Wreck of Amtrak #188: talking points from RWU

Fix the hazards; dont blame the victims

On May 12, 2015, an Amtrak Northeast Regional train bound for New York City from Washington DC derailed and crashed on the Northeast Corridor in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eight were killed and over 200 injured, 11 critically. The train was traveling at 102 mph (164 km/h) on a curved track in a 50 mph (80 km/h) zone when it derailed. Below are talking points from RWU.

Talking Points from Railroad Workers United

It has been a week now since Amtrak Train #188 derailed at speed east of Philadelphia, PA. The last week has witnessed endless speculation as the official investigation into the cause of the derailment continues apace. Those of us in the rail industry anxiously await the findings. Meantime, regardless of what the NTSB, the FBI and other agencies discover and conclude about the tragic wreck, there are a number of facts that are worth considering.

    1 – It is roundly agreed by railroad executives, union officials and industry insiders that had Positive Train Control (PTC) been in place and in effect on this section of track, the wreck would most likely not have been possible. PTC would have resulted in a train brake application in order to slow the train, recognizing that its speed was excessive and therefore unable to negotiate the tight curve ahead. PTC has been mandated by Congress, but its complete implementation has been delayed on the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere for a myriad of reasons. In Amtrak’s case, one of these reasons is a lack of adequate funding from Congress.
    2 – Amtrak has been underfunded for decades and forced to scrape by, cutting corners and deferring maintenance, even under the microscope by a budget cutting Congress more concerned with ideological purity and political expediency than with safety and security. On the busy Northeast Corridor where the recent wreck took place, Amtrak faces a backlog of drastically needed repairs to bridges and tunnels, obsolete rail interlockings, and trains that rely at times on 1930s-era components. Repairs for the Northeast Corridor are estimated at 4.3 billion over the next 45 years, while federal funding is expected to dwindle to $872 million.
    3 – As a result of this constant pressure to reduce costs, on March 23rd, 2015, just six weeks prior to the wreck, Amtrak had unilaterally implemented a new scheduling arrangement for Corridor (NEC) train and engine crews over the vehement objections of its operating craft unions – the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLET) and the United Transportation Union (UTU, now known as SMART-TD). The new schedule arrangements – designed to save the company $3 million by reducing scheduled layovers -- were condemned by both unions as a disaster in the making. Amtrak overturned a tried and true couplet system (trains paired out and back) for working crews in the NEC that had been in effect, with little modification, for decades. Prior to March 23rd, couplets adhered to the 90-minute layover minimum and took into account other factors including difficulty of the train in question, duration of trip, number and location of stops, timeliness etc. Now, not only has the 90-minute layover been scrapped, but crews have no guarantee of any break whatsoever! In addition, the new arrangement allows for a different on-duty time each day of the work week, and these start times are no longer restricted to within a few hours of one another -- they can be any time of the day!
    4 – Simple technology has existed for nearly a century now that can aid and assist in preventing accidents such as this one. As with the wreck at Spuyten-Duyvil, NY on the Metro North railroad on December 1st, 2013, a simple transponder could have easily been located west of the curve that would have prevented the train from entering it at such an excess speed (in fact, such a transponder is in place on the approach to the curve in the westbound direction). This being one the tightest and most restricted curves on the corridor, it seems an appropriate location for such a life-saving device. Note: Since the above referenced MN wreck of, such a transponder has in fact been placed on the section of track leading to the 30 mph curve where that train derailed.
    5 – Amtrak Train #188 – operated by lone engineer Brandon Bostian, entered the permanent speed restriction at the curve, rated for 55, at over 100 mph. Whether it was fatigue, the result of a projectile that hit the train, inattentiveness on the part of the engineer, or other factors at play, it is expected that the investigation will eventually pinpoint the cause. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that we may never know. But we know this: had there been a second crew member in the cab of the locomotive that day, it is very likely that such a second qualified crew member would have taken action to prevent the tragedy that – for whatever reason – the engineer at the controls was not able to avert.

