National Legislative Office

Welcome to the website of the National Legislative Office of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This site is intended to be a resource for BLET members, as well as anyone who is interested in the legislative and regulatory activities of our union.

As the site evolves it is our hope that it will be a useful tool in helping the BLET to continue to maintain, expand and deepen its relationships with Congress, labor leaders, government agencies and the general public.     Read Vice President Tolman's welcome message...

February 27, 2014

BLET tells House: Don’t extend deadline for Positive Train Control

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.”

FATIGUE REDUCTION

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.”

INWARD-FACING CAMERAS:

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.

February 14, 2014

Show your support for two-person train crews

Progressive Railroading is conducting an informal poll this week asking, “Do you think all freight trains should be required to have a minimum crew size of two people?” This poll follows the introduction of the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 3040) in Congress, a piece of legislation backed jointly by the BLET and SMART Transportation Division (former UTU) that would require two person train crews.

H.R. 3040 would mandate that “no freight train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight may be operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 individuals, one of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a locomotive engineer pursuant to section 20135, and the other of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a conductor pursuant to section 20163.”

For more information regarding the Safe Freight Act, please visit:
www.ble-t.org/pdf/HR-3040-Joint-Final.pdf

BLET members, retirees, the BLET Auxiliary, and all concerned family members are being urged to contact their member of Congress and to ask for their support of H.R. 3040. To find your member of the U.S. House, go to www.house.gov and enter your Zip Code.

You can also cast your vote in Progressive Railroading’s poll here:

www.progressiverailroading.com/#poll

January 30, 2014

Teamsters take action to oppose Fast Track legislation

On January 31, Teamsters across the country are taking action to oppose Fast Track by calling and emailing their Representatives and Senators. We need to make sure Congress doesn’t pass Fast Track, which would make it easier for job-killing trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to become law.

On January 31, the Teamsters will join the Stop Fast Track Coalition in an Inter-Continental Day of Action across the United States and Canada. Members of the Teamsters Rail Conference, including BLET General Committees of Adjustment, State Legislative Boards, and Divisions, as well the BLET Auxiliary and retirees, are encouraged to participate in events which can be found here.

Fast-track legislation would require that Congress only take a quick up-or-down vote on secret trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and would not allow such agreements to be amended. It limits Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight of such trade deals and leaves it for others to decide what’s best for America. The result is fewer good-paying U.S. jobs and unsafe food and products for those in this country.

The battle to stop Fast Track legislation is ongoing, and BLET and Rail Conference members can join along side Teamster Local Unions and Joint Councils in standing up against Fast Track in the following ways:

1. Contact your area members of Congress and tell them to vote NO on Fast Track (H.R. 3830). Talking points are available here.

2. Encourage your members to use the Teamster Fast Track Hotline (1-888-979-9806) to call their member of Congress and tell them to vote NO on Fast Track (H.R. 3830). Flyers that can be distributed at worksites are available here.

3. Ask Teamster members to visit the Teamsters “Fast Track is the Wrong Track” website and sign our petition against Fast Track here. They can also send an email to their member of Congress on this site and sign up for text message updates.

You can share your Day of Action efforts with the BLET National Division’s Facebook page by emailing: Bentley@ble-t.org.

Thank you for your efforts to stop Fast Track. If you have any additional questions, please contact the IBT’s Department of Field and Political Action at (202) 624-6993.
For more info, please visit the IBT’s Fast Track website.

January 13, 2014

BLET backs high-speed rail funding provisions in California state budget

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a strong supporter of the California high-speed rail initiative, is applauding Governor Jerry Brown’s recent budget proposal to help fund bullet train construction with $300 million in revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

“High-speed rail is an integral part of California’s transportation future,” said Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the BLET and President of the Teamsters Rail Conference. “Without it, California’s overcrowded highways cannot meet the future transportation needs of the state’s ever-growing population. Building high-speed rail and its successful operation will boost the state’s economy and will provide much needed middle class jobs for years to come.”

