No conditions exist where one-person operations are safe.” And since the Proposed Rule is predicated on the "safe" operation of trains with a single crew member, we must urge the FRA to promulgate a Rule that outlaws the practice. We urge all RWU members and all railroad workers to contact the FRA and tell them in plain language: "No single employee train crews!"
There is a suggestion called a Just Transition that is floating around parts of the labor and environmental communities. To fully understand this term, we as workers, community members, union members and activists would need to explore,
What we used to have.
When and how we transitioned historically.
Where we want to go.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, commissioned a U.S Army expedition called the Corps of Discovery. The task was to map and claim the west before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. Part of the mission was to find a water transportation route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition set sight on the Pacific Ocean. After finding no direct water route, they returned to St Louis in 1806. it took industry and the U.S Government sixty-four years after Lewis and Clark returned, to connect the nation by rail, from sea to shining sea.
In 1869, Leland Stanford, railroad baron and co-founder of Stanford University, drove the “golden spike” that connected the rails of the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad spike sits in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Before the spike was driven into the ceremonial railroad cross tie at Promontory Point, Utah, the United States had not yet been connected, ocean to ocean with a transportation policy.
As the railroad companies grew and people moved at speeds never before traveled across land, small communities were rapidly becoming connected to larger markets. Farming communities had access to rail transportation and industries popped up in the railroad towns. In 1913, Ford starts mass production on his first assembly line. On June 29th, 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was enacted. It took industry 43 years to get a policy in place, that would give the automobile industry the green light to further transition this country from rail transportation of people, to personally owned vehicles.
The trucking industry was born, the railroad transitioned from steam to diesel fueled locomotives. The movement of industrial commodities replaced the passengers that were owning personal transportation. The nation’s population rapidly grew with the workers needed to build these new innovations and dreams. New industries were created with investment and taxation. The nation was more, so called secure, or was in a better position militarily, hence the name of the government policy that created the nation’s highway system.
Of course, this is a broad over simplification of many ideas, policies, historical facts and timelines. There were many other policies that were discussed and pitched. There were many laws, taxes and industrial failures and successes, as well as, iconic brands, dreams and ways of life that were transitioned or simply disappeared as one industry won favor over another.
For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.
Harlan County, Kentucky -- On his first shift in the coal mine, Brandon Farley closed his eyes to steady his nerves as the powered cart he was riding disappeared into the mountainside. A third-generation coal miner in this Appalachian corner of Eastern Kentucky, Farley began working in the mines right out of high school and kept at it for 15 years, until he was laid off in late February.
Farley, now 32 and a married father of two, worked his way up in the Appalachian coal mines to a job as an underground electrician, running the high voltage cables that power heavy, specialized equipment at the mining face. Mining is the only work he knows.
In 2010, Farley was working at the Abner Branch mine when the roof collapsed, killing his friend Travis Brock, who was 29. Farley escaped serious injury in his own years as a miner, but his hands bear a miscellany of scars from minor accidents.
"The juice is worth the squeeze," he says, glancing at his palms with a chuckle. "I never did look at the dangers as much as I did the money."
The money, for a while, was very good. Farley was making $25 an hour in the mines. With plenty of overtime -- Farley often worked 60-hour weeks -- experienced miners like him routinely made $80,000 to $100,000 a year. In Harlan County, which has about 28,000 residents, the median household income is $25,000.
Over 50 years ago, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson toured Appalachia to kick off his "War on Poverty." Harlan County's poverty rate, which tracks roughly with the region's, was then 55 percent. It remains more than double the national average, at 32 percent, although those numbers typically don't account for government transfer payments, such as Social Security, safety net and veterans' benefits. (In 2014, Eastern Kentucky received $13.4 billion in government entitlements, making up more than a third of the region's income.)
Though it's long been a region of economic hardship, Appalachian Kentucky now faces a crisis of alarming proportions. Since the end of 2008, the region has lost more than 10,000 coal mining jobs, a decline of more than two-thirds. Kentucky's coal production is now at its lowest level since 1954, according to the state government. Other coal mining regions have been hit by the national decline in coal production, but none as hard as this one.
Locally, the collapse of coal is often blamed on President Barack Obama and environmental safeguards, which some residents say are needed to protect water, air and families. "This all began when Obama started his 'war on coal' -- and he did," says Farley, the laid-off miner. "If they are gonna do away with coal, why not put
Experts believe that the coal industry's decline in Kentucky has more to do with the abundance of cheap natural gas and drastically cheaper coal from surface mines in Wyoming. Regardless, there is a growing sense in Harlan County that coal isn't coming back.
After his latest layoff, Farley is now reluctantly looking for other kinds of work. "That's all we ever done is mine coal, though," he says. "It's the best job I ever had."
Farley finds the prospect of taking a significantly lower-paying job unpalatable, though even finding one is a challenge. After getting career counseling from the Harlan County Community Action Agency, Farley applied for work with railroad shipper CSX. But coal makes up the bulk of CSX's shipping business, and the company announced new rounds of layoffs the week that Farley applied.
"It's strange to hear the lonesome horn of a train anymore," says HCCAA Executive Director Donna Pace. "Used to be, that's all you heard."
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