The Surface Transportation Board has reached out to CSX again with concerns over the railroad’s performance and lack of improvement. CSX will now be expected to provide a detailed schedule, including milestones and key actions, for the remaining implementation of the company’s new operating plan by August 24, 2017.
Three weeks ago STB sent a letter to Hunter Harrison, the CEO of CSX, requesting weekly phone calls to discuss solutions for the problems the railroad is currently experiencing following a series of customer complaints about the unpredictable and slow service, excessive congestion in the key hubs of New Orleans and St. Louis, and rail cars sitting idle for days.
While the railroad has participated in the weekly telephone calls with STB it has failed to provide any hard data. According to STB, that lack of data has made it difficult to assess the magnitude of problems and pace of recovery for the railroad.
Each railroad is required to submit weekly service data reports and based off of that information it does not appear that the CSX’s performance will simply continue to deteriorate. All of that data will be published on STB’s website for shippers, stakeholders, customers, and other railroads to review.
Harrison has made several major changes to the railroad since taking over as president and CEO. As part of his precision railroad system, he has closed rail yards, removed 900 locomotives and 60,000 freight cars from service, laid off 2,300 employees, and plans to lay off an additional 700 by the end of the year.
As problems persist, federal regulators want more details from CSX
Despite only being appointed the CEO of CSX Railroad five months ago, Hunter Harrison has made drastic, and some would say destructive and dangerous, changes to railroad operations.
In an effort to improve the railroad’s bottom line he has eliminated layers of management and plans to close and downsize rail yards across the country.
Hump yards are currently on the chopping block because he believes they are inefficient and closing them would save the company $10 million. The ones that manage to stay open are being converted to flat switch yards.
A hump yard is used to sort trains. The cars are slowly pushed up an elevated rise. From there a crewmember disconnects the cars and they roll downhill into different tracks that sort them by destination. The speed on the downhill slope is controlled by devices called retarders. They mechanically slow the cars so they maintain a safe speed. Converting these yards to a flat switch yard means the employees will do more on the ground work to get the cars sorted.
A signal maintainer that currently works at a hump yard in Indiana said “One of the big problems is that management was actively being encouraged to disregard safety standards and being threatened with their jobs if dramatic changes didn’t occur. They increased the speeds of the cars that go down through the retarder. Normally those cars take 5 seconds but management said they should take 2 seconds to pass….there were more derailments than I have ever seen in this yard. I worked there for five years. If you are working in the yard, this is dangerous and if something were to happen there are only two ways in and out for emergency services. One of those entrances is constantly blocked by trains and the other often is as well.”
Another railroad worker said “Men are constantly being threatened with their jobs on the line. We are told to switch cars like back in the 1950’s when injury and fatality rates were high and it’s just a matter of time before we have a headline of injury or fatality. Men are getting cussed up one side and down the other, and shown no absolute professionalism in the least little way.”
Some of the most worrisome changes CSX has made recently include ending the three step protection, lifting the ban on getting on and off moving equipment, safety meetings are no longer being held at the start of shifts, the discontinuance of the brake stick, and the refusal to provide work boots and some safety equipment for employees. CSX is increasing the speed of work but appears to have no regard for the safety of its workers.
CSX railroad closes and downgrades major facilities
CSX has once again made the headlines for another controversial decision. Action News Jax obtained an internal document stating as of Tuesday CSX will not be paying for its employees’ safety boots or high-visibility clothing any longer.
CSX employees feel they are working in increasingly unsafe conditions and the moral is low. Alisa Wilkes, an attorney representing CSX employees, said “It’s hard to get up and go to work in the morning when you know that it’s another dime out of your pocket that you’re going to have to spend.”
A spokesperson for the railroad released a statement pointing out that CSX will continue to supply hard hats, safety vests, and eye protection for employees. The statement went on to say that the change was being made to underscore the importance of shared responsibility between CSX and its employees.
CSX Stops Paying for Certain Safety Equipment for Employees
Last week Hunter Harrison, president and CEO of CSX, issued a letter to its customers apologizing for the recent disruptions in service. The letter seemed to lay the majority of the blame on the employees. As a result, the employees and the unions representing them are not happy with Mr. Harrison.