In the past half dozen years or so we have witnessed a series of tragic train wrecks, all of which have resulted in countless injuries and loss of life. Four wrecks – Chatsworth, CA (9/12/08); Lac Megantic, Quebec (7/6/13); Spuyten-Duyvil, NY (12/1/13); and now Frankfurt Junction, PA (5/12/15) have all been attributed to some form of “operator error”. (It is worthy of mention a factor that all four of these incidents had in common; i.e. the employee in question was working alone in the cab of the locomotive or was the lone crew member). While operator error may in fact be the case, simply pointing the finger at the worker does little or nothing to assist in understanding why the error was made in the first place; nor does it help us to prevent similar such wrecks in the future. Since workers are human beings and as such, are prone to make mistakes (regardless of how many rules are written up, what discipline may be threatened or how many observation cameras may be installed), we must implement safety features that take this reality into account and thereby prevent tragedies of this nature.

Railroad Workers United believes that a series of simple common-sense applications would go a long way to preventing such devastating train wrecks like the ones listed above. These include:

    1 – The application of Positive Train Control (PTC) as soon as possible on major rail routes.
    2 – In the meantime, application of off-the-shelf readily available technology at critical locations where passenger trains are particularly vulnerable.
    3 – A minimum of two qualified employees – at least one certified locomotive engineer and one certified train conductor – on each and every train.
    4 – A guarantee of adequate and proper rest, together with reasonable attendance policies and provision for necessary time off work, for all train and engine employees.
    5 – Limiting the length and tonnage of freight trains to a reasonable and manageable level.
    6 – The implementation of safety programs on all railroads that focus on hazard identification and elimination, rather than simply focus on worker behavior.
    7 – Strengthening of OSHA “whistleblower” and other laws to empower employees to report injuries, workplace hazards and safety violations without fear of company reprisal.

If we are serious about preventing future catastrophes of this nature, we must equip railroad workers with the necessary tools – including but not limited to those outlined above -- to enable them to perform the job safely. Pointing fingers at this or that employee (at any level in the company, union or management) might make some folks feel better, but it does little or nothing to prevent future accidents. Railroad Workers United believes it is time we learn from these terrible tragedies and get serious about implementing the necessary measures to ensure safe railroad operations.

For inquiries send an email to secretary@railroadworkersunited.org

Posted By

Supply Chain Re...
May 20 2015 03:35

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  • If we are serious about preventing future catastrophes of this nature, we must equip railroad workers with the necessary tools to enable them to perform the job safely."

    —Railroad Workers United

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Comments

S. Artesian
May 20 2015 08:21

1. True
2. True
3. True. However, this locomotive engineer told NTSB investigators he was well rested and not fatigued.
4. Abso-positively-lutely. Amtrak has used "ghost codes" on the cab signal apparatus to alert locomotive engineers of impending speed restrictions. I thought the last time I rode the head end of a train on the NEC we received an alert at Frankford Jct. but that might have been on the westbound move toward Philly. In any case, ACSES is "backward compatible." Early versions of ACSES did not rely on digital data radio networks, but utilized "passive" transponder sets to enforce civil speed restrictions, hence the name Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System. Important to find out if a transponder had ever been in place approaching this curve, and if it had been removed in preparation for the cut in of a new system.
5. When Ricky Lee Gates blew the stop signal at CP Gunpow in Chase, Md in 1987, causing the deaths of 16 people, he had another person in the cab with him. The history of US railroads is littered with the wrecks of trains where more than one person was in the cab.

RWU program recommendations:

1. Sure, but this takes time and effort. Additional wrecks are possible
2. Most railroads have sections of mixed service, passenger and freight. It does not make sense to limit the application of existing technology to passenger trains.
3. 188 had a qualified locomotive engineer and a qualified conductor. Amtrak operates all its revenue service with qualified locomotive engineers and qualified conductors
4. yes
5. Length and tonnage trains had nothing to do with this accident; DV; Chase, Md. Lac Megantic, the North Dakota, West Virginia Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, wrecks; Metrolink's head on in Chatsworth-- etc. etc.
6. FRA is preparing a new regulation requiring exactly such programs
7. Such protections already exist in FRA's regulations governing railroads. It's the "good faith challenge" rule.

