Local workers still campaigning for Safe Freight Act
By CARL GREEN
Dupo, IL – A bill that would require at least two-person crews on freight trains stalled in committee and will have to be refiled for the new Congress.
House Resolution 3040, called the Safe Freight Act, is designed to halt industry attempts to run freight trains with only an engineer aboard, widely considered an unsafe practice that will inevitably lead to crashes, spills and other mishaps.
The bill was prompted by the July 6, 2013 derailment in Quebec of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train with a one-man crew. It killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town Lac Megantic.
The House bill stalled in the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
A Senate version was included in the Rail Safety Improvement Act, SB 2784, which stalled in the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Area rail workers, including United Transportation Union Local 1402, of Dupo, IL, have been campaigning to support the bill, but its legislative director, Bill Mathes, is concerned about what will happen to the bill in the new Congress and whether Republicans will keep it bottled up.
“That’s what I’m really worried about,” Mathes told the Labor Tribune. “There’s been no movement, and the bill’s going to have to be re-introduced.”
A GOP BILL?
One possibility, he said, would be for the bill’s Republican supporters to re-introduce it as a Republican bill.
The UTU is asking supporters to contact their members of Congress to show their support.
“We’d sure appreciate anybody out there who could make that phone call,” Mathes said.
So far, American railroads have been unable to operate with one-man crews. The BNSF line tried, but the railroad’s union workers soundly defeated the attempt in a September vote.
“The guys just didn’t want it. They slaughtered it,” Mathes said. “But if one railroad goes to one-man crews, it will be a domino effect and all the others will want to.”
TECHNOLOGY NOT ENOUGH
The industry says new technology makes the one-man crew feasible, but the union notes that a one-man crew cannot complete a Class 1 air brake test, cannot act as first responder in a road crossing collision, and cannot inspect the train in derailments or when cars are defective. Having two-man crews also helps fight fatigue on 12-hour shifts.
The UTU website (utu.org) has a sample letter that can be forwarded to the appropriate members of Congress by adding your zip code.