BLET Vice President & National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman made a strong case for the timely implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) and other measures to boost rail safety and improve the quality of life for BLET members during testimony delivered at a House subcommittee hearing on February 26.
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials called the hearing. Vice President Tolman’s testimony touched on four main topics: Positive Train Control (PTC); two-person train crews; fatigue reduction; and inward facing cameras.
“Our perspective — and that of rail labor — differs significantly from that of the railroads on many, if not all, of these issues,” Vice President Tolman testified. “Our vision doesn’t come down from the board room or a business plan; rather, it comes up from the ranks of our hard working members who work every day and every night on our nation’s railroads. They are on the front lines of these operations and serve as the first responders to accidents. And for this reason we are uniquely positioned to provide good ideas regarding the types of changes that would make our industry safer.”
POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL (PTC)
Vice President Tolman spoke out against a blanket extension that would delay implementation of Positive Train Control, which is supposed to be installed on certain mainline tracks by the end of 2015. Rail carriers have lobbied for an extension of that deadline.
“PTC was mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” he testified. “The railroads will have had over seven years from the time the legislation was passed until it is supposed to be fully implemented at the end of next year… The carriers have had ample time to prepare for the implementation of PTC. However, since it was mandated, the railroads have used a seemingly never-ending series of excuses for delaying the implementation of this life saving technology, and while there are challenges to its implementation, we believe that these could have been averted by more forward thinking by the railroads.”
TWO-PERSON TRAIN CREWS
Vice President Tolman also rejected the notion that PTC provides a justification for reducing crew size, as the railroads contend.
“To implement PTC as a pretext to reduce crew size would be taking one step forward and two steps backwards,” he said. “PTC is simply another safety overlay of operating systems in which trains will be kept apart in the majority of circumstances, but not in every circumstance.”
He urged the committee members to consider co-sponsoring the Safe Freight Act, H.R. 3040, a BLET-backed bill that would require a two-person train crew on all freight trains in the United States.
“The BLET has spent significant time and resources countering industry efforts to understaff train crews,” he testified. “The industry has even enshrined in its lexicon the oxymoronic term ‘one person crew.’ This issue — specifically, the proposed requirement that there be, at minimum, two individuals in the cab of all freight locomotives — is before your Subcommittee in the form of H.R. 3040.”
Vice President Tolman also testified regarding the importance of fatigue mitigation to improving rail safety. Fatigue reduction would also go a long way toward improving the lives of BLET members and their families.
“I have testified before both this Subcommittee and the full Committee on several previous occasions, and discussed the problem of fatigue and its effect on risk in general and our members’ safety and the public’s safety in particular,” he said. “It remains clear to me that the intent of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act was to reduce fatigue in the industry. This should have been done by providing railroad operating employees with predictable schedules, calling windows and train line ups they can rely on so that they can plan their sleep accordingly. I continue to believe these and similar ideas will help to alleviate fatigue in the industry.
“Our members are professionals who want to go to work rested and ready to ensure their safety and the safety of the communities through which they operate. But in the current operating environment — because they do not know when they will be called to go to work — they simply cannot accomplish this goal.”
Lastly, Vice President Tolman testified against requiring the installation of inward-facing cameras to monitor trains crews. It is the BLET’s contention that the cameras are not a safety improvement; they would not prevent accidents and would likely have the opposite effect — providing a distraction that would make an engineer’s work environment less safe.
“The proponents of these cameras suggest that video surveillance of locomotive engineers and conductors in the workplace will somehow abate fatigue and foster rule compliance,” he said. “However, it is absurd to suggest that inward facing cameras are a tool to reduce fatigue. In the absence of operational changes to reduce the likelihood that a locomotive engineer or conductor will be fatigued while operating a train, these cameras will do nothing but document the crewmember falling asleep. In fact, these cameras cannot and will not prevent a single accident, and will only create yet another source of distraction from the train crew’s work tasks. More than a century of research establishes that monitoring workers actually reduces the ability to perform complex tasks, such as operating a train, because of the distractive effect of surveillance.”
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce thanked Brother Tolman for representing the Brotherhood at the hearing. In his concluding remarks, Vice President Tolman thanked the Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify and again stressed the need to implement real solutions to the complex issue of rail safety.
“The professional men and women working on our nation’s railroads serve on the front lines of this industry. We are dedicated to its safety and would like to be partners in improving it. Our organization and all the other railroad labor organizations are committed to working towards solutions for the complex and multi-faceted problems facing the industry, as we bring a unique body of experience and point of view to these problems,” Tolman said.
Other witnesses who delivered testimony at the hearing were: Joseph Szabo, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; Cynthia L. Quarterman, Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; Robert L. Sumwalt, Member, National Transportation Safety Board; Jack N. Gerard, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Petroleum Institute; Michael Melaniphy, President, American Public Transportation Association; and Edward R. Hamberger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads.