You are here

railroad workers

This Documentary About “Bomb Trains” Filled with Crude Oil Will Make Your Head Explode

By Ted Alvarez - Grist, July 29 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.

Oh, and you can find out if you live near a bomb-train blast zone right here. (Spoiler alert: You probably do.)

Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports

Press Release - Wild Idaho Rising Tide, August 16, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Saturday, August 16, and during the previous week, grassroots groups are holding a coordinated day of peaceful actions, to protest the passage of coal trains through interior Northwest communities [1, 2].  From Montana and Wyoming to Oregon and Washington, proposals to bring more polluting coal trains through the region impact dozens of communities along rail lines, who are organizing to protect their towns from coal exports.  This summer, 350-Missoula, Blue Skies Campaign, Indian People’s Action, Wild Idaho Rising Tide, and other organizations are together catalyzing this movement against dirty energy in new and bolder ways, evident in this regional day of action.

As inland Northwest citizens largely dismissed by the federal and state regulatory processes that determine the fate of three proposed coal export facilities at Cherry Point and Longview, Washington, and Boardman, Oregon, we stand in solidarity with Northwest tribes and climate activists resisting these West Coast ports and Powder River Basin coal mines that despoil native lands and watersheds and ultimately global climate [3].  While Oregon agencies deliberate their possible issuance of key permits allowing financially risky, Australia-based Ambre Energy to begin construction on the controversial Morrow Pacific coal train terminal dock and warehouses at Boardman, we support friends among the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who rejected  the companies’ bribes of up to $800,000 per year to partner in and benefit from building this Coyote Island Terminal and shipping 8.8 million tons of coal per year down the Columbia River [4, 5].

Residents of four states will continue to work to stop coal exports by every means, including arrestable, nonviolent civil disobedience, as we pressure coal and railroad companies and political officials who support them.  With our protests, we honor the 71 brave Northwest activists who have endured arrest and citation during occupations of coal train tracks and public buildings in Bellingham, Washington (December 2011), White Rock, British Columbia (May 2012), Helena, Montana (August 2012 and September 2013), Spokane, Washington (June 2013), and Missoula, Montana (April 2014), as interior Northwest groups further coordinate regional demonstrations resisting coal export that started in January 2013 [6, 7].

Rail Workers Revolt against Driving Solo

By Alexandra Bradbury - Labor Notes, August 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“There’s a real rank-and-file rebellion going on right now,” says Jen Wallis, a Seattle switchman-conductor for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway. “People who’ve never been involved in the union, never went to a union meeting, they are showing up and they’re joining Railroad Workers United in droves.

“People are saying, ‘We have to take action now to stop it. We can’t let our union officers do this to us.’”

What’s all the fuss? On July 16, thousands of railroaders abruptly learned their union officers had held secret negotiations with BNSF, one of the country’s biggest freight carriers, and reached a deal to allow single-person train crews: a safety disaster.

Ballots on the tentative agreement went out in early August, and are due back in early September. If the vote goes up, huge freight trains could rumble through towns across the western U.S. with just an engineer onboard, no conductor.

This would be a first on a major railway, and a foot in the door for the whole industry. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people.

“Members had no clue this was even coming,” said John Paul Wright, a locomotive engineer working out of Louisville, Kentucky. “The membership is basically saying, “What in the hell is going on? We never thought our own union would sell us out.’”

Wright is co-chair of the cross-union, rank-and-file group Railroad Workers United, which has been campaigning against the looming threat of single-person crews for a decade. With just weeks to go, its members are suddenly busy sending out “vote no” stickers and appealing to local labor councils to pass resolutions backing two-person crews.

“We weren’t expecting it this soon,” says Robert Hill, a BNSF engineer in Spokane, Washington. “We were expecting it.”

Railroaders are seeking out RWU and a new Facebook group, “Spouses & Families Against One-Man Crews,” to get information and coordinate the push for a “No” vote. Much of the opposition is being led by railroaders’ family members.

Engineers and conductors are represented by separate unions. The conductors, members of SMART, are the ones voting on this contract.

“This vote will affect far more people than just the ones that vote on it,” said James Wallace, a BNSF conductor in Lincoln, Nebraska, and RWU co-chair, “because it is going to set a precedent for all freight railroads in the U.S., and potentially endanger the job of every conductor in this country.”

Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch Resolution in Opposition to Single Employee Train Crews

Passed Unanimously on Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whereas, the BLET and the SMART have joined forces and have been working hand in hand to outlaw Single Employee Train Crews; and

Whereas, railroad workers universally support a minimum of two crew members on every train, an engineer and a conductor; and

Whereas, in the wake of the Lac Megantic tragedy and numerous other train wrecks in the last year, we have an historic opportunity to build alliances with community and environmental groups to outlaw single employee train crews;

Whereas, a rogue general committee of the SMART TD has recently announced an tentative agreement, that would, if implemented, eliminate the road conductor on through freight and allow single employee crews;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW affirms our opposition to single employee train operations and that we support an engineer and a conductor on every train; and

Be it further resolved, that we condemn the backroom deal recently made between the SMART TD and the BNSF as it would undermine the national union strategy to outlaw single employee operations; and

Be it further resolved, that the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW urge all rail, transportation, and other union members to actively oppose contracts that would allow single employee operations of trains; and

Be it finally resolved, that Local the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW urge trainmen on the BNSF GC-001 in the strongest possible terms to stand up and fight back standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of labor and to vote NO on this tentativeagreement. 

