October 2, 2003
CHICAGO (Oct. 2)— UTU’s Illinois Legislative Board today presented its proposed set of walkway safety standards at a hearing convened by Illinois Commerce Commission Administrative Law Judge June Tate.
“I believe we documented both the need for and the appropriateness of our requested standards,” said Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “We demonstrated how the standards could be implemented by the railroad industry in a reasonable manner.”
Szabo testified about the new standards under questioning by Washington-based attorney Lawrence Mann, a veteran expert on railroad safety who regularly represents UTU. Mann has been instrumental in the adoption of several state walkway regulations over the past 35 years.
“We are particularly appreciative that three out of the four of U.S.-based Class I carriers worked with our union to develop a set of walkway safety standards that both sides could agree on,” Szabo said. “Union Pacific, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe, and CSX all came to agreement. It took more than six months of discussions, but the result is an agreement that brings mutual benefits to the railroads and their employees who work on the ground.”
Szabo said that in view of the way those three carriers worked with the UTU, “It’s a shame Norfolk Southern and CN isolated themselves by not agreeing with the majority of the U.S. railroads. These standards are fair, reasonable and beneficial for all concerned. They follow the industry’s own recommended standards for walkways and give each carrier the opportunity to solve walkway problems through its own safety process before state enforcement becomes necessary.”
Norfolk Southern’s and CN’s attorneys at the hearing both argued aggressively that such standards should not be implemented. Both claimed their carrier’s safety record indicated no need for walkway standards, that its own internal safety programs already dealt adequately with any walkway problems, and that the proposed standards could be counterproductive.
“I don’t believe the NS or CN argument washes,” Szabo said. “The other Class I railroads operate in the same Illinois environment, and they accept the new standards. Likewise, they operate in other states where very similar walkway standards have prevailed for decades with no adverse results for the railroads.
“As things stand now, railroad responses to walkway-safety problems vary from carrier to carrier and location to location,” Szabo said. “Some local supervisors are responsive; many are not. The new rules would provide a common and enforceable statewide standard.”
NS and CN also filed a joint written motion for dismissal, alleging that the state lacks authority to adopt the regulation. “Federal preemption is a standard defense for the industry any time a state or local jurisdiction takes an action a carrier doesn’t like,” said Szabo. “Fortunately it’s an argument that Larry Mann has fought many times.” Judge Tate gave Mann three weeks to file a rebuttal to the motion. She is expected to rule 30 to 60 days after his rebuttal is filed with the Commission.