Legislative Update - 4/19/2016

To:          All Concerned

From:    John Risch and Greg Hynes

Subject: Legislative Update 4/19

Today the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) passed $56.5 billion legislation to fund its programs for FY 2017. The bill includes several positive allocations for rail:

  • $1.7 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration –  $76 million above FY 2016 enacted level

  • $525 million for TIGER Grants – $25 million above FY 2016 enacted level

  • $2.3 billion for Capital Investment Grants (New Starts) -- $161 million above FY 2016 enacted level

  • Amtrak: $345 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.075 billion for the National Network – total $30 million above FY 2016 enacted levels

  • New passenger rail grant programs created under FAST Act: $50 million for Consolidation Rail and Infrastructure and Improvement grants; $20 million for State of Good Repair grants; and $15 million for Restoration and Enhancement grants

The Senate also passed legislation that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. The legislation would authorize the appropriation of $155 million from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for the Essential Air Service (EAS) for each of the FYs 2016 and 2017.

Both pieces of legislation face more hurdles before they become law, but we are pleased that they include positive developments for our rail and air members.



John Risch

National Legislative Director

SMART Transportation Division

304 Pennsylvania Ave SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-543-7714 office

202-544-3024 fax 

Comment on the FRA's Crew Size Rule - 4/19/2016

Dear Carl:

On March 15th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a long overdue
proposed regulation requiring that most trains in America have a minimum of two crew members. While SMART TD supports the core requirements of the rule, we believe that it can be strengthened and improved before this proposed regulation becomes final.  We also expect the railroads to do everything in their power to weaken the rule. That is why we need your help.

As a railroad worker you have firsthand knowledge of the importance of two-person crews and the dangers of single-person operations. That is why the
FRA needs to hear your voice on this critical safety issue.
Please follow this link to submit your own comments on the rule, citing your personal experiences and expertise in operating trains.

The most effective thing you can include in your comments is a personal story of how having two people on your crew prevented an accident from happening.  It is not necessary to include all the details like train numbers or dates;  just an overview of the incident and how having the second crew member made a difference. Examples of how the second crew member cleared a blocked crossing for an emergency vehicle or dealt with emergency responders during a derailment would also be very beneficial.           

No one can make a stronger case for two-person crews than those who work -- or have worked -- on the front lines operating trains every day.
The deadline for comments is May 16, 2016.

Thank you for your help with this critically important issue.

Below is an excellent example comment submitted by retired member Daniel Potaracke from Wisconsin:

Agency: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
Document Type: Rulemaking
Title: Train Crew Staffing
Document ID: FRA-2014-0033-0001

Thank You for this opportunity to comment on this important issue.

I started on the BNSF RR in 1972 and retired in 2013 after 42 years of service. In 1972, I was one of 5 crew members on a train. When I retired, there were just 2 people on a train, the engineer and I the conductor. I've seen lots of changes on the railroad and that is putting it very mildly. With all the technology, you would think it would be safer but, I believe it has actually gotten less safe for a number of reasons. The railroads went from handling and hauling basic cargo and smaller trains to now handling much bigger trains with lots more dangerous cargo in increasing amounts. I remember having "a few" dangerous shipments but, when I retired, I was responsible for having LOTS of dangerous and hazardous cargoes. Just before I retired, I had to sift through lots and lots of paperwork to make sure I had ALL the information and redundancy so if there was a problem, I had some solutions for emergency workers and whomever needed it. I'm not saying it is bad but, making sure I had the paperwork and having someone else to count on made it somewhat better; and, how else are shippers going to transport these dangerous cargoes other than the nations highways? From what I've read about the trucking industry, with one person driving a huge truck with dangerous materials and the fatigue the truck drivers put up with, I'm amazed there aren't more crashes. Having 2 people on a train is definitely much more safe!

Having two sets of eyes and ears on the front end of ALL trains is essential for safety for everyone including the public, the employees and the railroads themselves. As a retired BNSF RR conductor, I've personally witnessed many "emergency" type incidents that warranted immediate attention and I'm not at all sure that they would have been caught by just one person. Splitting duties in such a way that there are two people onboard makes it easier for one of them to catch a problem vs having one person having so many things to be aware of and all at the same time. I know from personal experience that I've averted a few derailments or possible derailments because I've caught a problem on either my train or another passing train be it sticking brakes, cracked wheels or hot bearings and shifted loads or other problems.

