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Rail Labor Slams Union Pacific Proposal on Mexican Freight Inspections

December 15, 2004

U.S. transportation unions are urging the Federal Railroad Administration to reject a request by Union Pacific Railroad Company to exempt the company from compliance with safety and inspection requirements for trains entering the U.S. from Mexico. The unions underscore their position by citing Union Pacifics own poor safety record.

The Transportation Trades Department (TTD), consisting of 35 AFL-CIO unions including the IBEW, dispatched a sharply worded letter to Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, opposing Union Pacifics plan as a threat to public safety and homeland security.

Union Pacific (UP) is asking the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to allow the company to run trains from Mexico through Laredo, Texas, and onto their designated inspection station located 1,000 miles into the U.S. without being inspected at the border.

The railroad contends that its counterpart, Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana Railroad (TFM), will provide the required tests and inspections in Mexico and thus make U.S. inspections unnecessary.

Transportation unions contend that the Government of Mexico has not adopted inspection and testing regulations that are compatible with U.S. standards. Furthermore, FRA cannot impose sanctions on the Mexican railroad for violations of safety regulations because there is no enforcement agreement between Mexico and the FRA.

The unions letter asks the Secretary of Transportation to consider the implications of Union Pacifics request on homeland security. "With the 9-11 Commission highlighting the security vulnerabilities of our rail system and the Department of Homeland Security stepping up its warnings for the rail industry to be on the lookout for terrorist threats, it is unwise," states the letter, "to grant a waiver that will weaken border inspections."

It is also common sense; argue the unions, to look at the safety record of the company requesting the waiver. "In the past six months, there have been six UP accidents in Bexar County, Texas, alone, three of them resulting in fatalities. Most recently, 15 railcars were being moved when the train derailed and crashed into an adjoining building killing one man and injuring another. Last June, two trains collided releasing, chlorine gas and ammonium nitrate which killed three people and sent 50 to the hospital."

Michael Buckley, spokesman for the TTD, says that there is no definitive deadline for the FRA to respond to Union Pacifics request for a waiver. "No answer," he says would mean that the waiver was denied.

A recent dispute over trucks and buses entering the U.S. from Mexico offers hope that labor and its supporters will prevail on defeating Union Pacifics request. President Bush had requested that Congress grant a two-year "grace period" for foreign buses to meet U.S. vehicle safety standards, a requirement under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

After a well-organized campaign by TTD and its affiliates, Congress turned down Bushs request. The recently passed Transportation Appropriations Bill includes provisions that require Mexican trucks and buses to meet U.S. safety standards. Buckley says that the bus, truck and rail disputes are "all about the globalization of transportation and whether profits will be put ahead of safety."

To tell Congress that the waivers are a bad deal for U.S. workers and citizens visit the TTD at:

Subscribe to the TTDs online newsletter at www.ttd.org.

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