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Railroad Workers United calls Chicago rail safety conference

By Maggie Trowe - The Militant, September 14, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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.

Railroad Workers United will sponsor a one-day conference titled “Railroad Safety: Workers, Community and the Environment” Sept. 19 in Chicago. The RWU is organizing the event with labor and environmental groups, including United Steelworkers Local 1527, Frack Free Illinois and the Southeast Environmental Task Force. It is a follow-up to earlier conferences in Richmond, California, and Olympia, Washington.

“The 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster put a spotlight on how rail bosses put profits ahead of safety and made these conferences necessary and possible,” Mark Burrows, a steering committee member of Railroad Workers United and delegate in SMART TD Local 1433 union, told the Militant in a phone interview Sept. 1.

On July 6, 2013, an unmanned runaway 72-car Montreal, Main and Atlantic train carrying volatile crude oil derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, destroying the downtown area and dumping millions of gallons of oil into the soil and lake there. The catastrophe commanded worldwide attention and spurred concern about the dangers posed by the massive increase of North American oil production and its transport by train through the centers of cities and towns across the continent.

Rail workers score big safety win in California

By Mark Gruenberg - People's World, August 26, 2015

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.

Rail workers scored a big safety win in California on August 21 as state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill mandating two-person crews on all freight trains.

The measure, pushed by the Teamsters and their California affiliates, the Rail Division of SMART - the former United Transportation Union - and the state labor federation, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who is expected to sign it.

Rail unions nationwide have been pushing for the two-person crews while the rail carriers have been pushing for just one, an engineer. Several months ago, the head of one carrier, the Burlington Northern, advocated crewless freights.

The unionists told lawmakers presence of a second crew member would cut down on horrific crashes such as the one that obliterated downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, two years ago. Then, a runaway oil train crashed and exploded, killing 47 people. That train had only an engineer. There has been a string of similar U.S. accidents since, especially of oil-carrying trains. Recent oil train accidents were near Galena, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and in West Virginia.

The proposed California statute requires trains and light engines carrying freight within the nation's largest state - home to one of every eight Americans - to be operated with "an adequate crew size," reported Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from SMART, the Teamsters and other unions.

The minimum adequate crew size, the bill says, is two. Railroads that break the law would face fines and other penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission supported the bill, SB730.

RailCon 15 coming to Chicago

By Ron Kaminkow and Mark Burrows - Railroad Workers United, August 24, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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, September 19th, the cross-craft solidarity group Railroad Workers United (RWU) will sponsor a conference on rail safety. RWU is partnering with other labor, citizens and environmental groups to organize this innovative and cutting edge conference, entitled “Railroads Safety, Workers, Community and the Environment.” The Chicago conference is a follow up to two earlier conferences held in March of this year in Richmond, CA and Olympia, WA. All interested parties concerned about the safety and the future of railroads are invited to attend.

In the past two years, public attention has focused on the railroad in a way not seen for decades. In the wake of Lac Megantic and other train derailments, resulting fires and explosions, the public is alarmed about the movement of trains through their communities. Environmental activists are up-in-arms about the amount of fossil fuels moving by rail. Farmers and other shippers are concerned about the recent oil train congestion. All this attention gives railroad workers an invaluable opportunity to educate the public about the railroad, its inherent efficiencies and value to society, its great potential, and also the challenging situation that railroad workers face on the job every day.

The public has little idea what railroads are all about. These conferences will shed light on worker issues such as crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, short staffing, limited time off work and more. These are safety concerns not just for railroaders, but for society in general. Non-railroaders in attendance at the conference will come away with a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation of the issues facing rail and railroad workers. Railroaders will gain insight into the environmental movement and learn how to forge alliances with public citizens. And all participants will come away with a better understanding of how all of us can work together to build a safer, greener and more just railroad that meets the needs of current and future generations.

Tentative workshops and discussion topics at the conference include:

  • Single employee train crews and the hazards they pose for workers, communities and the environment.
  • Excessively long and heavy trains and their inherent problems and dangers.
  • Crew fatigue and “task overload” and the need for well-rested, well-trained, alert and safe train crews.
  • Building worker-to-worker alliances along the supply chain of all transport workers and communities.
  • Chicagoland citizen efforts to deal with the dangers and hazards of trains moving through their community.
  • A history of worker-community-environmental alliances and how to build one around the railroad industry.

The conference is planned for Saturday, September 19th at the United Electrical (UE) Union Hall at 37 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60607. Registration Fee is $20.00 and includes a healthy lunch. For those interested, a banquet at a nearby restaurant will follow in the evening. Scholarships are available. For more information and/or to register, check the official conference website at www.railroadconference.org; and the RWU website at www.railroadworkersunited.org.

COIL (coal & oil) Forum held @ Gonzaga Law Library

By Dancing Crow Media - Dancing Crow Media, June 23rd, 2015

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.

COIL (coal & oil) Forum held @ Gonzaga Law Library, June 23rd, 2015 - Full version from Dancing Crow Media on Vimeo.

Featuring Eric DePlace from the Sightline Institute, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, Twa-le Abrahamson-Swan from the Spokane Tribe, Jen Wallis from Railroad Workers United and Jace Bylenga from the Sierra Club.

Oil Trains Pose Unacceptable Health and Safety Risks Reject Project that Puts Communities at Risk

By Sherri Stoddard - Santa Barbara Independent, July 24, 2015

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.

As a registered nurse, a member of the California Nurses Association, as well as a San Luis Obispo County resident and homeowner, I have been following Phillips 66’s attempt to win approval from the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, to build an expansive new rail spur at its refinery in Nipomo. The plans include a route through San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and up the coast through the heart of Santa Barbara County.

Under the Phillips 66 proposal, mile-long oil trains, carrying highly volatile oil tar sands from Canada, would run through San Luis Obispo (SLO) County several times a week to its refinery in Nipomo. However, the project requires a permit from SLO County to build the rail yard at the existing refinery to unload the oil trains. If Phillips 66 doesn’t get the permit, the oil trains cannot come.

This is a project that puts our local communities at risk, and one that should be firmly rejected.

This year alone, several derailments and explosions involving these trains have occurred around the country. July 6 was the two-year anniversary of the deadly Lac-Megantic oil train catastrophe in Quebec. On that date, 47 people were incinerated by an oil train derailment, explosion, and subsequent fire in the heart of their small downtown. Twenty seven children and adolescents lost either one or both of their parents. Despite a recently proposed legal settlement of $431 million to the town and to survivors of those killed, the actual cost of rebuilding the downtown could cost $2.4 billion over the next decade.

The real cost is the number of families devastated and lives lost and displaced.

Railroad Workers United's Jen Wallis and Greenpeace's Kim Marks on We Do The Work radio

By Jen Wallis and Kim Marks - We Do the Work Radio, July 28, 2015

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.

EcoUnionist News #58

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 27, 2015

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 following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

EcoUnionist News #57

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 23, 2015

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 following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

Dr. StrangeWeather, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb-Train

By Stephyn Quirke - Earth First! Newswire, June 24, 2015

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.

Is our weather getting funny?

Some bushes and flowers started to bloom near the end of January this year, and in the spring cherry blossoms were blooming weeks early. This capped a winter with extremely low snowfall in the Cascade Mountains. The abnormal heat, combined with the drought now covering 80% of Oregon, has actually raised temperatures in the Willamette River above 70 degrees, recently killing chinook salmon as they made their way up-stream to spawn.

In March, tribal leaders from the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians converged in Portland to discuss this ongoing phenomenon of strange weather, which they cannily dubbed “climate change”. These changes, they said, were related to a pattern of global warming, and were creating unique hardship on Northwest tribes. In 2013, the ATNI also passed a resolution opposing all new fossil fuel proposals in the Northwest, citing harm to their treaty rights, cultural resources, and land they hold sacred. Now the Affiliated Tribes are discussing plans for adaptation and mitigation, and asking how to undermine the root causes of climate change.

