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Rail News: Labor

SMART-TD members reject one-man crew agreement with BNSF


Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) members have rejected a tentative agreement the union reached with BNSF Railway Co. in July that would have enabled trains equipped with positive train control (PTC) to be operated solely by one locomotive engineer without an onboard conductor between certain territories in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

The one-person crew pact would have covered about 60 percent of BNSF's system, but would not have applied to trains carrying large volumes of hazardous materials, including crude oil and ethanol.

"As we have said from the beginning, it has ultimately been up to the men and women of SMART-TD at BNSF to decide whether to proceed with this agreement. They have decided not to move forward at this time and we respect the process," said BNSF Vice President of Labor Relations John Fleps in an emailed statement.

The pact would have dealt comprehensively with the major issues facing rail ground-service employees in the 21st century, BNSF officials said when the agreement was reached. It would have allowed locomotive engineers to operate trains with the remote support of a new master conductor instead of a conventional onboard conductor on BNSF routes employing PTC.

The agreement would have enhanced safety by providing a more predictable work schedule with assigned on-duty times, and specific territories for master conductors to monitor and assist as necessary, BNSF officials believe.

SMART-TD officials also announced yesterday that they support a two-person crew provision in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2014 (S. 2784) recently introduced by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The bill would require freight trains to be crewed with at least one federally certified conductor and one federally certified engineer.

SMART-TD officials believe one-person train operations aren't safe.

"No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though they can fly themselves. Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different," said SMART-TD President John Previsich in a news item posted on the union's website.

The Safe Freight Act (H.R. 3040), which is pending in the House, also would require a minimum of two-person train crews.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 9/12/2014