Rail union calling for tighter safety guidelines
After last week's train derailment in East Palestine that made national news, a coalition of 37 transportation unions is calling for greater federal oversight of freight rail operations.
21 News spoke with the head of the coalition about what they're asking for and why they say it's needed.
"Frankly, I'm not entirely shocked that something like this happened," explained Greg Regan, President of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. "In many ways, given the length of these train systems and the abundance of cargo being hauled, it's kind of the luck of the draw about where the incident happens and what cars specifically derail in terms of what the consequence is going to be."
The events in East Palestine led the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO to call for tighter safety guidelines for freight rail operations. This week the group sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration calling to implement a Confidential Close Call Reporting System.
"Knowing with our experience also working with aviation workers how valuable that would be in identifying risks before they become catastrophic," Regan explained.
The program essentially allows rail workers to anonymously report "close call" safety incidents without fear of repercussion. None of the 'Class I' railroad employers are currently in the program.
"So, you're suppressing potentially valuable information by not participating in this program," Regan added. "The protection that's meant to be there, the one that makes it vital for an employee to say, 'Hey, that one corner we go over on the track is causing us problems every single time or there's a tie issue at one of those places. So, we need to address that and report it to the FRA without fear of reprisal,' that protection isn't there unless the employers are voluntarily participating in the program."
While Regan does not know how the East Palestine train derailment could have been prevented, he added that the reporting system would be a tool to keep workers safe and avoid accidents.
"Every time there is an accident like this, there is going to be an instinct from regulators and from policymakers to act, to do something," Regan said. "I always hope to avoid kneejerk reactions. People want to act for the sake of acting as opposed to identifying what are the most effective ways we can mitigate the risks moving forward."
Regan added topics like fatigue, staffing levels and attendance policies are rail union topics that still need addressed.