Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch appeared this morning (Wednesday, Oct. 11) before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) at a listening session about service disruptions caused by CSX’s move to excessively long trains. [John Risch Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers National Legislative Director]

Here are the remarks he delivered before the listening session:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today. My name is John Risch and I am the National Legislative Director for the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART TD). SMART TD – formerly the United Transportation Union – our union is the largest of the rail unions in an industry that is almost 90 percent organized.

On the CSX railroad I represent conductors, engineers, switchmen and yardmasters. In my brief time to comment today I will talk about how CSX’s move to excessively long trains has resulted in substantial service disruptions.

Freight trains in America are typically one to one-and-one-half miles long, but in recent months CSX has routinely been operating trains that are two and even three miles in length.

These excessively long trains cause all sorts of logistical problems that cause tremendous amounts of delay wherever they go.

A three-mile-long train simply goes slower than a one-mile long train. It takes longer to start and get to top speed which is almost never the maximum allowable speed because they are simply too heavy and hard to handle. Slowing down for speed restrictions and getting back up to speed takes far more time.
Most rail main lines in our nation are single-track, so when one train meets another train coming in the opposite direction one of the trains must pull into a siding to let the other train pass. There are very few sidings that are long enough to hold a 2-3-mile-long train, meaning if the long train takes the siding both trains must stop and there is what we call a “saw-by” causing significant delay.  If both trains are too long we have an incredible event called a “double saw-by” which can take hours for one to pass the other.
Train operations require that the crew in the lead locomotive maintain constant communications with the rear locomotives or the device on the rear car of the train. When these communications fail the train is restricted to 30 mph and on grades of more than 2% the train is required to stop. The longer the train the more these communications fail.  This loss of communications is very common when trains go around curves or go over the tops of mountains.
The longer the train the higher the probability of mechanical failure. More cars mean more problems. Excessively long trains are also far more likely to break-in-two which can cause hours of delay.  When there is a mechanical problem or break-in-two the trains conductor must walk back from the lead locomotive to deal with the problem.  When the train is two miles long or longer and the conductors’ portable radio oftentimes fails to communicate with the locomotive causing significant delay.  A train uses air for its braking system and the longer the train the harder it is to maintain adequate air in the system.
Many CSX engineers have little to no experience operating these excessively long trains. We have many instances of these trains breaking in two and causing significant delays, including delaying an Amtrak train for 9 hours on a siding in Florida.
When a train is too long to fit into a yard track the train must be separated and put on two or more tracks, adding to yard congestion and additional delay.
The longer the train the more crossings that are blocked and they are blocked for longer periods of time. Causing safety concerns.  See letter from Indiana school.
Crews cannot reliably hear the report of wayside defect detectors when trains exceed 12,000 feet. When that happens, the train must stop and follow procedures to make sure their train is safe to proceed.
Required brake tests take longer on a long train. Some brake tests require the inspection of every car and walking a 3-mile-long train to the end and back is 6 miles. Add to that a portable radio that fails to transmit and the result is substantial train delay.
Trains are too long for foreign line yards: for example, the Belt Railway of Chicago only accepts 8,000 foot trains. However, CSX has sent many 9,000+ foot trains there that have been rejected requiring the crew to divert to Barr Yard and set out enough cars to get down to the 8,000-foot maximum before returning to the BRC Yard.

The question of the day is: “What can the STB do about it?”

We recommend that the STB immediately restrict train lengths to not exceed the length of the sidings on lines these trains operate on.
Or at the very least conduct an investigation on the effect train lengths have on service and safety in the industry.

Urging CSX to do better will not fix the problems that excessively long trains cause.

I wrote the FRA last April asking for action on this issue and they have so far not even responded to my letter. They have no Administrator and are reluctant to do anything until they do.

Risch's 2017 Regional Meeting Speech

Bipartisan Congress' spending deal rescues transportation funding from Trump's chopping block

May 4, 2017
WASHINGTON--In the strongest bipartisan moves since President Trump’s election, Congress passed a spending agreement called an omnibus that is in stark contrast to President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget - in which he proposed that transportation funds be slashed by the billions. 

In the just-passed spending bill, Congress secured and even increased transportation funding, preventing the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, the elimination of long-distance train service, and a freeze on railway, road and bridge infrastructure upgrades.

One important spending increase was an additional $570,000 for the National Mediation Board; something SMART-TD has been seeking to reduce the backlog of arbitration cases.

For our California members, the omnibus included $100 million in funding for the Caltrain electrification project. This means that construction—previously placed on hold by the Department of Transportation will move forward, with federal funds for Caltrain guaranteed until the end of FY2017.

