March 27, 2002

CHICAGO (March 27)–The Illinois Legislative Board of the UTU announced today that it is asking all members assigned to mainline train operations to be alert for signal malfunctions, including discrepancies between signal indications as viewed by the train crew and those reported by the dispatcher.

Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo urged members to use the “Safety Complaint” link on the state Web page to report signal incidents.

“We in Illinois are complying with an advisory from Dave Brickey, chairman of the UTU’s National Association of Legislative Directors,” Szabo said. “Dave has told us that union officers are hearing an increasing number of oral anecdotes from train-crew members who see a signal indication different from the one reported to them over the radio by the dispatcher. In some cases dispatchers are issuing instructions for the crew to make a move that would be in violation of the signal indication. Obviously, the union cannot stand idly by while these cases persist.”

Brickey’s memo to state legislative directors read, in part: “Far too many incidents are occurring of signal problems and discrepancies between what the train dispatcher says and what actually is being shown. Members are being accused of getting by a stop signal when they in fact see a clear (There is never a signal failure and it is always the crew’s fault.).”

The problem, Szabo said, is that the union cannot bring the matter up with railroad management unless incidents are thoroughly documented.

“Anecdotes are not enough,” he said. “Therefore, the union is urging all train crew members who encounter a malfunctioning signal, and particularly a discrepancy between the signal indication and the dispatcher’s instructions, to report the incident over the Web site as soon as they can access a computer. Be sure to enter the date and time of day, the carrier, the train number or job you were working, the signal location and number, and of course, the aspect displayed and any instructions received from the dispatcher.”

Szabo said false signal indications are “doubly dangerous” because they can cost jobs as well as lives.

“We all know a bad signal can cause a fatal accident,” he said. “What is less obvious is that it can also cost an employee his job. Railroad managements do not like to admit to signal malfunctions or dispatcher errors. If a crew member disputes a signal indication with a dispatcher, management almost invariably will side with the dispatcher against the crew member.

“That means we have to report signal malfunctions and discrepancies immediately,” Szabo said. “I know all members will do their utmost to make sure these incidents are documented thoroughly and promptly.”