January 14, 2003

CHICAGO (Jan. 14)–The Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) has been cited by the Federal Railroad Administration for allowing a loaded coal train to be hauled in mainline service without notifying crew members that some of the train’s hand brakes were inoperative.

News of the finding was received in a letter dated January 7 from Region IV FRA Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Josepch C. Szabo.

Hasvold told Szabo the FRA had completed an investigation into the union’s allegations and “An inspection of car shop records at Rock Island, Ill., revealed the essential details of your concern. Our findings have been forwarded to the Office of Chief Counsel with a recommendation for the assessment of civil penalties. A violation report for each defective freight car has been filed.”

The FRA investigation began after Szabo forwarded a complaint he received in mid-August from IAIS conductor Jason Klocke, who serves as Assistant Legislative Representative for UTU Local 258 in Iowa City, Ia.

Klocke reported to Szabo that he encountered the bad-order cars personally while working as conductor of an IAIS coal train last August 4. The train, which had been received in interchange at Rock Island on the previous day, had undergone a standard interchange inspection during which car-knockers found a number of loaded coal hoppers with inoperative hand brakes.

Contrary to FRA regulations, however, the defective cars were not removed from the consist, and the train was forwarded intact during the night of August 3/4 to Iowa City, where it was turned over to Klocke and Engineer Jeff Fugate for movement to the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway (CRANDIC) at Cedar Rapids. Klocke and Fugate moved the train as instructed.

Three nights later, Klocke was called to duty at Cedar Rapids to return the empty consist of the same train to Rock Island. Klocke found the defective brakes still had not been repaired.

“While making the air test and writing a good list of my train I noticed the cars that were bad ordered were not tagged with bad order cards from the CRANDIC Railway or the Iowa Interstate RR,” Klocke told Szabo. Klocke said he informed the dispatcher about the B/O cars during a stop in Iowa City and was told to continue on to Rock Island with the entire train.

“Not wanting to be insubordinate, I took the train as told to Rock Island with the bad orders in consist,” he said.

“Brother Klocke did the right thing,” Szabo said. “He informed his superiors of the rules violation, but he did not dispute their order to move the train. He complied with orders, then wrote a brief but complete report for the Illinois Legislative Board and relied on us to bring the matter to the attention of the FRA. We filed our report at the earliest possible moment, and the FRA acted promptly and thoroughly with the results you see today.

“This is how the enforcement system should work when the carrier fails to do the right thing,” Szabo said. “As this episode shows, the system does work when it is used properly.

“I strongly urge all UTU members to follow the same procedure if asked by management to operate with equipment that violates FRA regulations,” Szabo said. “Get the facts, write them down along with all pertinent names, dates and locations, and forward them to the union for filing with the FRA.”