February 15, 2005

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 15)—The UTU’s long-sought goal of a rule mandating safe walkways in Illinois railroad yards became a reality today, as the Illinois Commerce Commission issued a two-part, seven-section amendment to the Illinois Administrative Code titled “Part 1546: Employee Walkways in Railroad Yards.”

But the new rule will not by itself make walkways safe, union officials said, unless local officers and members systematically identify and document the hazards in their workplaces and bring them to the attention of railroad management for remedy.

“It’s up to us now,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “The General Assembly has done its work in ordering the Commission to promulgate a walkway-safety rule, and the Commission has followed up with a simple and reasonable set of rules and standards released today. Now the real work begins.”

Szabo said the new rules automatically apply to any new track the railroads construct for switching purposes, but they also provide a mechanism that enables rail employees to get walkway hazards removed from existing yard track.

“The key is for our members who work in each yard to identify the conditions that make walking dangerous, document the hazards in writing and present their findings to railroad management for treatment,” Szabo said.

“The Commission’s new rule is very clear on this sequence,” Szabo said. “The Commission will become involved in walkway-safety enforcement only after the union shows that it tried to reach a solution with railroad management and failed.”

Szabo said he sent a letter February 10 to all Illinois UTU legislative representatives providing them a copy of the new rule and instructing them in procedures to be employed in resolving a walkway-safety issue with a carrier.

“For existing tracks, the regulation requires that we attempt to resolve any complaints with local management first,” Szabo wrote the LRs. “Where concerns exist you must write them up to the carrier. A letter or e-mail to the appropriate supervisor, or getting the matter recorded in the minutes of your safety committee (if appropriate), is sufficient. However, make certain you have a printed copy. No complaint may be processed by the ICC without proving that an attempt was made to resolve the issue with the carrier.”

Szabo said complaints made to a carrier should provide the number of the track where the conditions exists, the location of the hazard, and a specific description characterizing the conditions—such as an excessively narrow walkway, an obstruction, an uneven surface, or an excessive degree of slope.

“When requesting walking ballast, specifically request ‘3/4-inch’ walking ballast, spread in a uniform manner, with a minimum walkway width of two feet and an elevation not exceeding one inch of elevation for each 8 inches of horizontal length,” Szabo wrote.

Szabo cautioned members not to expect the large backlog of walkway defects to be cleared up quickly.

“Railroad maintenance budgets are constrained and so is time. Walkway defects have been accumulating for many years,” he said. “There are practical limits to how quickly yards can be brought into compliance with the new rule.

“That means our members and local officers must strive not only to identify hazards but to prioritize them according to their seriousness, so that the most serious conditions are fixed first,” he said.

“Likewise the Commission suffers from constraints on their financial resources and time of their inspectors. They cannot blitz the state with walkway inspectors or bring every violation up for a hearing before an administrative law judge.”

Szabo said he will be meeting with the ICC staff in March to discuss its readiness to begin enforcing Part 1546. He also urged local officers to develop effective working relationships with railroad management so that walkway issues can be resolved without Commission action.

“Ideally, you should jointly agree on the worst areas and discuss a mutually acceptable schedule for improvements,” he said. “I also understand that on some properties this may not be possible. In those cases, you must prioritize problem areas and write them up to the carrier one at a time.”

Szabo also noted that members and officers should not assume that new yard track will automatically be constructed in conformity with the new rule, as mandated.

“We will have to stay alert to each carrier’s plans for constructing new yard track so that we can advise the Commission and ensure compliance with the Administrative Code. The tools are now in place for local officers to use.”