February 19, 2008

CHICAGO (Feb. 19)—The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has found the Union Pacific Railroad violated federal railroad safety regulations last November when officials ordered an extended-haul train to depart a Downstate yard without a qualified mechanical inspection of an additional car that had been cut into the consist.

In a Feb. 13 letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, FRA Region VI Administrator D.J. Tisor said his office would recommend that the UP be fined for the violation.

Szabo asked the FRA to investigate the conduct of supervisors at the UP’s West Frankfort yard after UTU Local #1402 Chairman Norm Muellman complained that extended-haul trains were being dispatched into main-line service even though extra cars added to their consists had not first been inspected by qualified mechanical personnel.

Part 232.213 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations states that “A railroad may be permitted to move a train up to, but not exceeding, 1,500 miles between brake tests and inspections if the railroad designates a train as an extended-haul train.”

However, additional language in the same paragraph says that if more cars are added to an extended-haul train at an intermediate point, the new cars must undergo a “freight-car inspection” by a “qualified mechanical inspector” before the train to which they were added can resume main-line operation.

Brother Muellman charged that UP supervisors at West Frankfort had been ordering train crew members, who are not qualified mechanical inspectors, to perform the inspections themselves before moving their trains.

Tisor told Szabo that following an examination of UP dispatching records, FRA investigators concluded that on November 29, 2007, the crew of Extended Haul Train C BMJ09 25 was ordered to add and move a car that had not been inspected by a qualified mechanical inspector.

“Once again a Class I carrier has been caught trying to skirt federal safety regulations, and once again the investigation was started because an alert UTU member suspected something was wrong, wrote down the details and turned over written documentation to his Local for follow-up,” Szabo said.

“That is exactly the way these incidents should be handled,” he added. “If something doesn’t seem right, or if a supervisor asks you to perform an operation which you believe violates a safety regulation, do not be subordinate or confrontational. Do as instructed, but write down what you experienced, paying particular attention to times, dates, locations, and the names and titles of the railroad personnel with whom you spoke. Be as specific as possible.

“If you turn that material over to your local chairman or legislative representative, it will be forwarded to the Illinois Legislative Board and written up into a Complaint to the appropriate enforcement authorities,” Szabo said.

Szabo said the recent record proves that when the Legislative Board acts on issues referred by members, that action gets results.

“Virtually all the complaints we submit to the FRA and the Illinois Commerce Commission are resolved in our favor,” he said. “But it takes written documentation – don’t talk or complain – write. When our members write down what they see or are told and forward it through their union, we get action.”