This is all fine, but Empire Logistics faces a challenge. The RWU program is little different than the "typical" trade union program. There's nothing in it that existing union bureaucrats will find objectionable. So how can EL "advance" or "move" the program beyond that limitation.

S. Artesian
May 22 2015 09:16

Here's a problem. There's a possibility, just, that this locomotive engineer was using a cellphone or other device when operating the train, a gross violation of safety regulations. It's way too late for RWU, but I would urge a little bit of caution on the part of EL, at least until that possibility is eliminated.

It's really tough to advance your argument if you load it into a wagon being driven by someone negligent, careless, or irresponsible.

Juan Conatz
May 22 2015 14:24

Everything I'm seeing is that they're just checking his cell phone because they haven't figured anything else out. Seems weird to indicate there's more to that already.

S. Artesian
May 22 2015 14:40

Not weird. Given the number of overspeed/signal violation accidents that we know are attributable to cell phone use-- Chatsworth, Spain to name the two most terrible. There are several others that have led to collisions, derailments, but with less horrifying consequences. That's why we established the rules and regulations against cell phone use.

This locomotive engineer was an active participant on several "train buff" lists, chat rooms, etc. Call me cynical, but after 40 years in the business, of ordering trains to be stopped so I could remove intoxicated locomotive engineers out of the seat, of observing engineers reading the newspapers while operating trains, that's enough to make me very suspicious of the engineer's compliance with the rules regarding cell phones.

Maybe I'm wrong; maybe not. I just think that we're better off waiting before claiming that this engineer was fatigued, or needed another person in the cab, or is a "responsible person" who made a mistake and simply lost "situational awareness."

The point is--making the claims of fatigue, and 'human error' to support the "people over profits" program is going to look pretty lame if this individual turns out to have deliberately violated the safety regulation, and cell phone use is a deliberate violation.

And in truth, there isn't much to figure out here. No more than there was much to figure out at DV, in Spain, or at Chatsworth. Violating the operating rules gets people killed.

Hieronymous
May 22 2015 16:15

Damn Artesian, you sound like a boss.

Which side are you on? (seriously, as we've seen you represent the industry's interests in your columns in the trade rags).

Stopping single employee train crews is a class issue, identical to refinery workers demanding larger crews per shift, nurses demanding lower patient ratios, teachers demanding smaller class sizes, etc. Other people's lives are on the line in petroleum processing and health care industries too.

Are you opposed to workers attempting to stop redundancies?

Pennoid
May 22 2015 17:03

Isn't like, efficiency vs. safety the age old capitalist imperative? I mean, there is an inherent drive to reduce the amount of labor necessary to produce the same number of goods, yes? That tends toward unsafety, when that's done via intensification of the labor process vs. applying new technology, but I think both can happen simultaneously. I mean, isn't it the case that new technology and regulations implemented over the last 30 years have reduced safety and maintained profit, but that they've also resulted in an intensification, however difficult to measure, of the labor-process re: individual workers?

Pennoid
May 22 2015 17:03

(In other words, can't we both be right?!)

S. Artesian
May 22 2015 17:11
Hieronymous wrote:
Damn Artesian, you sound like a boss.

Which side are you on? (seriously, as we've seen you represent the industry's interests in your columns in the trade rags).

Stopping single employee train crews is a class issue, identical to refinery workers demanding larger crews per shift, nurses demanding lower patient ratios, teachers demanding smaller class sizes, etc. Other people's lives are on the line in petroleum processing and health care industries too.

Are you opposed to workers attempting to stop redundancies?

Reading comprehension apparently isn't your strong point, is it?

As I said, I am opposed to single person crews. I am opposed to single person crews for a number of reasons. Safety is not one of them.

What I do to earn a living is run railroads, design train control systems, organize operating rules and procedures that increase the safety and the efficiency of rail operations. I know a bit of what I'm talking about when it comes to the details of safe train operations. The line that RWU seems bent on pursuing is bullshit when it comes to safe train operations.