Adopted by the members of the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW on August 7, 2014

Jim M. Garrett, Iowa State Legislative Director SMART-Transportation Division (UTU), Speaks Out AGAINST Single Employee Train Crews

By Jim M Garrett - August 10th, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Brothers and Sisters,

I would like to share with you my many concerns surrounding the proposed conductor elimination agreement between BNSF and GO-001. I encourage you to share this with anyone who works for a railroad. These thoughts are in no particular order of importance.

Whether a curse or a benefit, I have been here 35 year and I have seen this type of push down, fear promotion before. What I have never seen is the level of secrecy involved and the lack of member participation seen here.

I first would ask that everyone read the proposed TA as if you were a railroad manager. View it in the light of how you would exploit it. Trust me, if you perceive a hole somewhere, BNSF has seen it and is already making preparations to use it. But even without the holes, how would you use it?

The TA should also be considered for what is NOT in it as much as for what is.

If you attend an informational session or have heard of its content, you will hear and see via the PowerPoint the usual 'fear' issues: crew consist is expiring, we probably can't do better in the future, laws and regulations can change, we lost past battles on crew consist, etc. First, there is no expiration date on crew consist. There is a moratorium that protects us from having to negotiate it while a protected person still falls under it. So consider this: If we will be in a weaker position in the future, why is BNSF settling now and locking themselves in for 40 plus years? I submit it is because they have got a sweetheart deal. While laws and regulations can change, it is very unlikely any two person mandate will. We have public support on our side. 83% + of our community neighbors support mandating two person crews. This is huge support in the political world. And finally, the fear propagated by noting past crew consist losses. Lets put some perspective on that. In those battles we could not with a straight face argue that having two or even one brakeman riding behind the conductor (or in a trailing locomotive) was a necessity and required for safety. But we do have that argument now, it is valid, and we have political and public support. Further more, those crew consists were written under duress account of PEB mandates and "featherbedding" claims. Brother Knutson has voiced that the legal remedy is weak and yet HE approached the BNSF with the proposal to eliminate conductors some 8 or 10 years before the issue needs to be discussed and feels HE is in a stronger position. Again I ask you, if BNSF felt they are in a weaker position now, why would they seemingly be give up so much? It is a serious question and one you should reflect on when reading the agreement as a corporate railroad officer. I submit to you that since Brother Knutson initiate the talks, that BNSF though, "What the hell, lets see what we can get and if it isn't enough we'll just wait 8 years". I mean, wouldn't you?

Brother Knutson says laws and regulations are resendable and that any two person law or regulation can be revoked and yet later said PTC is here to stay. Please pick a side and stick to it.

Look at the clause regarding elimination of brakemen and yard helpers. What does that have to do with PTC protected trains and how is safety enhanced for the remaining sole conductor or switchman? And with no additional pay. Brother Knutson said, with an incredible lack of sarcasm, that he doubts BNSF will exploit that right because of the drop in productivity. Say what?!! BNSF uses two man remotes everywhere they can without concern for productivity. CSX has one man remotes across their system with the resulting drop in productivity but it doesn't stop them. Expect them to remove those jobs.

Brother Knutson has opened his monologue by parroting the carriers lines in their support for one man operations. First, he has used the AAR's line that "there is no proof that a second person leads to safer operations".

Well, um...since all operations except for a few shortline, assigned trains are already two person, can you disprove it? That should be the question.

Warren Buffett Really Likes Oil Trains - Despite the Explosions

By Eric de Place - Vice News, July 29, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Watch the VICE News documentary "Bomb Trains" here.

The people in the Musi-Café had no idea what hit them. At about 1am on July 6, 2013, a train parked on a slope a couple miles away slipped its brakes. Seventy-two tank cars loaded with crude oil accelerated into the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and began to tumble off the tracks, detonating and burning with a force so powerful that it leveled several city blocks. Forty-seven people were killed — most of whom were inside the Musi-Café.

In the months that followed, Lac-Mégantic became a rallying cry, a bloody shirt waved by activists across North America who were growing increasingly concerned about a relatively new phenomenon: ultra-long trains loaded with a peculiar variety of crude oil.

Months later, after several other oil train accidents, Warren Buffett went on CNBC claiming that oil train explosions were “very, very, very, very rare.”

If Buffett sounded defensive, it may have been because he is the single most important person in the world of oil-by-rail, an industry that he dominates and that has proven to be highly profitable for oil companies and railroads — and singularly dangerous to the public.

Worker Safety Questioned as Trains and Accidents Multiply

By Blake Sobczak - Energywire [Paywall Site], August 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The recent surge in oil train traffic along North America’s freight network has been a boon for railroads struggling to cope with falling coal shipments.