For our Great Lakes pilot and flight attendant members the Essential Air Service (EAS) program for rural communities was fully funded, something President Trump’s budget also proposed to eliminate.   
For our bus membership, federal funding for the Federal Transit Administration --slated by the administration for a major decrease— was increased by $236 million and $2.4 billion was included for transit Capital Investment Grants.
In addition, the omnibus spending provides a permanent solution to guarantee health care for nearly 22,000 retired union mine workers who have been impacted by the growing decline of coal production.
“This proposal, which had widespread support on both sides of the political aisle sends a clear message to the White House that killing transportation initiatives and slashing transportation funding is not supported by Congress – and is not in the best interest of transportation workers and our nation,” stated John Risch, SMART TD Legislative Director.

Although this vote is a victory, we must remain vigilant and continue to contact our representatives to make it clear that investments in transportation are vital to our nation.



Dear  Member:

Recently, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas – one of the most conservative members of the U.S. House of Representatives – cosponsored our two-person crew legislation, H.R. 1763, the Safe Freight Act. This show of support follows cosponsorship from Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Both are considered among the most conservative members of Congress.

Why did Rep. Gohmert sign onto the bill? The simple answer is that one of our members asked him to. General Chairperson Steve Simpson’s office is located near Rep. Gohmert’s, and Steve decided to set up a meeting to engage the Congressman on our issues, including the need for two-person crews on all trains. Steve didn’t shy away because Rep. Gohmert is a conservative Republican; no, Steve’s attitude was that “this is my Congressman, and I will request a meeting.” They talked for more than an hour and Steve convinced this very conservative Republican that the only safe way to operate a train is with a crew of at least two people.

Arizona State Legislative Director Scott Jones lives in Congressman Franks’ district and decided to set up a meeting with his Congressman. Scott brought along a retired engineer who attends the same church as Congressman Franks and whose children attend bible study taught by the Congressman. Hearing from a trusted friend proved extremely effective as Congressman Franks came out of the meeting understanding the importance of two-person crews and became a cosponsor of H.R. 1763.

Last year, one of our bus members, Socorro Cisneros-Hernandez, had an upcoming meeting with Republican Congressman Paul Cook of California and contacted our office looking for talking points on our legislative priorities. Ms. Cisneros used the information we provided and had a very productive meeting with Congressman Cook, after which he agreed to cosponsor the Safe Freight Act.

Most recently, Greg Hynes and I met with another conservative Republican, Ryan Zinke of Montana. After a robust discussion about the two-person crew legislation, Congressman Zinke agreed to sign on as a cosponsor.

The lesson from all of these cases is that every member of Congress, regardless of party or ideology, should be viewed as a potential cosponsor of H.R. 1763. Our Washington team will continue to do our part, but when it comes to issues that some members of Congress may not be naturally inclined to support, our members – their constituents – are the ones who can make the most effective case.

To do your part, work with your state legislative director to set up a meeting with your Representative to ask that they cosponsor H.R. 1763. We can provide you with handouts and other materials to help. Our recent comments on the FRA’s crew size rule are a good source of information on this issue. If you do not know who your state legislative director is, a list can be found here.

If we are going to succeed in passing this bill, we need to be engaged at the local level. Special thanks to Brothers Steve Simpson, Scott Jones and Sister Socorro Cisneros-Hernandez for stepping up to the plate and taking the initiative in getting these new cosponsors.

Lastly, please visit the Legislative Action Center to contact your Representative about the Safe Freight Act and ask your coworkers to do the same.

In Solidarity,

John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division



By John Risch, SMART TD National Legislative Director

[Risch] For those of you who don’t know me, I’m honored to serve as your elected National Legislative Director. I came from the ranks, starting in the track department on the Burlington Northern and went into train service, spending more than 30 years in freight and passenger service in North Dakota.

My father was a truck driver and my mother was a stay-at-home parent who raised three children and a cousin of mine. We grew up poor, which gave me a real appreciation for the pay and benefits that a good union job provided. My 30-plus years working on the railroad has given me a real perspective of the issues we face, and drives me to protect what we already have and work to make our jobs better.

The outcome of the Presidential Election will determine whether we make progress on improving our jobs or whether we lose ground.

The next president of the United States will set the tone, and will make important appointments to positions that directly affect you.

The head of the Federal Railroad Administration will decide:

Whether the two-person crew regulation is finalized or discarded
Whether we enact regulations requiring uniform speed signs on railroads
Whether there will be limitations on the use of inward facing cameras
What to do about fatigue in the freight rail industry

Appointees to the National Mediation Board will intervene in our contract negotiations and influence things like wages and work rules. They will also appoint arbitrators who decide if an unjustly fired member returns to work with or without back pay.