If that doesn't matter to you, that's fine. It matters to me.

Hieronymous
May 22 2015 21:18

Capitalism in the epoch we're living through deals with "labor relations" in the most ruthless manner (not that it always hasn't, but there were times when class struggle acted as a brake on these abuses). There are myriad reasons for this, but the lack of workplace struggle allows bosses to reign uncontested. In production, technical advances in transportation and communication have made the whole planet an inter-linked shop floor, from extractive industries to emporiums of consumption. The shifts in sites of production, distribution and consumption -- and the resulting changes in class composition -- have led to restructuring where the imperative is towards downsizing and intensification of work: fewer workers producing more (real domination, to use Marx's term). As Pennoid accurately points out this is "difficult to measure." It's nearly impossible to quantify alienation.

EDIT: Artesian claims to have once been a worker. This claim has never been verified.

Other changes to management techniques, globally, involve behavioral-based safety programs. Which simply translates to: blame the worker (for everything). This condition could only result from a lack of class struggle. These changes were aimed at making workplaces more "competitive" and "productive," but have resulted in significant increases in health and safety problems: i.e. repetitive strain injuries, stress, workplace violence, fatalities and other work-related injuries and illnesses.

How do railroads implement behavior-based safety programs? Rewards & prizes. As in, don't report an injury for a certain duration of time and win a fancy safety jacket, a wall clock, a wristwatch or a gift certificate. And to enforce this agenda, workers get disciplined -- or terminated -- simply for reporting injuries. There's also an agenda of collective-guilt, collective-punishment. So the game is to help management hide and deny risks and dangers.

To prove this, just look at the harassment and attacks railroads use against whistle-blowers (remember what happened to Karen Silkwood when exposing the bosses' lies around safety in another industry).

Hieronymous
May 22 2015 17:46
S. Artesian wrote:
Reading comprehension apparently isn't your strong point, is it?

Insults don't strengthen your argument.

S. Artesian
May 22 2015 19:37

My opposition to single person crews is based on the fact that it will increase the power of capital, decrease the number of workers, and further impoverish the class as a whole. That's my argument for opposing single person crews.

Safety? Every crew size reduction on railroads since 1982 has been accompanied by improvements in safety. Get rid of the cabooses. Install EOTs. For or against? The argument made by the unions then were not qualitatively different than the arguments of the RWU today: that the caboose was essential to train safety. Didn't turn out that way, did it?

The point? Don't argue safety when the issue is the class relations between labor and capital.

Remote control locomotive use? Single person operation? You want to argue safety as the objection? Good luck. Data (mostly) from Canada shows reductions in injuries, accidents, for RCL operations.

Please don't patronize me about how it was when I hired out and how it is now. With the "fun" being removed from working on the railroad. Having a drunk engineer operating the locomotive when I'm in the hump yard coupling up cars, having to adjust knuckles, and make air brake hoses isn't fucking fun. Never was.

So you're for safety, H? OK, you support the mandatory and random drug and alcohol testing programs of the railroads? Does RWU?

And a locomotive engineer who shows up drunk to operate a train... Should he or she be removed from service in order to protect the safety of the employees, passengers, etc? What do you say? What does RWU say? And who is supposed make that determination? The employee's peers? Doesn't work that way in the real world.

I think that RWU's support for safety, and yours, is conditional; that is as long as you think it supports your notion of class action, of anti-capitalism, you're for it. If it doesn't, well then you'll be reconsidering.

I say don't use "safety" as a stalking horse when your real issues are something else.

Your position and that of the RWU is essentially nothing but a recapitulation of "economism," it's economism masked behind "safety."

Train length and weight are "unsafe." Where's the data for that? Nowhere, that's where. So another problem is that when you appear in a public forum and make that claim, anybody with a brain and 2 years experience with railroads will make you look like a fool. Good for class struggle you think?

Like I said, all you're doing is arguing for economism and pretending that's class struggle.

