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BLET Weekly News Recap, 2-2-24
Feb 02, 2024

The BLET exists to promote and protect the rights, interests, and safety of its members through solidarity, aggressive representation, and education.


February 2, 2024

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BLET negotiates C3RS safety program with Norfolk Southern

The BLET and Norfolk Southern will begin working together to improve safe train operations under a joint FRA Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS). The Implementing Memorandum of Understanding (IMOU), was announced on January 29. C3RS allows operating employees to confidentially report close calls or other safety issues that occur without concern for disciplinary action by railroad management. Currently, NS is the only Class I railroad that has an IMOU for C3RS.
The C3RS pilot program governs BLET members whose home terminals are Atlanta, Ga., Elkhart, Ind., or Roanoke, Va. (including outlying points protected by extra boards at these pilot locations). Those three home terminals fall under the jurisdiction of the three involved BLET General Chairmen — Scott Bunten, NS-Eastern Lines GCA (Roanoke); Jerry Sturdivant, NS-Southern Lines GCA (Atlanta); and Dewayne Dehart, NS-Northern Lines GCA (Elkhart).
General Chairman Bunten said: “This historic IMOU, although a pilot, will greatly benefit our membership with protection from discipline and provide incident data that is not available now to create a safer workplace for all. We are very proud to have developed this program with all of the stakeholders involved and look forward to completing the pilot program successfully and rolling it out system wide.”
General Chairman Dehart said: “I’m proud of the work we have done. Anytime you can decrease the amount of discipline for your members, while also increasing training, it’s a good thing. The process should put the emphasis on safety instead of the hard-hitting discipline from the past that caused our members to be out of work for a long time and severely impacted their finances.”
General Chairman Sturdivant said: “In the rail industry when an unfortunate incident happens the resolution usually is to educate through discipline. With C3RS, this will be the rail industry’s first steps toward more education and no discipline. This is a big victory for railroad employees.”

About C3RS
Close call events will be reported to NASA, which has years of experience with the risk-reduction approach to safety and will process the information to maintain the confidentiality of the reporting employee. Then, a Peer Review Team with representatives from management and labor will analyze the close call incident to determine appropriate corrective action.
More information will be made available soon to BLET members, including how the C3RS program works and how to report close calls or unsafe practices.

NS photo courtesy: Cory Rusch, BLET Division 659
One year later, it’s time to hold railroads accountable and make safety enhancements
In an ideal world, February 3, 2024, would serve as a day to reflect on the safety improvements the rail industry has made since Norfolk Southern’s derailment and massive chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio. But the sad reality is that the rail industry has learned little from the lessons offered on the one-year anniversary of the East Palestine disaster.
Trains continue to derail, long trains continue to pose dangers to train crews and communities, rail managers continue to harass and intimidate workers, and the rail industry continues to spend big money to vehemently oppose all legislative efforts to make railroads and communities safer.
The rail industry is largely self-regulated. That has to change. The one-year anniversary of the East Palestine disaster serves as a stark reminder that rail workers — and the communities that they serve — still need several important safety improvements. Setting minimum safety standards, such as two-person train crews and wayside defect detectors, and establishing a maximum length for freight trains would help make our industry safe. These are lessons the rail industry should have learned from East Palestine. Instead, they have largely obstructed all efforts to improve safety while continuing to reap billions of dollars in profits. The BLET continues to work for stronger federal regulations and national laws that would hold the industry accountable. It’s time to stop putting profits over safety.