The portion of the letter that was perhaps the most upsetting reads “While most people at the company have embraced the new plan, unfortunately, a few have pushed back and continue to do so. This resistance to change has resulted in some service disruptions … As we move forward, we will continue to address these internal personnel matters and our teams have recommitted themselves to reaching out to those affected to work through any service issues and resolve them as quickly as possible.”
One of the union groups representing CSX employees, The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation (SMART), released a letter of their own making it clear that they are unhappy that CSX has refused to accept responsibility for its customers’ service disruptions. In part, the letter read “Our members, the ballast line employees, rightfully take your comments as a personal attack on their professionalism. They have worked through numerous operations challenges and changes to their work routines. Despite harsh treatment, furloughs and repeated violations of their collective bargaining agreements, it has not deterred the employees from fulfilling their duties. If anything, our members are pushing forward even though management is providing limited guidance and resources.”
At this time, none of the other 12 unions have released statements of their own. However, Clark Ballew, the spokesman for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees – Divsion of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said “SMART was spot on with its assessment. Morale is low and not just in the track department but throughout the system. (Harrison) is reaping what he’s sowed. Workers are disgruntled and tired.”
CSX unions not happy with CEO Harrison’s letter or changes
A CSX train derailed in Hyndman, Pennsylvania early this morning and slammed into a residential garage. The accident caused a fire that was still burning more than two hours later. The train was traveling from Chicago to Selkirk, New York. Some of the railcars were transporting flammable liquefied asphalt, although at this time it is not known whether any of the six derailed cars were among them. Residents in a one-mile radius have been evacuated and an emergency shelter has been set up at the Hope for Hyndman Charter School. It is unknown at this time how long the residents will be prevented from returning to their homes. Thankfully there have been no reported injuries.
Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for CSX, stated “CSX’s top priority is to work cooperatively with first responders and other officials to protect the public’s safety, and CSX personnel are on the scene assisting first responders, providing information about the contents of the train and expertise on responding to railroad incidents.”
Residents Evacuated After Freight Train Derailment, Fire
CSX Railroad undergone many changes since the new CEO, Hunter Harrison, joined the company. Over 2,000 jobs have been cut so far and more are expected to be cut in the near future. As a result of the reduced manpower, trains have been consolidated which has made them considerably longer – some of which are more than 2 miles long. Neighborhoods are being blocked and residents are prevented from entering or leaving their neighborhood for several hours. Emergency vehicles are not able to enter the neighborhoods during that time either. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has issued citations to CSX for the delays.
A Jacksonville news station recently received an internal company document from a CSX employee that shows CSX has eliminated several safety rules that were designed to keep their employees safe.
Among the safety rules no longer in use are the three-step rule and the brake stick.
The purpose of a three-step rule is to provide an added safeguard to prevent rail cars from moving when an employee is working between or under the cars.
The brake stick prevents railroad crew members from having to climb up and down train cars to turn the hand brakes. CSX employees feel that removing these safeguards has made their jobs more dangerous.
Alisa Wilkes, a personal injury attorney currently representing several CSX employees, said the safeguards that CSX has abolished are ones that most railroad companies have in place because they are important safety rules. Ms. Wilkes stated, “I have had clients from other railways that have been hurt because these rules haven’t been in place at other railways so I do know that it’s coming.”
When asked about the changes to the safety rules a spokesperson for CSX said “The safety of CSX employees and the communities where we operate is our highest priority. CSX continuously evaluates the operating rules that guide employees in safely completing their tasks, to ensure the rules meet the railroad’s changing requirements. Safety is the most important factor in evaluating changes to operating rules and we continue to apply best practices across our operation. Our goal is for every employee to return home safely at the end of their shift.”
Action News Jax Investigates: CSX safety concerns
The Florida Institute of Technology received several hazardous waste violations which resulted in fines totaling $64,100.