Workers get disciplined or fired for simply reporting injuries? I wouldn't say "nobody" gets disciplined simply for "reporting injuries" or unsafe conditions, but indeed the railroad will investigate the causes for injuries and make a determination as to the cause.. Do you or RWU have any data on how many of those reporting injuries have received formal discipline? I don't have that data for the industry, but I know on the railroads where I worked it was a distinct minority. Is that process abused? It is. I've seen managers target individuals. And I've seen labor union personnel coach employees into falsely claiming injury where there was none. I can document both types of abuse. I'd feel a whole lot better if you could document your claims, or the claims of RWU.

If you think "safety economism" is the way forward, well good for you. You keep on keepin' on. But you'll be going nowhere, and not very fast.

Hieronymous
May 22 2015 21:15

This is much like the situation with J.D. and Aufhebengate. Artesian makes his living protecting the extraction of surplus value by our class enemy -- in the process becoming a class enemy. You can bleat on and on and on about safety -- quoting statistics ad nauseam -- but it still doesn't change the fact that you consciously chose to be on the wrong side of the class line. This shows.

By the way, since becoming the boss (decades ago, right?) how many workers have you fired?

And, once again, insults do nothing to bolster your pro-management ideology.

S. Artesian
May 22 2015 21:31
Quote:
By the way, since becoming the boss (decades ago, right?) how many workers have you fired?

I removed employees from service if they have acted in a manner that jeopardizes the safety of themselves or others. Then a formal hearing is conducted. The determination to dismiss in all capacities is made at the VP-O level.

I can give you some examples.

2 engineers for tampering with and disabling a safety device
1 engineer for operating a train with 700 passengers on it stinking drunk
1 engineer for operating through a red signal into the path of train, causing a collision
1 conductor for backing his train into the side of another, violating a stop signal.
1 engineer for physically assaulting another employee
1 conductor for sexually assaulting a female passenger
etc. etc.etc.

I'd ask you what you think should be done, but you of course would never be in such a position to have to make that decision. That's the whole thing. You pretend you have some insight into safety. In reality, you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.

Hieronymous
May 22 2015 22:55

This is kinda pointless. Since you're the management guru, whatever you say is right and whatever I say is wrong.

I don't think anyone on libcom envies you having to uphold the [wrong] class line.

S. Artesian
May 23 2015 01:11

I'm not looking for approval, least of all from a character like you. I make no apologies for what I did. Never hid it. Made things a bit safer; certainly safer than how I found them.

Being characterized by you as a class enemy is really irrelevant.

Hieronymous
May 23 2015 01:54

Once again, insults. Grow up.

And you're a bold-faced liar. You hid your status as a boss until this thread.

Granted, you've been pretty transparent about being a Lambertist Trotskyite, but -- thankfully -- you've finally come clean and admitted that you spew the management line about railroad workers. Your concern about safety is simply cover.

S. Artesian
May 23 2015 10:06

I don't even know what a Lambertist Trotskyite is. But I do know a poser when I see one, and you're one.

My concern with safety is a cover? That's hilarious.

You feel safe when you take Amtrak or Caltrain? Ask yourself why.

Hieronymous
May 23 2015 21:59

Removed by H.

ajjohnstone
May 23 2015 10:47

I have more sympathy with Artesian's position than with Hieronymous.

We aren't saints offering colleagues unqualified support for what is in the end anti-social behaviour.

Just how many of us have worked alongside colleagues who are lazy sods, who leave the burden of work on the shoulders of others by not pulling their weight, giving other co-workers with the chore of covering up their failings to protect them by working twice as hard, ourselves. Eventually we leave them to face the shit of their own making and let them face the consequences.

I'm not talking about the informal nature of workers helping one another out but simple fact that we sometimes work with fucking arseholes who take advantage of that camaraderie and offer none in return.

....i blame society, myself...but it doesn't really help when you have that type of personality in the work-place spoiling it for the rest of us...

Hieronymous
May 23 2015 11:32

So we need managers, like Artesian, to bring the whip down to make us more honest, disciplined and efficient workers, right? They're necessary to prevent us from betraying our co-workers. Only the boss can make us pull our own weight.

Ajjohnstone, have your co-workers been worse than your bosses? If so, you live world much different than the rest of us.