The head of the Motor Carrier Administration will decide how, or if, we will deal with the terrible problem of driver assault.

The next Chairman of the Railroad Retirement Board will determine not only how our pension is administered, but how our unemployment, sickness and disability benefits are administered as well.

I’m very concerned about Donald Trump, should he be elected as our next President. He has repeatedly said he will discard regulations and get rid of government bureaucracy. These are good sound bites and none of us want more government rules than are necessary, but when you look at the pending regulations affecting us, like two-person crews, fatigue and locomotive cameras, this rhetoric takes on a different meaning.

I have a note on my desk that says: “My most important job is to make sure that bad things don’t happen to our members.” I’m charged with the responsibility of protecting and improving the jobs of our members – an assignment I don’t take lightly. That job may be nearly impossible under a Trump administration.

Here is a book review of a recent book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston. The book explains many of Donald Trump’s human failings. I know the hardcore Trump supporters in our ranks have by and large ignored these failings, but I cannot. I care about our hardworking members and our country, and quite simply put, Donald Trump is unqualified to serve as President of the United States.

If he is elected I’m afraid that he will appoint people to government that are equally unqualified, causing significant damage to the progress we have already made.

While I pledge to do the best I can to improve things for our members, I can’t do it on my own. I need your help at the ballot box. We’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, she will support our union, our issues and the progress that unions have made. This is serious stuff and we all need to do our part in making our jobs better not just for us, but for those who follow. And that work starts with this election.

Anyone who wants to call and talk about this can call me at 202-543-7714. I work for you: What every one of you has to say matters to me.

Dear Member:

Since the election our SMART-TD National Legislative Office has had many conversations with our members and retirees about the election results. Some members see the coming months as an exciting time, full of energy and new ideas; other members are worried for their future; while others tend to take a wait-and-see approach. Regardless of who you supported at the ballot-box, or whether you voted at all, it is important to remember that we are all Americans who care about our county and our jobs.  Beyond that, we are union brothers and sisters that need to look out for one another.

We have all heard the phrase “elections have consequences” … as your Legislative Director I can assure you that they do. Those consequences can turn out to be good or bad and only time will tell which is our future. That being said, I assure you that our National Legislative Office will not take a passive stance when it comes to fighting to keep all that we have earned and will continue working to try to make things better for our members.

We will continue to work with our old friends in Congress of both political parties, work to build new relationships with those newly elected, and to find ways to work with the new Trump administration. Every newly elected official and appointed administration official begins with a clean scorecard and we will not prejudge anyone and neither should you.

The railroad industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in America. Sometimes that works against us, and sometimes it works for us. For example, Railroad Retirement is dependent on how members of Congress vote on this issue. In 2001, Congress voted to reduce our retirement age from 62 to age 60 with 30-years of service. Not to put a scare into anyone, but this law can change by a simple vote of Congress.

The good news is that we have friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress. We endorsed 46 Republicans that won election in 2016 and they will be in the majority party.  Combine those with the 194 recommended Democrats and we have a workable majority of 240 members in the U.S. House of Representatives that in the past have listened to concerns that affect our members. If they all stick, we’ll be able to defeat any bad ideas and hopefully pass some good laws too.

While Congress is important, it is ultimately the new administration that will set the overall tone for our members for the next four years. Of key importance, President-elect Trump will appoint a new administrator to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). That is right. Trump’s pick to head the FRA in large part will determine what kind (or even if) a two-person crew regulation will go into effect. The new administrator will determine whether or not we have regulations that require uniform speed signs and the new Federal Highway Administrator will decide what can be done to deal with the terrible issue of driver assault of our bus members, or do nothing at all. 

The President will also appoint board members to key labor boards that impact our retirement, our contract grievances and our safety. And should rail labor and rail management not agree on a national contract, President Trump will appoint a PEB (Presidential Emergency Board) that could decide our contract. As you can see, President Trump will have a lot of impact on our future. We have been talking to folks on President-elect Trump’s transition team and are attempting to find common ground on issues that are important to our members and to America. See President John Previsich’s attached letter to President-Elect Trump.

As we head into 2017, we will be keeping score. When we see a decision that benefits rail members, we will give it a green thumbs up. Something bad, a big red X. And once we finalize the 2017 scorecard with the issues that affect our members I will send a copy to every member on our Legislative Action Center.

On behalf of our National Legislative Office I assure you we will be doing the best that we can with the Congress and new Administration the American people have elected.  We will play the hand we’ve been dealt, even though I wish I had a couple of more aces!

Until the next update, keep the faith.

John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division