October 3, 2002

UTU International President Byron A. Boyd, Jr., has named Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo to be one of the union’s four designated representatives serving on the federal government’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee Working Group. The RSAC Working Group conducts research and analysis preparatory to drafting new safety rules enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration.

President Boyd announced Szabo’s appointment September 19 in a letter to Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter. Szabo will serve on the panel with three other UTU appointees, Alternate National Legislative Director James Stem, Montana Legislative Director Fran G. Marceau, and Thomas Sullivan, chairman of UTU Local 7 in North Platte, Neb..

Each of the other rail unions also has designated representatives on the RSAC Working Group, as do the rail carriers and the industries that develop and manufacture railroad technology. The Working Group researches and discusses the impact of new technologies on railroad safety and proposes rules which can be adopted or rejected by RSAC’s voting members. Rules approved by RSAC become part of the FRA’s railroad safety code and are enforced by the U.S. government.

The UTU has two voting members on RSAC, President Boyd and National Legislative Director James M. Brunkenhoefer.

RSAC was formed by former FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris in 1996 in order to democratize the process used by the federal government to establish new safety rules in the rail industry.

“Prior to 1996 rulemaking had been a top-down process,” said Stem. “When a change in technology came along or a new threat to safety had been identified, the FRA would propose a rule and then hold public hearings on it. Other parties could oppose a rule or suggest changes, but the FRA still had the authority to reject all criticism and simply issue its rule.

“The result was that a lot of proposed rule changes were challenged in the federal courts and got ruled on by judges who had no interest or background in railroad issues,” Stem said. “So Administrator Molitoris established RSAC to turn a ‘top-down’ process into a ‘bottom-up’ process.”

Stem said RSAC changed the process by “lowering the level of rulemaking from federal bureaucrats down to the rank and file and the middle managers and the manufacturers who deal with safety issues in the daily working environment.

“Their input turns rulemaking into a partnership effort that explores mutually beneficial solutions to safety problems instead of imposing an arbitrary government solution that may end up impacting some constituents less fairly than others,” Stem said.

What kinds of rulemaking issues will Szabo be working on? That number could change as manufacturers bring new technologies to market and as railroads adopt them and try to integrate them into the existing workplace. Whenever a new challenge arises, the Working Group assigns members with a stake in the issue to analyze the implications of the respective technology and draft a rule to manage its impact.

“Right now there’s a Blue Signal task force that’s developing new rules for RIP tracks and other situations where rolling stock is ‘blue-flagged’ for repairs and personnel may be working on or under the equipment,” Stem said. “There’s a Cab Conditions Task Force that’s looking into three aspects of safety and working conditions on board locomotives–noise, crashworthiness and air conditioning. There’s another Task Force developing rules for the use of Postive Train Separation systems, including the one that’s going to be installed in Illinois on Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louisline. There’s another one that’s dealing with crew sanitation.

“Joe could end up working on any or all of those groups–and others as well, depending on how they impact UTU members,” Stem said. “And he’d better be prepared to devote a lot of hours to it, because the Working Group is where the real work of the RSAC is done.”

Szabo compared the Working Group to the various committees in Congress that do the research, hold the hearings, collect information and draft the legislation that is submitted to Congress for a vote.

“It’s not the congressmen and senators who write the bills,” he said. “It’s the committee staff members who do that. That’s where the hard work is done.”

In addition to members from interested rail unions, the Working Group also includes members from the rail industry, the technology manufacturers and the FRA itself. Szabo said once the Working Group has agreed on language for a new safety rule, the document is submitted to the full RSAC for a vote.

“Usually RSAC will adopt it and FRA will accept it, because all of the RSAC’s constituencies, including the FRA, already had input at the Working Group level,” he said. “If for some reason the process were to fail and the Working Group were unable to agree on rule language, the process would default to FRA, which could invoke the old rulemaking process and simply impose its own rule.

“But usually doesn’t happen,” Szabo said, “because participative rulemaking really works and all of the players like what it produces. I’m glad I now get to be a part of the process.”