Cap-and-trade is a program used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for reducing greenhouse gases, emissions and other pollutants. Using cap-and-trade funds to construct high-speed rail makes sense; in addition to improving travel options and providing good paying jobs, the California high-speed rail initiative will be an effective way to reduce pollution and carbon emission levels in the state. The governor’s budget plan would also provide investment in rail modernization, including upgrades to urban, commuter and intercity rail systems.

The endorsement of the Brown budget proposal is the latest in the union’s efforts to help make high-speed rail a reality and to bring new rail transportation jobs to California.

The BLET represents over 52,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States.

December 13, 2013

Cameras Are Not the Answer

Statement by National President Dennis R. Pierce

Dennis Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference, issued the following statement concerning the suggestion in the media in the aftermath of the tragic Metro North accident that placing cameras in the cabs of all locomotives will somehow be a deterrent to fatigue:

“In the wake of the horrific accident on Metro North Commuter Railroad, there have been several public calls for the installation of inward facing cameras in the cabs of all locomotives, which have suggested that videotaping locomotive engineers in the workplace will somehow reduce fatigue in the railroad industry. Nothing could be further from the truth, or could lead us further away from preventing another tragic accident. Cameras are essentially an accident investigation tool; they are not an accident prevention tool. Installation of cameras will provide the public nothing more than a false sense of security.

“There are many factors that contribute to fatigue in our industry, but one thing is certain; locomotive engineers are true professionals who do their best to report for work fully rested. The fact of the matter is that engineers do not intentionally report to work fatigued by their own choice.

“If we are to learn from fatigue related accidents in the railroad industry we must look at the actual causes of fatigue and not assume that training a camera on a fatigued engineer will somehow deter him or her from being tired, an assumption that borders on absurdity as it is not based in medical science. The only things in the cab of a moving locomotive that are not machines are the locomotive engineers and trainmen assigned to that locomotive, who are human beings.

“Engineers already place life and limb at risk when they are compelled to work tired, and filming them provides no deterrent to the risks we already face. To the contrary, these cameras will create yet another source of distraction from the engineer’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. But there are steps that can be taken that will truly reduce the effect of fatigue on safety in the railroad industry, and safeguard against those occasions where fatigue overwhelms an engineer while operating a moving locomotive.

“No locomotive engineer who attempts to call off from working due to fatigue should be subjected to disciplinary retaliation for so called “poor attendance.” The majority of the nation’s engineers in freight service, who operate side by side on the same tracks as passenger and commuter engineers, work unscheduled jobs. They are “on call” 24/7, 365 days a year and receive as little as an hour and half notice to report to work a twelve hour shift, in many cases with no reliable advance predictability as to their reporting time and after already being awake for twelve to sixteen hours. No camera can realistically affect the human fatigue created by such an unpredictable work schedule.

“I call today on all railroads that are currently suspending and/or terminating engineers for taking time off due to fatigue, because they cannot with certainty be rested for an unknown on-duty time, to stop this counter intuitive behavior immediately. Pressuring engineers to work tired through threat of the loss of their jobs is contributing to fatigue in the railroad industry and all but ensures that another fatigue related accident will happen.

“Equally important is the implementation of Positive Train Control technology and I again call on the railroad industry, the Federal Railroad Administration and Congress to see that this technology is implemented before another avoidable accident occurs. This technology would prevent a tired engineer from entering any speed restricted area too fast, and would prevent a fatigued engineer from passing a meeting point with a crowded passenger or commuter train. How many lives must be lost, and what cost in human life will this great nation tolerate, before the nations’ railroads are required to take the steps available and necessary to truly protect their employees and the public in general from these avoidable accidents?

“The true test of any solution is in its ability to prevent an accident. On the one hand, Positive Train Control will prevent these horrific accidents and the toll they take on those affected. On the other hand, should another accident occur due to Congress delaying the now required 2015 implementation of PTC, a camera in the cab would merely capture an image of the avoidable carnage that follows, but only in the unlikely event that the camera and recording apparatus is not destroyed in the accident. The problem that confronts us is obvious, and cameras in the cab are no solution to that problem.”

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