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Rail safety agenda outlined by transportation labor
Transportation labor leaders mobilized around an aggressive rail safety agenda in the wake of rising train accidents, fatalities and injuries including a rash of horrific wrecks involving hazardous materials since the last rewrite of rail safety laws that expired in 1998.“We’ve witnessed a decade of stonewalling by the rail industry, whose profits have never been higher,” said Edward Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), who condemned the railroads for blocking all attempts to pass a rail safety reauthorization bill. “Congress is now poised to demand more accountability from an industry that is far more interested in its wealth than the well-being of its workers or the public.”
Convening at TTD’s biannual Executive Committee meeting, transportation union leaders approved a comprehensive agenda for rail safety reauthorization:
Training for new hires and existing employees must be the foundation of any federal safety program. The Federal Railroad Administration should have a rule on minimum training standards that requires mandatory classroom and on-the-job training.
Strong “whistleblower” protections for rail workers are needed to stop employers from harassing and intimidating employees who speak out about safety or security risks.
Congress must prohibit “dark territory,” or non-signaled track on our rail network. A misaligned switch on non-signaled track was the cause of the deadly wreck in Graniteville, SC that caused a chlorine gas tanker to puncture and resulted in nine deaths. Signal systems are relatively low-tech, affordable, and would save lives.
More freight is being moved with fewer employees than at any time in history, and chronic fatigue is a contributing factor in many accidents. Congress must address the issue of fatigue by strengthening hours of service rules, eliminating the four-hour “emergency” provision that allows carriers to demand work beyond rule requirements, and barring so-called “limbo time” when workers are on the clock but outside the reach of hours of service rules.
Technological advances do not justify single-person locomotive crews. Congress must bar the use of single-person crews to protect employees, local emergency responders and the general public.
Congress must provide the resources for and mandate hiring 400 additional FRA inspectors. Every FRA inspector is responsible for more than 500 miles of track ’ an area equivalent to Amtrak’s entire Northeast Corridor. Congress must monitor attempts by the rail industry to outsource safety inspections to Mexico.
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