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Railroad Workers United (RWU)

RWU Resolution in Support of Limits to Long & Heavy Trains

Adopted by the RWU Steering Committee February 4th, 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.

Whereas, the North American rail carriers continue to run longer and heavier trains each year, and have expressed their desire to run even longer trains in the future; and
 
Whereas, the  last year has witnessed a number of long and heavy train wrecks, resulting in a loss of life and property, wholesale evacuations, injured train crews and environmental devastation; and
 
Whereas, the rail carriers have a professed interest in operating such long and heavy trains as a way to perceived savings on fuel costs, motive power and labor costs; and
 
Whereas, rather than face the reality of the situation, the rail carriers and law makers choose to focus on irrelevant issues like inward facing cameras; and
 
Whereas, such overly long and heavy trains create a dangerous and unsafe situation for a number of reasons:
 

  • 1 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more difficult it is and the more time it takes to slow or to stop such a train;
  • 2 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more slack action is in the train, increasing run-ins and run-outs, increasing the potential for break-in-twos, emergency brake applications and derailments;
  • 3 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more severe the train wreck if and when such a train does derail;
  • 4 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more difficult it is for the train crew to safely run, inspect, work, test, and otherwise get such a train over the road.
  • 5 -- such trains tend to make for longer tours-of-duty for train crews, resulting in fatigue, more time at the away-from-home terminal, and a lower quality of work and home life;
  • 6 – such trains are more likely to have air brake problems, especially in cold weather;
  • 7 -- the longer and heavier the train, the greater likelihood of blocked road and pedestrian crossings, creating a best an inconvenience to the public and at worst an inability to provide emergency services when needed;
  • 8 -- these blocked crossing in effect “train” motorists and the public to “run the gates” to avoid being blocked for long periods, resulting in grade crossing accidents and fatalities.

 
Therefore, Be it Resolved that Railroad Workers United opposes any expansion of the current length and tonnage of existing trains; and
 
Be it Further Resolved that RWU supports a reduction in length and tonnage of already existing trains, especially those hauling hazardous materials, traversing steep grades and /or cold temperatures; and
 
Be it Finally Resolved that RWU urge the unions in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to further these ends legislatively and/or contractually.

Another Oil Train Derailment – Rail Crews Call Them “Bomb Trains”

From the blog Railroaded - January 6, 2014 (used by permission)

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.

Twenty-one cars and 2 locomotives of a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway train derailed December 30, 2013, near Casselton, North Dakota, overturning oil tanker cars that exploded and burned for more than 24 hours (Star TelegramAsbury Park PressAssociated PressDuluth News TribuneValleynewslive.comAssociated Press 2McClatchy Interactive).

Another BNSF mile-long train carrying grain derailed first (13 cars) and some of the grain cars fell onto an adjacent track carrying the BNSF oil train. About a minute after the grain train derailed, the oil train struck one of the derailed cars filled with soybeans, causing the oil train to fall off the tracks. 20 crude oil tank cars derailed, of which 18 were punctured. Subsequent explosions and fires lasted for hours. One observer noted at least 6 separate explosions in the 2 hours following the derailments, which sent huge fireballs and clouds of hazardous toxic black smoke into the air. The fire burned so hot emergency crews didn’t even attempt to put out the blaze.

475,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the derailment, some of it burning off and some of it leaking into the soil. Investigators estimate that at least 7,300 tons of dirt contaminated with oil must be removed from the site.

Most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents followed a call from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office to evacuate the town due to health concerns about exposure to the toxic burning crude which can cause shortness of breath, coughing and itching, watery eyes. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple visited Casselton and called it a “major catastrophe” that would prompt concern no matter where it happened.

A preliminary investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggests the derailment occurred at a mechanical switching point between 2 tracks. The oil tanker cars that derailed and exploded and burned were the older-model DOT-111 cars which have been known for years to rupture easily in derailments and other accidents. The NTSB, Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and most rail safety experts have been recommending for many years that the DOT-111 model cars be replaced or upgraded. Unfortunately, railway companies and shippers have been inordinately slow, and in some cases unwilling, to replace this antiquated model with sturdier built and safer models.

A Train Bound for Tragedy

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 18, 2013 (used by permission)

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 July 6, a derailed oil train crashed into the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people. The tragedy highlighted a distressing practice in the freight train industry: Namely, that thanks to technological developments over the last few decades, a single engineer might now be expected to operate a 100-car train. Because of the lack of oversight, say many railroad workers, that lone man’s mistake could end in disaster.