But though the crude-by-rail boom has kept workers busy, it has also raised questions about their safety and preparedness following a series of oil train derailments and explosions.

A tentative agreement between BNSF Railway Co. and a major transportation union last month would allow certain trains to operate with just one engineer on board, provided they were outfitted with Positive Train Control. PTC technology allows for the train to be stopped or slowed automatically if it exceeds a speed limit or is on track for an unseen collision.

BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler pointed out that the PTC labor deal would not apply to any trains hauling hazardous materials such as crude oil. The agreement is now being considered by members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division (SMART TD).

But union representatives have worried that the agreement could clear the way to phase out oil train conductors in the future, setting what they consider a dangerous precedent.

“You can’t talk about this issue without mentioning the terrible lessons that we learned at Lac-Mégantic,” said SMART TD National Legislative Director James Stem, referring to a fiery oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec last year that killed 47 people.

The train was not manned when it jumped the tracks in downtown Lac-Mégantic, but it had been operated by a lone engineer the previous night. The worker is now facing charges of criminal negligence for allegedly failing to apply enough hand brakes that could have prevented the train from breaking free from its parking place and hurtling toward town.

In that case, Stem explained, safety “had nothing to do with the size of the tank car — it had to do with management decisions that were made based around the fact that they had a crew of one.”

“Based on our experience and multiple fatalities, a crew of at least two certified employees is necessary for the safe operation of the train,” he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is now crafting regulations that will likely require oil trains to be staffed by at least one conductor and one engineer. An FRA spokesman said the regulator expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic by the end of the year.

The U.S. rail industry already uses at least two employees on oil or ethanol trains as standard practice.

But in a statement supporting the FRA’s two-person crew proposal in April, Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the union confederation AFL-CIO, noted that railroads’ “previous collective bargaining pursuits have included attempts to employ one-person crews.”

Railroads have sought to use smaller crews in recent decades to cut down on labor costs, arguing that technologies such as PTC and improved operating practices preclude the need for many workers. But regulators and labor groups have maintained that larger crews boost safety.

Crew Fatigue Persists as Oil By Rail Increases Risks

By Tony Shick - Earth Fix, July 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On a November morning in 2003, a sleeping Union Pacific crew missed a signal in Kelso, Washington. Their train collided with the side of an oncoming BNSF Railway train. Fuel tanks ruptured and spilled 2,800 gallons. Total damage neared $3 million. Unlike a similar collision in the same spot 10 years earlier, the crews escaped alive.

The primary cause, according to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board: the crew’s fatigue, brought on by irregular work schedules and sleep disorder.

The NTSB had been asking the Federal Railroad Administration to address both issues for years. It made similar recommendations again a year later, after fatigue caused a fatal derailment involving chlorine gas in Texas.

Then in 2011, the crew of a BNSF coal train in Red Oak, Iowa, fell asleep and instead of stopping struck the rear of a parked equipment train, crushing the cab and killing the crew of the coal train, sparking a diesel fire and causing $8.7 million worth of damage.

The primary cause of the accident: the crew’s fatigue, brought on by irregular work schedules and sleep disorder.

Fatigued crews, crude oil increase risk for disaster

Sleeping train crews are the primary cause in at least eight major train crashes investigated by the NTSB since 2000, according to the agency’s reports.

The true prevalence of fatigue in train crashes is likely far higher, said Mark Rosekind, a member of the NTSB specializing in the subject. Human error is the leading cause of train incidents and accidents, and Rosekind estimates fatigue underlies anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of those.

“It’s very likely we have grossly underestimated fatigue in pretty much everything we’ve looked at for a long, long time,” Rosekind said.

The rapid rise in shipments of hazardous crude oil has raised the stakes for addressing fatigue, he said.

Fiery derailments have prompted intense public scrutiny and calls for improved oil train safety measures, including heftier tank cars and better-equipped emergency responders. Meanwhile, fatigued and unsafe crews remain an unresolved problem for the industry — a problem that rail workers and union officials in the Northwest say has worsened in recent years.

What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, July 29, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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.

Solidarity Appeal : Join Railroad Workers United for an International Conference Call!

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

RWU members will discuss the BNSF - SMART-TD Tentative Agreement that would open the door to single employee train crews.

The last week has witnessed a huge outcry and a mass upsurge in activity related to the TA negotiated on the BNSF that allows for the abolition of the road conductor. Please join us for a Telephone Conference Call to learn more about the contract, the "Vote NO! Fight-Back Movement", and how you can get involved. All railroad workers and allies are invited to attend.
Date: Thursday, July 24th, 2014
Times: Mid-Day Call at Noon Central Time; Evening Call at 7:00 PM Central Time
Dial In Phone Number: 857-216-6700
Conference Code #: 409179
Each call will last approximately one hour. Members of the RWU Steering Committee will present background information on the contract and suggest tactics to fight back with. There will be time for questions and answers.
For more Information send an email to: