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In his remarks to The New York Times, BLET First Vice President Mark Wallace was highly critical of the Union Pacific Railroad regarding remote control train operations. “We have seen an aggressive approach by Union Pacific to take remote controls outside the protected environment, using them outside the yard environment,” Wallace said. He further noted that the expansion of remote trains compromises safety by replacing highly trained engineers with less-trained remote-control operators and creating safety hazards. “If they are going to continue to do this, there’s not going to be a sign up that says, ‘remote-control operation in use,’” he added. “Nobody would know that the engine is unoccupied.”

Contrast the BLET position with that of railroad management and, surprisingly, another rail labor union. In the Times article, a railroad manager from the Union Pacific falsely claimed that remote trains have a better safety record than traditional trains. Shockingly, Jared Cassity a top leader with SMART-TD took management’s side. “If you look at the safety data, it’s better than the traditional or conventional way of operations. To blatantly say they are more dangerous is not true,” said Cassity, the SMART-TD national safety director.

Cassity should know better, and as a rail union safety director, he should know that his remarks undermine two-person crew advocacy. Much of the Times story focused on RCLs being used outside yard environments. Relying on data from years ago, pre-PSR, when remote operations were smaller, better staffed, and in a closed environment, is no longer applicable and feeds directly into the railroads’ misinformation efforts. Not to mention the fact that this is a disservice to railroaders concerned about worker safety and safe operations in the communities where RCLs are now an everyday threat to the general public.

Illustration by Sean Joyce