What's fucked up about Artesian's assertions is that he's profiling Brandon Bostian so as to establish his guilt. It's like he's cross-examining the guy's lawyer and pointing out all the lies (his cellphone wasn't in his grip as his attorney claims, but he was really actually using it -- which we know because Artesian says so). The only problem is that this is pure speculation, tinged with Artesian's pro-management bias.

I'll stand by what RWU said: "there is the possibility that we may never know" the cause. So we should mourn the loss of life, without pretending that we are omniscient.

ajjohnstone
May 23 2015 12:02
Quote:
have your co-workers been worse than your bosses? If so, you live world much different than the rest of us

.

Actually, yes some have been excellent bosses that i was only too happy to work for...more knowledge, more experience, and willing to share skills and even expend some sweat helping out. (one particular boss, we would usually end up standing back and letting him do all the work but we all drank with him too) Over the years i have had good bosses and evil bosses as well as good colleagues and shit ones. In other jobs i had i have encountered the same situation.

i do differentiate between line managers and middle management against the higher levels of managers but i was in an industry that at one time had no direct entrants to management and all managers had to come up from the bottom, a lengthy career ladder.

We had job and finish and the more you stuck in the sooner you all went home or longer your breaks were...and as i said, some let others do the graft but took the benefits.

That did end, outside managers were introduced and they also began to fast-track certain workers into supervisory roles...ie to be disciplinary overseers, and they were usually the same lazy sods willing to lay on the whip for more money, quite often the exact same persons identified as mercenary parasites that the union had sometimes even previously defended from dismissal. But as I said, other bosses went about their duties and gained my respect and sadly some of them were shafted by the beforementioned.

And the world i lived in was much the same as many others. And believe it or not, i often was a shill for my industry, arguing that we performed a worthwhile public service (and should be rewarded accordingly)........but that all changed as i said.

S. Artesian
May 23 2015 12:05

My job as the boss was to make sure all trains went from A to...wherever, and back again as scheduled without anybody getting hurt. That's what it was in a nutshell. It was a management job, not covered by labor agreements. Indeed, I did it for the money, although the incomes of most locomotive engineers, a good section of the conductors, most train dispatchers were greater than mine.

Did I like the job? Absolutely. I enjoyed the responsibility, making decisions, solving the problems, and making sure all the trains went as scheduled without anyone getting hurt. I enjoyed figuring out why trains derailed and removing and/or mitigating the causes. I liked reducing the risk in the operation whether that risk came from track geometry, rolling contact fatigue, or human error.

This may come as a surprise, but human error is the single greatest cause of train accidents. I liked designing and implementing systems that reduced that human error. All of this requires execution, and yes enforcement. Otherwise people get killed. Nobody got killed following my instructions in 30 years of railroad management.

I was able to make real changes in train control systems that reduced violations, and potentials for accidents. I think was able to make a real difference in the training, qualification, and supervision of operating crews. That's what the numbers showed. That's what the general chairman of the (then) UTU told me.

In that process I confronted the fact that certain people should not be allowed to operate in safety-sensitive positions. I confronted those people in both management and in the organized crafts. I did everything I could to have those people, in both management and the rank and file, removed from those positions.

The situation is necessarily adversarial. Unions are obligated to defend and protect all their members equally, regardless of performance, or responsibility. Every employee is a "good employee," hard-working, responsible, until.....until he or she isn't. Until it turns out, that he or she's been tampering with the safety devices (like the 'deadman' or alerter features on the brakes, which automatically stops the train if the employee becomes incapacitated) for months, until this one time, some supervisor was on the train and observed the employee tampering.

During those 30 years, I witnessed, and participated in, the programs that produced a 10 fold drop in train accidents, the drop in employee fatalities and injuries. There were several critical components that produced that decline, all of which required implementation, execution, follow-up by operating officers, "bosses."

