Congressional Subcommittee Acts to
Improve Railroad Safety
May 25, 2007
After years of indifference to the complaints of railroad workers and passengers, a House subcommittee has approved a bill to improve safety and worker protections on the nation’s railroads.
The May action by the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials would nearly double the number of railroad inspectors, increase employer fines for safety violations and require more automated train control systems, which could put more railroad electricians to work. The bill would also impose fines on employers who retaliate against whistleblowers who file safety complaints.
“It’s about time our leaders in Washington spend some time looking out for the safety of the American public and railroad workers instead of just protecting the profits of the big carriers,” says Bill Bohne, Director, IBEW Railroad Department, representing 11,000 railroad electricians.
Under the bill, the amount of time that railroad workers are allowed to work would be reduced. While not directly affecting IBEW members, other railroad unions say that fatigue has caused accidents as rail carriers fail to hire adequate replacements for retiring workers and demand that engineers work excessive hours. In 2004, two trains collided in Macedonia, Texas releasing chlorine gas. Three people died and 30 suffered respiratory injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board’s accident report described a work schedule where 11 of the engineer’s previous work days were 14-hour days, with one 22-hour day.
The rail safety bill has a long road ahead before passage. Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has given Republicans more time to negotiate the details of the subcommittee’s measure in return for their voice vote in favor of the bill.
The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO vows to keep the pressure on until meaningful railroad safety legislation is signed into law.