In addition to the sudden onset of strange weather, Portland has also seen the abrupt arrival of strange, mile-long trains loaded with crude oil – a very unusual sight in the Northwest until just two years ago. In the event of a derailment or crash, these trains are known to increase the temperature of surrounding areas by several hundred degrees – a strange weather event by any standard. This phenomenon has become so common that the train engineers who run them actually call them “bomb trains”.

While the danger of unplanned explosions is universally recognized, the risks of strange weather, and the planned explosions that take place in our internal combustion engines, are typically less appreciated. But the connections are becoming more obvious as the figure of the oil train valiantly pulls them together.

The sudden appearance of oil trains in the Northwest is one effect of the unprecedented crusade for oil extraction in North America – one that has produced a massive wave of opposition from residents and elected officials. In Washington state alone, nine cities representing 40% of the state’s population have passed resolutions that oppose oil trains. In Alberta resistance to oil politics recently replaced a 44-year ruling party with socialists. And in Portland, anger against oil trains just smashed a city proposal to bring propane trains into the port.

In recent months rail workers have become increasingly vocal about the industry-wide safety problems that lead to fiery train accidents. They are also critical of the latest safety rules that allegedly protect the public from accidents. Rail Workers United, a coalition of rail workers and their unions, says that the best way to make trains safer is to increase worker control and self-management; they propose a host of reforms that profit-obsessed rail companies are not interested in hearing. For many rail-side communities there is a parallel interest in community control over the railroads: no fossil fuel trains are safe for them as long as trains derail and the climate unravels. Together, the two movements are calling for a better future for our railroads and our environment, and demanding more public influence to safeguard both.

California Nurses, Teachers Oppose Phillips 66 Oil Train Project

Press Release - California Nurses Association, June 15, 2015

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.

“What should be the top priority, student and school staff safety, or oil company profits? We hope that the elected officials of San Luis Obispo County believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of students and families that go to school and live near the railroad tracks,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

The CFT vote followed last weekend’s decision by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project.

“Educators are very concerned about dangerous oil trains running past California schools. Hundreds of California schools are located near current and future oil train routes,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Educators and parents can help stop these Phillips 66 oil trains by encouraging local officials in San Luis Obispo County to put student and community safety first and not issue Phillips 66 a permit for their oil train project.”

The 85,000-member California Nurses Association, which sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project last November, is pleased to join forces with the teaching profession in California on this important health and safety issue.

“Nurses are thrilled to know that teachers also are strongly opposed to the Phillips 66 oil train project. The Phillip 66 oil trains present significant and unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our communities throughout California and beyond, due to toxic emissions and the potential for a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire,” stated Amber Wiehl, RN at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

“Our most vulnerable populations are particularly at risk,” said Wiehl. “Children and infants are at greater risk due to their still-developing lungs and respiratory systems. The elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer all face greater risks than the general public. As the mother of a child who has been hospitalized with respiratory issues, these concerns hit especially close to home.

“To protect our children and our communities, we must stop the oil trains, ” added Wiehl.

Phillips 66 wants to begin running mile-long oil trains five days each week carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County. Phillips 66 needs a building permit from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a rail yard at the refinery to accept these trains.

Nurses, teachers, and other California residents oppose the project and the issuance of a building permit by SLO County both for increased asthma risks from diesel train air pollution but also because of the risk of a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire from this hazardous cargo.

The Department of Transportation estimates that there will be ten oil train derailments each year based on the increasing number of crude oil trains in the United States and Canada. July 6 is the two-year anniversary of the catastrophic derailment in Quebec that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.

So far 13 California city councils, 12 school boards, 5 counties and one fire district in the potential blast zone of the Phillips 66 oil train route have written letters to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the oil train project. The term “blast zone” refers to the two-mile-wide area along an oil train route corresponding to the Department of Transportation’s potential evacuation zone and area of concern for crude oil train derailments.

In San Luis Obispo County, both the city council of San Luis Obispo and the Lucia Mar teachers association have written letters opposing the project.

The Final Environmental Impact Report is expected in the coming months, followed by a vote of the County Planning Commission, then a vote of the County Board of Supervisors. More than 20,000 public comments from individuals and organizations throughout California have been received by the SLO County Planning Commission opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project.

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