March 11, 2010

SPRINGFIELD (March 11)—In a display of total bi-partisan unanimity the Illinois House of Representatives voted 112-0 Thursday to approve UTU-sponsored legislation that would allow a felony charge to be lodged against anyone who willfully places an object on railroad tracks in a way that adversely affects railroad safety.

“This was done to help provide a safer work environment for our members and to serve as a notice to those who think placing objects on the tracks is just a harmless prank,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “People who frighten railroad crews into a potentially dangerous emergency stop could soon face jail and steep fines instead of a lecture from a judge.”

House Bill 4987 now goes to the Senate. If passed there and signed by the governor it would amend the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code so that vandals suspected of placing objects on or near a railroad track could be charged with a felony even if the only consequences are an emergency air application by the train crew.

Under current law, such conduct is treated as a misdemeanor unless it causes injury or property damage.

“The UTU introduced this new language because emergency stops can traumatize our crew members, disrupt railroad operations and scheduling, and tie up vitally needed emergency responders,” Guy said. “It can take an hour or more to ascertain whether a train ran over a human being or destroyed property, and during that interval our members suffer shock and dread that sometimes forces them to be relieved of duty.”

Guy said the new law is necessary because the likelihood of a vandal being apprehended is greater today than it was in the past.

“In this era, our crews are better-trained to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior,” Guy said. “Couple that with electronic surveillance cameras on all types of public and private property and forward-facing cameras on locomotives, and you have a better chance of apprehending a culprit who has committed this type of act. Now that we know how to catch them, it’s time we learn how to punish them.”

Guy thanked members who asked their state reps to vote for HB 4987.

“Membership outreach is the most powerful weapon we have,” he said. “Nothing beats a phone call or e-mail from a constituent when it’s time for a legislator to act. Members should be prepared over the next few weeks to provide outreach to their Senators as HB 4987 moves forward in that chamber.”