During an inspection of the pharmaceutical chemistry lab, physics lab, organic metallic synthesis lab, physical organic chemistry lab, and the Knight lab conducted in August 2016, EPA and state inspectors located containers of old chemicals that had peeling labels, residue on the lids, waste leaking from containers that had no indication on whether or not the contents should be classified as hazardous waste, and leaking or deformed containers that held formaldehyde, bleach waste, biological stain waste, and alcohol/water waste.
In addition to those discoveries, inspectors reported the school did not perform weekly inspections of the containers that are used to store hazardous waste, the hazardous waste was not properly labeled while being consolidated, and waste was stored without a permit or proper labels.
This is the school’s third hazardous waste violation that has resulted in large fines since 2008.
Florida Institute of Technology receives $64,000 fine for hazardous waste violations
During maintenance work on the Longhorn pipeline system for Magellan Midstream Partners, a contractor punctured the pipeline causing approximately 50,000 gallons of Permian Basin crude oil to spill. The incident occurred about four miles southwest of Bastrop Texas.
The Longhorn pipeline, which is responsible for carrying crude oil from the Permian Basin in West Texas to the Houston area – the nation’s biggest refining center, will be out of service for an unknown period of time. Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston, said “If it’s down for a substantial period of time, it’s going to impact crude oil available in the Houston Market. If it was a significant problem, some refiners might have to reduce their runs.”
Magellan released a statement saying “Efforts are in progress to contain the crude oil release to minimize environmental impact and to ensure public safety. The oil has been contained in a small area around the pipeline release and no crude oil has reached any water.”
As a precaution, residents living within a mile of the spill were temporarily evacuated. Thankfully, everyone was permitted to return to their homes later that evening. Magellan said they would reimburse those residents for any costs incurred during the evacuation.
Pipeline rupture spills 50,000 gallons of Permian Basin crude oil in Bastrop County
For the third straight year Specialty Transportation and Regulatory Services has been awarded the Best of Bensalem Award in the Consultants category.
The Bensalem Award Program is an annual award that recognizes companies in the Bensalem area that proven to be exceptional companies that not only enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community, they also help the Bensalem area a great place to live, work, and play.
Wendy Buckley, President and Founder of Specialty Transportation and Regulatory Services, has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Women of 2017 by International Top 100 Magazine.
This publication’s goal is to recognize and pay tribute to hard working individuals who deserve acknowledgment for their dedication and sacrifice.
International Top 100 Magazine Article
The FAA is investigating another incident involving lithium ion batteries aboard aircraft. During a flight from New York to San Francisco passengers became alarmed when they saw smoke coming from a carry-on bag. The fire was caused by a lithium ion battery in a laptop computer that overheated.
There have been 12 similar incidents on flights so far this year. Some experts have voiced concerns over a possible danger from requiring electronics that contain lithium ion batteries to be stored in the cargo area of the plane in passengers’ checked baggage rather than in their carry-on bags. Should a fire start in the cargo area it can burn unchecked for quite some time. Former NTSB Chair, Mark Rosenker, stated “Frankly, the safety community would find that a greater risk than potentially even terrorism. We do run a very serious risk of some potentially losing the aircraft.”
Fire on JetBlue flight highlights concerns over possible laptop ban expansion
Wabtec Corporation was awarded a $40 million contract to design, install, test, and commission Positive Train Control by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
Wabtec will be providing Interoperable Electronic Train Management System for 42 locomotive and cab cars, a back office server, wayside communications and signals, dispatch system, training, and system integration. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.
Wabtec to Provide PTC for SFRTA
A recent amendment to the Railway Safety Act mandates the installation of locomotive video and voice recorders and not everyone is happy about it. Railroad employees feel this equipment is a threat to their privacy and are concerned that the railway companies will have access to the recordings and can use it to conduct random samples to look for safety risks.
Union president Doug Finnson made it clear that the employees are unhappy about this amendment by saying “From the workers’ perspective, the government has abandoned them. “I’m particularly pissed at this.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau responded to this concern by stating “There will be very defined times when these can be used and it’s in order to improve safety.” Mr. Finnson believes the government will not be able to control how railway companies use the information gathered from the LVVR equipment. “Transport Canada can’t enforce the regulations they have right now. I have absolutely no confidence in the employer adhering to any kinds of rules and regulations about access.”
