A number of rail labor unions have voiced opposition to BNSF Railway Co.’s and Ferrocarril Mexicano S.A. de C.V.’s petition to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) seeking a waiver from performing federally required rail-car tests and inspections in Eagle Pass, Texas, on designated trains entering the United States from Mexico. In July, the railroads filed the petition in an effort to instead conduct the required tests and inspections at Ferromex’s Rio Escondido or Torreon facilities in Mexico.
Among the opposers: the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, United Transportation Union, Transportation Communications Union, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division and American Train Dispatchers Association, which have asked the FRA to reject the petition.
BNSF estimates it can save millions of dollars by eliminating redundant initial terminal inspections performed on the U.S. side of the border. The Class I recommends that the FRA regularly assign inspectors and agents to travel to Mexico and audit the inspections and tests.
However, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 established standards to be met when railroads seek safety waivers, such as wanting trains inspected south of the border, and BNSF hasn’t demonstrated that the inspections in Mexico would meet minimum FRA standards, the unions contend. In addition, it’s unclear if the FRA will have the authority to examine the Mexican facilities where safety inspections would be conducted, according to the unions.
Moreover, trains inspected in Mexico have much higher defect rates than trains inspected in the United States, posing a safety risk to railroad workers and the general public, the unions contend.
“Because of the absence of any evidence that mechanical inspections and brake tests would be completed in accordance with applicable U.S. safety laws and regulations, the FRA cannot grant this petition,” union officials said in a joint statement submitted to the FRA on Dec. 3.
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