December 19, 2014

Tie stimulus funding to rail jobs

WASHINGTON — Any federal funds flowing to freight railroads as part of a stimulus package, or investment tax credit or loans should be accompanied by a requirement that the railroads not use the money for technology that eliminates jobs.

That was the principal message Jan. 28 of the UTU to the House Rail Subcommittee, which sought public comment on the current state and future of the rail industry.

With the Obama administration and Congress committed to putting Americans back to work and keeping them on the job, any actions by railroads to use public dollars for elimination of jobs would be in violation of public policy, said the UTU. 

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem testified that the slumping economy already is responsible for the furlough of some 12 percent of train, engine and yard employees, and more job cuts are expected.

“We hope that the requirements of receiving any federal funds will neither promote nor allow a race to the bottom on wages or elimination of existing jobs,” Stem said. 

He said that “at least one railroad is planning to pay for the implementation of the positive train control (PTC) system required by Congress by attempting to operate their trains with only one employee on the train, and using federal funds to accomplish the goal.”

Public safety is another reason why single crew-member operation of trains with PTC is not feasible, Stem said.

“The responsibilities of the railroad to operate safely over public rail-highway grade crossings, to inspect the moving train at every opportunity, to open public crossings quickly when blocked by a stopped train, and to interact with emergency responders are issues that are not addressed by any PTC system, and such systems were never designed to do so,” he said.

Two crew persons are required to make simple repairs and to interact with local emergency responders following a derailment, a grade-crossing collision, or a trespasser injury or fatality. Over a recent five-year period, said Stem, more than 22,500 grade-crossing accidents, trespasser fatalities and suicides on train tracks occurred in the U.S.

“The use of federal funds to install a PTC system, while attempting to experiment with single person operation, would disregard the safety of other railroad crews, the communities that are served, and the customers’ well being,” Stem said.

“We strongly encourage Congress to clearly specify how any federal funds could be used by railroads, and to prohibit the use of any federal funds – whether tax credits, grants or loans — in a way that would eliminate jobs.”

The UTU also recommended that Congress allow for the issuance of one federal credential for entry into security controlled sites, rather than requiring rail workers to carry multiple identify cards that include their locomotive and/or conductor certification. A single card displaying all credentials would “simplify the process for railroads and their employees,” Stem said, “and use fewer federal resources.”

Additionally, the UTU observed that the National Transportation Safety Board has diluted the functions of its rail division, with the result that fewer investigations are launched into the cause of rail employee fatalities. Stem urged subcommittee members to work with rail labor and the Obama administration to restore NTSB’s focus on rail accident investigation, which is an important step toward improved rail safety.

 

Click here to read the entire UTU congressional testimony.