As you know, the railroads carry so many commodities that are very hazardous including oil trains that will burn out of control for days at a time, nuclear waste, chemicals that are certain death with contact or inhalation and munitions and explosives.
Having two people on a train can catch a problem before a derailment with any of the above cargoes in a city or even out in the country where winds can blow dangerous inhalations to a city or town. Imagine a burning and exploding oil train in a congested city as big as Chicago or Minneapolis or even a small town where the entire population could be wiped out! We have all seen the images of burning oil trains; now imagine that in the middle of a city with populations living within a few hundred feet!

I sometimes wonder if the railroad companies are like the automobile companies that work out the risks or odds of a derailment or toxic release or something similar where they cross their fingers and hope nothing happens but, if something did happen, the chances are 1 in X amount of percent, they could live with that and the resulting monetary damages...or deaths...or whatever.

Please keep America safe with the railroads running safe with two people!



In Solidarity,

John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division


How is your U.S. Representative voting? - 4/14/2016




Dear Allan:

The primary way we determine if a Member of Congress receives the SMART Transportation Division’s endorsement is to examine how they vote on our issues. Another important factor is whether they are a member of the majority party; the current political reality is that nothing gets passed without the support of Republicans in Congress. Unfortunately, labor is often under serious attack by some very anti-union Republicans, so it is critical that we support labor-friendly Republicans who work to defeat anti-union proposals.
With the Legislative Action Center (LAC), we can now easily track legislation and provide a
legislative score to determine how your member of Congress is representing you on key votes -- scoring goes back to the year 2011. To find the current score of your Representative (Senators not scored yet), 
click on this link, then on your Member of Congress. The score is on a scale of 1-100 and can be found below the Representative’s picture. More information on the specific votes scored, and how your Representative voted, can be found further down the page. More information on the specific votes scored, and how your Representative voted, can be found further down the page.
Not all scores are equal; keep in mind that a Republican with a score in the 60s, 50s, 40s or even 30s was with us on some key issues, and may have been instrumental in defeating bad legislation. We appreciate the efforts of our Republican friends who often buck their party leadership. Also take into consideration that not all votes (or in this case, co-sponsorship of H.R. 1763) are equal, and that we sometimes weigh the votes of key legislation. For the year 2015, co-sponsorship of H.R. 1763 is worth the weight of two votes.
We are continuing to refine the LAC for the upcoming election, and
I would appreciate any feedback you may have. Let me know if you think the scoring makes sense, or not, or if some votes should be scored, or not scored, or anything else that SMART TD should consider when making our recommendations for 2016.


In Solidarity,

John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division

Buy-outs and Railroad Retirement Benefits - 4/8/2016




The following is the questions and answers release for this month in text format.


If you have Internet access, you may click on or type the address shown below to view this release online.

RRB Field Offices - 4/7/2016


On behalf of Walt Barrows, this is to advise you that starting in June 2016, U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) field offices around the country will be closed to the public on Wednesday afternoons (starting at 12:00 pm). However, they will remain open for their usual hours of 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the remaining weekdays.

The change is being implemented after much consideration and is necessary due to reduced staffing levels coupled with increased workloads in several key areas.  After reviewing several options, including all-day closure of field offices one day per week, we decided upon half-day closure on Wednesdays as a way to address workload issues with the least disruption to the public. 

On Wednesdays, staff in our nationwide network of 53 field offices will focus on processing applications for benefits, conducting necessary verifications for pending applications or claims, resolving complex cases, and reducing backlogged workload categories.  It will also help expand staff access to training that is needed to maximize consistency and productivity among all offices.

During this time, the claims representatives in those offices will not conduct routine face-to-face interviews or meetings, nor will they answer the phone. However, persons who call on Wednesday afternoons will have the opportunity to leave a voicemail message, which will be returned as soon as possible.

I should point out that the agency has lost 17 employees in the field since October 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. Most of the departures have been retirements, as the RRB, like most other Federal agencies, has a significant number of long-term employees eligible for retirement. Almost half of our workforce will be eligible to retire within the next 5 years, and while we have been filling vacancies in the field, these positions have a longer break-in and training period before reaching full productivity, due to the complexity and variety of work they must perform.

In terms of workloads, the number of inquiries received by the field regarding unemployment and sickness benefits during the first four months of the fiscal year was almost equal to the number taken during the entire previous year. And telephone calls to field offices were up by 61,000 during that same period.

This is a significant change and I wanted to alert you so that you and your membership can be informed.  A formal press release that can be used on your websites and in your publications will follow.  Thank you for your understanding and support in this matter.  We will continue to monitor staffing levels and workloads, and make any adjustments to public hours should circumstances improve. 


Michele Neuendorf

Office of the Labor Member

US Railroad Retirement Board

844 N. Rush Street

Chicago, IL 60625


312-515-8375 cell








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