“The Canada accident really put the spotlight on what can happen if you have one person responsible for such a big piece of machinery,” says J.P. Wright, a locomotive engineer with CSX Transportation in Kentucky and organizer with Railroad Workers United, a national group of progressive labor activists including members from different rail unions, in an interview with In These Times.

RWU, along with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), has highlighted the Montreal disaster as an example of potential tragedies workers think will increase if the industry continues its push for one-man trains. 

However, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways, the company running the Quebec train, tells In These Times that one-man crews had nothing to do with the July accident. He argues that the derailment, which occurred when the train’s sole operator left it parked unmanned to spend the night at an inn, could have happened with a two-man crew as well.

“This was a situation where the hand brakes were not properly applied. An employee failed in his duties there. It could be an employee of a two-man crew just as well as an employee of a one-man crew,” Burkhardt says.

But rail workers say that inevitable human errors or unforeseeable accidents will become more frequent and more deadly with only one person running a train.

Railroading Quebec

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, August 12, 2013

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 bad news for the beleaguered trackside inhabitants of Lac Megantic, Quebec, continues to roll relentlessly downhill, just as the The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway(MM&A)  train did before it exploded in their town, incinerating more that forty of their citizens. After MM&A CEO Edward Burkhardt assured them that his railroad would pay for all the expenses of a cleanup, in the more or less immediate period after the crash(he took a few days to show up), his railroad has sought bankruptcy protection both in Canada and the US, and it has been revealed that it had only 25 million dollars in liability insurance. This is a fraction of what the ultimate cost will be to remediate the environmental disaster created by the wreck. Never mind making whole the families of the dead in Lac Megantic.

According the CBC “ “Burkhardt said that the railway wishes to continue to work with municipal and provincial authorities “on environmental remediation and cleanup as long as is necessary, and will do everything within its capacity to achieve completion of such goal.””

Evidently this railroad’s capacity only extends as far as hiring lawyers, since it has welshed on its bills for the cleanup so far, leaving Lac Megantic and Quebec to step in to pay cleanup workers. And as we know, once the corporate lawyers start circling  a disaster, the settlement will take years, not months.

“Pipeline on Rails” Plans for the Railroads Explode in Quebec

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 12, 2013

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 boom in oil fracking and tar sands has lured the great and small to the rails in search of profits and jobs.

The great include Bill Gates, who took time from the virtual world of software to acquire controlling interest in the Canadian National railroad(CN), part of the real world of steel rails, mile long trains and the rumble of linked diesel locomotives pulling tar sands oil out of Alberta.

The not so great, like Edmund Burkhardt, CEO of Rail World, which controls the short line “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway” saw the boom in rail transported petroleum as a way to make his mini-empire of short lines profitable.

And of course the “small people”, railroad employees of the “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway” like Tom Harding, the engineer of the train that blew up, found steady workrunning the endless strings of crude oil tankers across Canada and the US to refineries. Harding, by the way, is now being blamed by CEO Burkhard for the disaster.

Railroad industry watchers have predicted even more exponential growth for the “pipeline on rails” booming on in the shadow of the stalled Keystone pipeline plans still awaiting Obama’s signature.

Now all these plans are up in the air, after the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train’s engine caught fire, was shut down, which might then have been the cause for the brakes to leak off, sending fully loaded oil tank cars careening down the grade into Lac Megantic, Quebec where they exploded, incinerating dozens of people.

By Rail or Pipeline: Can Tar Sands be Safely Transported at All?

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 8, 2013

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.

My last years working as a railroad machinist were spent working on locomotive air brakes. In most situations, the system is fail safe. I always chuckle when I see a movie where a train separates, as it did in the latest James Bond thriller, and  both ends of the train keep going. This is close to impossible in real life, the air brake system automatically will go into emergency braking if there is a break in two. When a locomotive engineer applies the brakes to a train, he or she makes a “reduction”

of the equalizing or control air, which then triggers a brake application. This reduction of equalizing air, in the case of a break is the key to emergency brake applications. There is much more to the system, of course as it was refined over time, but its all based on this concept.

What we know so far in Quebec, is that the oil train was parked on a grade. The brakes were set by the crew, at some point the brakes came off, and the train rolled into the little town of Lac-Megantic, derailed and exploded, leaving many dead and the town devastated.

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