February 8, 2010

CHICAGO (Feb. 8)—For the second time in less than two months the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has found the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) in violation of federal safety laws after the UTU Illinois Legislative Board asked for an investigation.

In a January 28 letter to the union, FRA Region VI Administrator D.J. Tisor said the TRRA violated the Federal Hours of Service Law (HOSL) October 25, 2009, when it held a switch crew on duty beyond the statutory 12-hour workday so officials could conduct, under FRA authority, a reasonable-cause drug-and-alcohol test relating to a minor derailment that had occurred seven hours earlier.

“The investigation revealed that the TRRA was in violation of the HSL,” Tisor told UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “The findings of this investigation will be forwarded to our Office of Chief Counsel with a recommendation for civil penalties [fines].”

The FRA also noted that the TRRA erred in imposing the crew test in the first place because the derailment, which only involved two freight cars, did not reach the monetary threshold to allow reasonable-cause testing under FRA authority.

According to the initial report filed with the union by UTU Local #469 Legislative Representative Thomas Vanwinkle, the crew of Transfer, Industry and Miscellaneous Job No. 101 went on duty at 0700 hours and at 1330 hours experienced a two-car derailment on track 82 in the TRRA’s Madison Yard. Supervisors ordered the crew to continue their assignment and deliver their train to the Alton & Southern Railroad, an assignment they completed when they returned to the TRRA at 18:30 hours.

Instead of being allowed to mark off and go home, however, the crew of 101TIM was ordered to remain on the property while the locomotive event recorders were downloaded, and the foreman of the crew, Brother Bob Bollinger, was required to undergo a drug-and-alcohol test that was conducted at 2033 hours. Ultimately, Bollinger and his switchman were allowed to tie up at 2045 hours, 1 hour and 45 minutes after they had expired.

In a November 4, 2009, letter to the FRA, Guy charged that in addition to violating the Hours of Service Law, TRRA had consciously chosen to put business interests before safety when it ordered the crew to complete all its work assignments before undergoing testing.

“Once the TRRA learned of the derailment it had ample time to require the crew to fill out statements, download the equipment and conduct any drug & alcohol testing necessary before the crew expired on the HOS,” Guy wrote. “Instead, supervisors chose to work the crew to the verge of their HOS limit before requiring them to perform these tasks after their workday had statutorily expired.”

The citation against the TRRA was the second in a span of two months to be issued by the FRA in response to a UTU complaint. In December the safety agency found the railroad guilty of ordering a switchman to operate a Remote Controlled Locomotive even though supervisors knew the employee had not passed the required vision and hearing tests.

“This latest violation is disturbing,” Guy said. “Ordering the crew to remain on duty after the accident sent a message that the railroad’s commercial mission is more important than its safety obligations,” he said “TRRA literally put ‘safety last.’”

Guy said TRRA then compounded its mistake by postponing the drug-and-alcohol testing for another seven hours.

“Experienced railroaders know very well that from time to time mechanical or equipment failures cause minor derailments,” Guy said. “How a carrier chooses to handle these events influences how our members feel about the priorities of their employers. The TRRA chose the antagonistic approach in this case, so it’s not surprising that our members perceived their employer’s actions as simply another form of harassment.”

Guy said Brothers Bollinger and Vanwinkle are to be commended for bringing TRRA’s violation promptly to the attention of the Illinois Legislative Board for action.

“This is exactly the way a strong union is supposed to serve and protect its members,” he said.