August 8, 2013

CHICAGO (Aug. 9)—UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy has been appointed by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) as labor representative on the Board’s Rail Energy Transportation Advisory Committee (RETAC).

The invitation to join RETAC came in a July 29 letter from STB Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III.

“I am tremendously grateful to my brothers and sisters in organized labor and in our national legislative office in Washington who recommended me as a candidate for this appointment,” Guy said. “It represents a chance for a member of organized labor to make a real contribution to the rail industry, to labor, to the economy and to the cause of safety.”

The STB established RETAC in 2007 to provide its three presidentially appointed commissioners and its staff with guidance on issues relating to transportation of coal, petroleum, natural gas, ethanol and bio-fuels by rail.

As the labor member of the panel, Guy will work with other panel members representing both Class I and short-line railroads; coal and oil producers, electrical utilities, the biofuels industry and owners of freight cars used to ship energy products.

“As a labor representative I am primarily interested in two elements of the current boom in shipping of energy products by rail—jobs and safety,” Guy said, explaining that the two issues share a complex relationship.

“In the last two years rail shipments of oil have skyrocketed because of the boom in ‘fracking’ in places such as North Dakota, Alberta and West Texas,” he said. “The torrent of oil flowing out of these new fields has created additional railroad operating-crew positions on Class Is and short line across North America. I’m excited to see the railroad industry winning this valuable new traffic and creating so many new jobs.”

But Guy said the petroleum buildup also raises the stakes for safety.

“As we’ve all learned from the derailment that occurred July 6 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the shipment of petroleum by rail can be incredibly dangerous,” he said. “Although the accident investigation is not yet complete, we will be watching it carefully to determine whether the assignment of only one crew member to the fatal train was an element in its July 6 derailment and explosion.

“Based on my experience as an operating railroader, I will be quite frank in advising the STB that hazardous materials such as petroleum should never be shipped in long unit trains handled by a one-person crew. There are specific duties and responsibilities of both a conductor and an engineer; combining those tasks on the shoulders of one employee is misguided and contrary to a commitment to safety.”

RETAC meets twice a year. Guy is scheduled to attend his first meeting in Washington Sept. 19.

“I am looking forward to meeting my fellow panelists and getting to work at a time of such great opportunity and challenge for the railroad industry and its employees,” Guy said.

“The surge in petroleum shipping is providing an unanticipated boost in industry revenues and industry jobs. The challenge now is to make sure that revenues, jobs and safety all experience growth and recognition at the same time and at the same pace.”