As for profiling......I could care less if somebody is a "rail buff" and is on Facebook or Twitter or loves to discuss trains in internet chat rooms. However, when a train accelerates into a reduced speed area, and maintains that acceleration until the locomotive engineer suddenly realizes where he or she is at and "dumps" the train-- putting into emergency braking-- and the engineer tells investigators he has "no memory" of anything that happened after he left 30th Street Station; that he was not fatigued; the most likely explanation for the accident is that the locomotive engineer, unless deliberately negligent, was distracted-- distracted as the engineer in Chatsworth, California was; distracted as the train driver in Spain was; distracted as the engineer on Metro-North was (if you look at the event recorder data of that engineer's previous runs, he committed overspeed violations on 2/3 of his trips. Leads me to discount the "sleep apnea"/ fatigue explanation offered by the NTSB).

While it might be so much more class conscious to claim that this locomotive engineer was the victim of railroads trying to reduce costs; of railroads' callousness toward safety; of this or that-- the problem is in tying a "political program" such as RWU's to the actions of an individual; using that action as a justification or a proof of the correctness of the program, when in fact the actions of the individual reflect nothing about such a program, and in fact might be explained by something else that is contrary to the program.

Anybody remember the collision in Chase, Md. in 1987? Where the locomotive engineer had disabled the cab signal alerter so the whistle wouldn't bother him while he watched TV when operating his locomotives? While stoned? Anybody know about this locomotive engineer's work record? Or how about Livingston, La 5 years earlier; where the locomotive engineer, drinking his beer, had his girlfriend, IIRC, operate the train a bit too fast around the curve derailing tank cars carrying hazardous materials, resulting in the evacuation of thousands of people? That engineer had been allowed to return to service after a previous serious offense. So..."profiling" such that it is might have saved some lives in those instances.

I'd point out that such very capitalist countries like Japan and France have operated high speed rail for decades without fatal train derailments due to employee error. It takes money, commitment, and it takes supervision. The point being the issue of safety is not an exclusively "socialist" issue, disregarded by capitalist managers and bosses. Capitalist countries can and do run extraordinarily safe rail operations.

Hieronymous
May 23 2015 21:58

Removed by H.

S. Artesian
May 23 2015 14:26

All of the above, H. Taser, Pinkerstons, National Guard, Kickbacks.

As for Rosemont's "friend." Hey, that's when I was a bona fide union member, a mere rank and filer, so you get no points for that one. Not that it matters. Rosemont's "friend," broke into the apartment of a friend of mine after we had both left Rosemont's group because we were sick of the necrophilia. This "friend" of Rosemont, accompanied by another goon, attacked my friend, a gentle soul, unlike myself, who would never use a taser, an iron pipe, or other weapon to defend himself. Unlike myself. So I, accompanied by another, paid this fuck back in kind and in spades.

One more thing I'm proud of.

Good to see you aligning yourself with goons like Rosemont's "friend" who found his way into the NCLC where he was at home with other goons.

Priceless.

Hieronymous
May 23 2015 21:58

removed by H.

Pennoid
May 23 2015 18:18

Who is Rosemont's friend?

Juan Conatz
May 23 2015 20:05

Can we please avoid this stuff getting personal? It's been interesting watching the discussion on these issues and I really don't want to have to watch because they need to be heavily moderated, rather than watch because they are informative.

boozemonarchy
May 23 2015 22:03

I agree that this oddly personal 'railroadgate' portion of the thread is distracting but it has been fascinating to watch.

As someone who has seen management repeatedly pin the fault of such and such an injury on operator error when clearly the danger had to do with the work environment / process (repetitive actions on production machines), I'm sort of knee-jerk uncomfortable with S. Artesians entire posture. There is no real acknowledgement of railroad workers struggle for safer railroads over the years. It goes further with some awkward positioning of unions as some sort of intrinsic barrier to managements benevolent intentions (?)

Hieronymous
May 23 2015 22:43

Sorry for derailing.

I spent several hours walking picket lines in solidarity with refinery workers during the USW strike a few months back. Then I got to talk with a half dozen refinery workers, from both Southern and Northern California, at the railroad safety conference in Richmond, CA on March 14th. What struck me is that one of the most dangerous areas of the refinery was the rail yard, where union railroad employees often jump out of the cab and certified locomotive engineers employed by the refinery jump in and take the train to be loaded or unloaded (this was the case at Tesoro in Martinez, CA). A woman doing the latter told me the gory details of seeing a fellow worker get crushed to death by a tank car during this process.

