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Week of 6.30.06

Railroad Workers Speak Out

A freight train carrying hazardous materials past the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC. Photo: Jim Dougherty/DC Sierra Club
Photo: Jim Dougherty/DC Sierra Club
In a survey by the Teamsters Rail Conference, rail workers from coast to coast reported a lack of safety and poor security measures in place along the nation's rail network.

In the 2005 survey of over 4,000 rail employees across the nation focused on security measures in place on U.S. rails.

The Association of American Railroads has criticized the report claiming the Teamsters' report ignores facts and is a bargaining tactic.

Some anonymous quotes from rail workers from the report include:

"Anyone can enter. The yard has a lot of crime take place in it. I assume a terrorist wouldn't have any problems here," a New Jersey Amtrak worker.

"I personally observed five loaded chlorine tanks left unattended," a Florida CSX worker.

"I have not seen a railroad cop in a month," Pennsylvania Conrail worker.

Report Details:
  • 54 percent of those surveyed said they noticed running trains or equipment left unattended.
  • 24 percent said they saw trespassers in the rail yard or along the right of way.
  • 62 percent said they had not been trained regarding their role in their company's emergency action plans.
Key Recommendations from the Report:
  • Securing the rail infrastructure at points of vulnerability.
  • Increasing minimum requirements for inspections of critical infrastructure, including tracks, bridges and tunnels.
  • Improving storage of hazardous materials in transportation.

Association of American Railroads Response to the Report:

North America's freight railroads have an excellent safety and security records supported by the facts. The rail industry continues to post record safety gains. During the first quarter of this year, preliminary data shows the rate of train accidents were lower than at any other time in the history of the railroad industry. Since 1980, railroads reduced their overall train accident rate by 65 percent.

After 9/11, the industry worked with federal security agencies to develop and implement a risk-based security plan for the nation's rail network. Railroads include security training modules in annual operating safety rules courses for all roadway and train and engine service employees. The sessions include training on such topics as what to do when you see strangers or suspicious activity on rail property, the need to keep information about train movements and cargoes confidential, and to keep rail property secured and locked down.

The freight rail industry has one of the best private industry security plans in the nation. Rail experts like Allen Rutter, who served as head of the Federal Railroad Administration, singled out the scope and sophistication of the railroad industry's security plan, saying "they've done a remarkable job." And Tommy Thompson, while serving as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, said the "anti-terrorism measures" taken by the railroad industry "have added and will continue to add to the safety of our citizens, the delivery of vital goods and the ability of our men and women in uniform to carry our battle to the enemy."

A recent story on homeland security by the Christian Science Monitor noted that "one industry that has broadly taken the initiative is railroads. Companies have drawn up their own emergency response plans and even conducted war games using their own prioritized lists of critical infrastructure."

The nation's largest railroads have invested many millions of dollars to improve and expand training. These investments include state-of-the-art training centers, education partnerships with colleges, and hardware and software to provide advanced computer-based learning and simulation experiences to prepare employees for a number of disciplines, from signal maintainers and trainmen to locomotive engineers.

The Teamsters' report ignores the facts. In reality it is a hyperbolic, self-serving bargaining tactic aimed at current labor negotiations that completely misrepresents the industry's strong record of safety and security. For example, the report claims that 62 percent of those surveyed said they had not been trained regarding their role in their companies' security plan. That is absolutely false. All employees receive security training. And federal regulations require employees who handle hazardous materials to receive additional special training.

For more see:

"Workers Warn of Security Gaps on Nation's Railroads," Teamsters Rail Conference [pdf]

"America's Railroads - Letting the Record Speak: Teamsters Misrepresent Member Questionnaire as a National Study"