INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, February 21 — The following statement is from BLET National President Eddie Hall in response to recommendations released today by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg:
Our members who work in the cabs of the nation’s train engines welcome efforts by the Department of Transportation designed to improve rail safety. In particular, we’re pleased to see the Secretary emphasize the Train Crew Staffing Rule. If the federal government is serious about protecting the public, it should immediately mandate that freight trains be guided by experienced two-person train crews with the eyes and ears needed to properly protect the communities along the rails, both now and into the future.
Rather than properly staffing trains, the Class I railroad CEOs have pushed for a transition from two-person crews to one and to even use remotely-operated trains. This is a mistake. Incidents, like the one we just witnessed in Ohio, would likely have been far worse if there had been only one crewmember present.
Secretary Buttigieg also is correct in saying today that, “Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people.” However, he didn’t say anything specifically about “PSR”, the operating model adopted by the nation’s largest railroads designed to cut corners and boost profits. I assure you the “S” in PSR is not about safety. Under PSR or Precision Scheduled Railroading, which in itself is an oxymoron, the railroads have cut the workforce by nearly a third over the past six years. They have reduced the number of thorough inspections of rail cars, along with other service cuts. Under the PSR model the largest railroads have lengthened trains to as long as three miles from end to end and intentionally slowed the supply chain.
Railroads largely self-regulate and PSR has led to irresponsible practices at the cost of safety, it needs to be eliminated or reformed.
The Secretary is correct in saying that, “A healthy and well-supported workforce is a safer workforce.” It’s outrageous that 79 percent of the American public employed in the private sector receive paid sick leave benefits but not locomotive engineers and conductors, the essential workers who keep the supply chain operating. Our union’s general chairmen are currently in talks with each major railroad about correcting this safety lapse and injustice.
(BLET Editor’s Note: The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has been granted “Party Status” by the National Transportation Safety Board and is assisting the federal agency in its to investigation of the recent derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The union’s agreement with the NTSB prohibits the BLET from speculating about possible causes of the derailment.)