The nation’s largest railroad union wants federal regulators to do more to ensure drivers are properly trained following the recent deaths of two trainees.
The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Union, which represents conductors, wants the Federal Railroad Administration to set clear standards on how long new employees are trained and on who mentors them to teach them the trade after completing their training. formal training.
The union said the recent deaths of two CSX trainees on separate occasions in Maryland over the past two months underscore the need for better training. The FRA issued a safety notice earlier this month regarding driver training after the latest fatality, but the union wants regulators to take strong action. Earlier this year, a third driver – this time with 18 years’ experience on Norfolk Southern – was killed in an accident at a steelworks in Ohio.
FRA officials did not immediately respond to the union’s statement on Wednesday, but the agency’s chief sent a letter to all CEOs of major freight rail companies earlier this week expressing similar concerns. Administrator Amit Bose is urging the railroads to improve their training, but the agency is not demanding changes in the formal rules.
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“The FRA believes that addressing underlying deficiencies in the railways’ training, qualification and operational testing programs is essential to reducing the risks associated with the performance of certain tasks,” Bose wrote.
In the most recent fatality, Travis Bradley died on August 6 after being crushed between the train he was driving and several parked locomotives. Earlier this summer, Derek Scott “DS” Little died in late June after falling from a train car and being hit by a train. Both deaths occurred in rail yards.
Rail safety has been a priority this year since a Norfolk Southern train derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on February 3. Thousands of people had to evacuate their homes after authorities released dangerous chemicals and set fire to five tank cars there. to explode.
Congress and regulators called for reforms after the derailment, and the railroads announced plans to improve safety. But little has changed in the industry, and a bill requiring the railroads to make changes is stalled in the Senate.
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The SMART-TD union said training issues are particularly important at present, as major freight railways recruit new conductors as quickly as possible and rush them to work on the tracks. And in general, there is little training for experienced conductors who serve as mentors.
“In a work environment as hazardous as our nation’s railroads have historically been, it is unthinkable that there is not a program in place to train the trainers. In most scenarios, c is still the chance of the draw,” the union said.
CSX and Norfolk Southern both announced agreements with SMART-TD last month to improve conductor training. CSX said it planned to extend its classroom training from one week to five weeks while Norfolk Southern announced a more comprehensive list of reforms.
A CSX spokesperson said the safety of railroad workers is a priority, and CSX has responded to recent fatalities by conducting intensive training on safety rules and the dangers of riding on trains, as well as extending training to new recruits.
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“CSX continues to mourn the loss of Travis and Derek, and our thoughts are with their family and loved ones. At CSX, our goal is zero accidents or injuries, and we remain vigilant in that effort,” the spokesperson said. .
Norfolk Southern did not immediately respond to union concerns on Wednesday, but when it announced its training changes, CEO Alan Shaw said the moves were to “ensure that our new employees – our trainee conductors – have the skills and knowledge to do the job. as surely as possible.”