(NTSB image)
FRA final rule requires emergency escape breathing apparatuses
BLET locomotive engineer Christopher G. Seeling died in the line of duty in 2005 after succumbing to toxic fumes saving the life of his unconscious conductor.
On January 25, 2024, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a final rule requiring railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatuses to train crew members who work on hazardous materials trains. The FRA press release announcing the final rule states that the rule was advanced after the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, which occurred in 2023.
The fact of the matter is the rule dates to 2005 when a similar derailment and toxic chemical spill happened in Graniteville, S.C. On January 6, 2005, a Norfolk Southern train derailed and released a cloud of chlorine gas. The town was evacuated, but not before nine people were killed and another 250 were injured.
Among the dead was BLET locomotive engineer Christopher G. Seeling, who was Secretary-Treasurer of BLET Division 85 (Columbia, S.C.). Brother Seeling was only 28 years old. He didn’t die from injuries sustained in the crash. Rather, he was overcome by chlorine gas exposure after carrying his unconscious conductor to safety.
Three years after the Graniteville catastrophe, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was signed into law. It mandated that railroads provide emergency escape breathing apparatuses to keep train crews safe. The law was based in part on National Transportation Safety Board recommendations following its Graniteville investigation.
While the BLET is grateful for the safety improvements provided by this final rule, it is unacceptable that it has taken 19 years after the Graniteville tragedy for it to happen. Had he survived, Brother Seeling would be have been 47 years old this year.
Has anything changed one year after East Palestine derailment?
In an interview with America’s Work Force Union Podcast, BLET National President Eddie Hall talked about growing concerns with rail safety one year after the tragic events of East Palestine, Ohio. He said the Norfolk Southern derailment of February 3, 2023, brought rail safety to the national spotlight and created an opportunity to introduce legislation that could improve rail safety. However, rail industry lobbyists have so far blocked the advancement of national rail safety legislation.
Also in the interview, President Hall discussed how implementation of the operating model known as Precision Scheduled Railroading has put profits ahead of safety. Cost-cutting measures under PSR have led to massive job cuts, which has resulted in more unsafe situations on America’s railroads. President Hall also examined the dangers of excessively long trains in the 55-minute podcast.
Listen to the interview on America’s Work Force Union Podcast.
BLET member killed in NS rail yard accident in Alabama
It is with heavy hearts that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) reports that on Wednesday, January 31, locomotive engineer Chris M. Wilson, 55, was killed at the Norfolk Southern yard in Decatur, Alabama. Wilson, a BLET member, was a 30-year employee of Norfolk Southern.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, and the BLET’s Safety Task Force has been given Party Status to assist.
“This tragic loss underscores the safety risks present in railroading, even in the controlled environment of a rail yard,” BLET National President Eddie Hall said. “This week marks one year since Norfolk Southern’s derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio. I hope as we reflect on that disaster and on the need to continually improve rail safety that we also pause to remember Brother Wilson and the family he leaves behind.”
Virginia rail safety bill advances, Iowa bill introduced
Virginia State Senator Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (center, maroon), the Chief Patron of SB 143, with the BLET’s Herb Harris (green tie) and Tim Craver (far right) and fellow supporters of the rail safety bill.
In a follow up to last week’s Legislative UpdateVirginia State Legislative Board Chairman Tim Craver reports that the rail safety bill in his state continues to advance. Senate Bill No. 143 was passed by the Committee on Commerce and Labor by a 9-6 vote on January 29, while House Bill No. 385 advanced out of a subcommittee hearing by a vote of 6-4 on January 30.
Craver said more than 180 railroaders submitted comments in favor of HB 385, a high number given that state house bills typically average 20 comments in Virginia. Craver said he worked with his counterpart at SMART-TD as well as Brother Brian Peyton, President of Teamsters Local 322 and Political Coordinator of Joint Council 83, to help generate the high level of support. Brother Herb Harris, BLET Washington D.C. Legislative Board Chairmen, also helped lobby in favor of the legislation. Craver said the next major hurdle will come when HB 385 goes before a full committee vote. That has not been scheduled yet.
In Iowa, BLET State Legislative Board Chairman Mike Walker is lobbying for Senate File 512, a safety bill that would require railroads to install train defect detectors along their branch lines. The legislation is in response to the merger of Kansas City Southern and the Canadian Pacific Railway, which has greatly increased rail traffic in several Eastern Iowa communities. Citizens are concerned over the traffic increase, especially in light of the East Palestine derailment in Ohio in 2023. Brother Walker told legislators the detectors are important because they help keep train crews safe, and can help prevent derailments like the one in East Palestine, Ohio.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen
7061 East Pleasant Valley Road, Independence, Ohio 44131

PH (216) 241-2630   |

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Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen · 7061 East Pleasant Valley Road · Independence, OH 44131 · USA

BLE-T Division 622

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