August 20, 2004

SPRINGFIELD (Aug. 19)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board’s vision for a state rule mandating safe walkways in railroad yards was realized today when the Illinois Commerce Commission issued a Notice of Emergency Rules to take effect September 1.

The Notice, which came two years after the union initiated its campaign for a walkway-safety rule–and less than a month after Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation ordering the Commission to promulgate such a rule–is a major victory for the UTU.

“It was a long, hard fight, and we encountered major resistance from two of the Class I carriers, but on September 1 walkway safety will start becoming a reality,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

Under the Emergency Rule, Szabo said, any new yard trackage built by a railroad in Illinois, as well as any rebuilding of existing yard track, will have to be accompanied by an upgrading of the adjacent walkways. The rule also provides for a process to bring existing walkways into compliance.

Walkways will have to be surfaced with asphalt, concrete, planking or grating, according to the Rule, and if ballast is used, “the material must be capable of passing through a 1 ½-inch square sieve opening, and 90-100% of the material must be capable of passing through a 1” square sieve opening…”

The Rule also says that “Smaller crushed material is preferable” in areas where drainage is not compromised. The Rule recommends ¾-inch ballast or smaller for switching lead tracks. The walkways must have a “reasonably uniform surface,” cross-slopes “shall not exceed one inch of elevation for each eight inches of horizontal length” and must be at least two feet wide, the Rule says. Carriers must keep the walkways “reasonably free of spilled fuel oil, sand, posts, rocks and other hazards or obstructions.”

“These Rules apply automatically, as of September 1, to all new and rebuilt track where work is performed frequently on the ground,” Szabo said.

The rule defines “frequently” to mean “at least 5 days per week, 1 shift per day or any other period deemed ‘frequently’ enough by the Commission to warrant an order pursuant to this part.

“We achieved an automatic ‘frequency’ threshold, along with the ability to petition for application in those cases where work may be frequent but somewhat irregular,” Szabo said.

Updating existing track subject to union petition and Commission hearing

What about track that’s already built and does not meet the Commission’s new walkway safety guidelines?

Szabo said the new rule mandates that railroads can be ordered by the Commission to remedy an existing unsafe walkway condition—but only after the respective union local has identified a walkway safety hazard to a carrier and the carrier has failed to rectify the problem.

“No Formal Complaint of an alleged violation of the Part may be filed until the filing party has attempted to address the alleged allegations with the rail carrier,” the Rule reads. “Any complaint of an alleged violation of this part shall contain a written statement that the filing party has made a reasonable, good-faith effort to attempt to address the alleged violation with the rail carrier.”

“I take no exception to that requirement,” Szabo said. “The Carriers deserve the first shot at getting issues resolved. I’ll be getting instructions out to help guide our members to identify hazardous walkways and bring them to the attention of their Local Legislative Representative. The LR will then appeal to the carrier to rectify the condition.

“That will start the paper trail,” Szabo said. “If the carrier does not address the hazard in a reasonable space of time, the union can then file a Formal Complaint with the Commission, testify about the hazardous walkway in a Hearing, and secure an Order with real enforcement powers. The railroad will have to install a walkway that meets the new Commission Rule or pay a fine for every day it is out of compliance.”

Szabo also noted that a formal rulemaking process is being initiated by the Commission to promulgate a permanent final rule.

“Because our law said the Commission ‘shall’ adopt a rule within 90 days of passage, the Commission was obligated to get an enforceable rule in effect in short order,” Szabo said. “That’s why we got a quick Emergency Order.

“But the formal rulemaking process takes a little longer than that. So the Commission is adopting this Emergency Rule, good for 150 days, and simultaneously initiating a formal rulemaking process with the exact same language as the proposed final rule.”