Happening Now

In STB Filing, Unions Red-Flag Safety Concerns

January 12, 2024

By Rail Passengers Staff

A group of rail labor unions this past Tuesday filed a blistering 81-page safety and reliability report with the Surface Transportation Board, warning that the six big freight railroads’ continued faith in precision scheduled railroading is leaving them “on the precipice of a self-made disaster” and urging regulators to step up unplanned safety inspections and audits.

“The railroads will not do the right thing,” the coalition declared in its brief to the STB. “The FRA, and the STB, has the authority and the ability to bring about meaningful improvements to the industry that are critical for restoring safety and services to the Class I freight railroads.”

The unions told STB that “there are numerous existing and anticipated locomotive and equipment failures because of the freight railroads’ cost-cutting business model. The freight railroads have demonstrated that they will not end this business model, and that they will continue to disregard their obligations to inspect, maintain, service and repair their owned and leased locomotives and rail cars.”

The unions say they’re “respectfully” urging the STB and the Federal Railroad Administration to:

• establish and implement a uniform model training, qualifications and certification program that would apply to all Class Is and that must be completed by all workers involved in inspection, service and maintenance repairs, or shop-craft work;
• establish and enforce a standard to guarantee an adequate workforce with the skills necessary to "fulfill the demands of the freight rail industry in the safest and most reliable fashion possible";
• carry out stronger enforcement of safety regulations and standards by conducting more surprise inspections and more random and scheduled safety audits at the big freight railroads;
• “disqualify certain railroad managers under 49 CFR Part 209.301,” a regulation that grants authority to temporarily or permanently disqualify employees, managers, supervisors, or agents who show themselves to be unfit to perform safety-sensitive functions, and;
• eliminate loopholes under existing Federal regulations that "the railroads exploit to maximize profits rather than ensure safety and reliable services."

The unions say in their brief that the regulators need to take these steps to “ensure that the freight railroads are adequately staffed, that the railroads operate more safely, and that the railroads can always fulfill the demands of our nation’s infrastructure and economy without disruptions and in real time.”

To read the entire filing, click here. The disqualification clause can be seen by clicking here.

The report, "A Five-Pronged Approach To Improve Industry Safety And Service Reliability For Class I Freight Railroads," was filed by a broad coalition of railway unions: the Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen Division, the International Association of Machinists And Aerospace Workers, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Conference of Firemen And Oilers, SEIU, the Sheet Metal Air Rail And Transportation Workers’ International (SMART) union, the Transportation Communications International Union, and the Transport Workers Union of America.