Sure, these were all militants, but none of them took safety lightly. Every-fucking-single conductor or engineer at the conference had hit a vehicle at a railroad grade crossing. All due to human error when the car or truck made a mistake, got stuck, or tried to go around the crossing gate or did something else foolish. There were 25 railroaders in that room, and all bore the psychological scars of these accidents -- including, at the most extreme, PTSD. The whole point of the conferences in Richmond and Olympia was safety, focusing on the energy supply chain.

Here's the research on Train Crew Fatigue that was discussed at the conference (again, the whole purpose of which was the safety of workers and the planet):

Artesian obviously has lots of experience, having worked in this industry from both sides of the class line. If he has any skin in the game at all, he could share information that would help rank-and-filers be more safe, that could also be grounded in class struggle demands for better conditions overall (and for all industrial workers, not just railroaders; this is what safety educators like Nancy Lessin does with the United Steelworkers' Tony Mazzocchi Center and Health, Safety and Environment). That can't happen if he puts on his manager hat and patronizingly talks down to the stupid worker, lecturing RWU about what he claims to be its insincerity.

The railroad sisters and brothers in RWU are not only comrades, but many are friends. Their "program" is unity among the 13 separated rail craft unions and non-union, contracted-out sectors (like van drivers) in the U.S. and Canada. They have fraternal relations (based on face-to-face interactions, like at their biannual convention) to build internationalist solidarity with militant railroaders in Korean Railway Workers' Union, Doro-Chiba (National Railway Motive Power Union of Japan), Réseau Rail Sans Frontière in France (Network Rail Without Borders, who are doing what RWU is attempting to do, but in Europe and Africa), and industrial workers worldwide (like Union of Hong Kong Dockers), but especially all other workers along supply chains.

S. Artesian
May 23 2015 22:43

I would be more than happy to share with workers' organization, caucus, railroad or otherwise, etc. my thoughts on how to advance the struggle.

Anybody who wants to know the details of Franklin Rosemont's Surrealist Goon can contact me via email off list. It was a moment of righteous retribution which I am only too happy to share with others.

Every locomotive engineer I know has struck some of vehicle at a grade crossing, or had someone jump in front of the train. These are real issues, as is crew fatigue, but I'm not sure these issues take us to some sort of class struggle program within railroads-- grade crossings for example are regulated by state laws, and a national code for traffic regulation at crossings. We can argue for quadrant gates, or solid barriers (as are used in Europe), and we can say, as we can say about everything "Capitalism doesn't want to pay for it" but I'm not sure that gets anyone very far. Or we can participate in programs that will essentially bring management, labor, and law enforcement "together"-- like affixing cameras to railroad crossings to photograph the license plates of cars running the crossing, so that fines can be assessed, but...you see what I mean.

Fatigue is a critical issue, with less significance on commuter and passenger lines than freight. But again, much of this can be addressed without calling into question the basis of capitalist production. BNSF, for example, now allows road crews operating freight trains to request "rest time" will handling the train, with the dispatcher arranging to put the train in a siding for 30 minutes or an hour and the crew can nap.

I think the critique has to be broadened a bit; to talk about the relentless downsizing of rail labor and the fact this is part of an overall assault on the class as a whole-- shrinking the number of stable, living wage jobs.

If I were to recommend beginning a program, I would agitate against wage differentials-- not just within a craft ("step wages"), but among all workers. There's no reason why a locomotive engineer should be paid more than a track worker, except from the capital standpoint that there is more time invested in the training of the locomotive engineer. But to workers, time is time, and all should be compensated at the highest going rate. I don't know that that would gain much traction with the locomotive engineers, conductors, or train dispatchers, but I sure do think it would create solidarity among all the workers.

But maybe that's just me, speaking from my bureaucratic, enemy of the class perspective. You make the call.