Union claims legislation requiring video recording on trains violates workers’ privacy
Voice and video recorders will soon be installed on locomotives in Canada. Despite the privacy concerns of railroad employees, TSB and Transport Canada believe using locomotive voice and video recorders (LVVR) will enhance railroad safety. The data collected will be used by TSB for accident and incident investigations, federally regulated companies to conduct analysis through random sampling in order to identify safety concerns as part of ongoing safety management, and Transport Canada for policy development.
President and CEO of Railway Association of Canada, Michael Bourque, stated “We are very pleased with the provision on locomotive voice and video recorders, this technology is working to increase safety in other jurisdictions where it has been deployed. This requirement addresses a key Transportation Safety Board recommendation that has been on its Watchlist since 2012 ”
Canada’s railways support mandatory installation of locomotive voice and video recorders to increase safety
The American Trucking Association has renewed HELP Inc’s PrePass services as an Endorsed ATA Featured Product. This allows more than a half a million commercial vehicles from qualified fleets to be pre-screened for federal and state regulatory compliance electronically. These vehicles will be able to continue driving without having to stop at weigh stations. This will save the company time, fuel, and money. PrePass has more than 300 sites in 32 states. It electronically screens the carrier’s safety records and credentials prior to them getting on the road.
Karen Rasmussen, HELP President and CEO, said “PrePass offers the nation’s only complete service for weigh station bypass, electronic toll payment, and safety data management. HELP’s technology leadership and the unmatched accuracy of its PrePass service are testament to why we have been named both and Endorsed ATA Featured Product and an ATA Corporate Partner.”
HELP Inc.’s PrePass Renewed as Endorsed ATA Featured Product
Throughout 2016 PHMSA’s Office of Chief Counsel processed a total of 42 cases and 256 tickets. The total amount of fines that were issued as a result of the tickets and cases was $941,404.
Shenzhen Union Trading Co. was fined $66,537 for transporting fireworks without the proper approval and using an invalid EX number.
Airsplat was fined $19,584 for transporting liquefied petroleum gases without the proper labels and markings. It was also discovered that Airsplat failed to properly train their hazmat employees and maintain records of the training.
Vet Specialist, a Phillippines-based company, was fined $18,039 for transporting calcium carbide in packaging that did not meet the required standards, failing to label each package, and not maintaining the required shipping documents.
In June the FAA fined Amazon $350,000 after it was discovered that between February 2013 and September 2015 the company violated the hazardous materials regulations 24 times. Amazon has a history of problems with the FAA over shipping hazardous materials.
Amazon’s trouble didn’t end with the fine. The company was prosecuted and convicted in the United Kingdom when it was discovered that Amazon staff members in China, Romania, and India re-designated dangerous goods as non-dangerous goods so they could be sent via airmail without being subjected to the restricted shipping rules. The items in question were laptop computers containing lithium batteries and aerosol cans containing flammable gas propellants. During the course of the investigation, Royal Mail found 782 packages containing dangerous goods.
Penalties for Hazmat Breaches
(as reported by American Journal of Transportation)
Over a dozen trucking stakeholder groups worked together to submit a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao asking her to delay the implementation of the Electronic Logging Device and speed limiter rulings that are due to be in effect in December 2017. The letter explains that implementing ELD and speed limiters will cost the industry $2.845 billion.
ELD is primarily used by companies who are managing large fleets of vehicles as a way to monitor their productivity. The letter, in part, stated “While we are adamant the ELD mandate must be repealed, we are also concerned by serious complications associated with its implementation, which is currently scheduled for December 2017. We understand many significant technological concerns remain unresolved, including the certification of devices, connectivity problems in remote areas of the country, cybersecurity vulnerabilities and the ability of law enforcement to access information. For example, ELD manufacturers are currently able to self-certify technology without validation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), creating vast uncertainty within the regulated community. This uncertainty has forced many of our members to delay the purchase and installation of ELDs until they can be guaranteed the technology will be compliant“.
In September 2016 the Obama Administration disregarded numerous highway studies that proved the use of speed limiters on heavy vehicles would make the roads less safe for all drivers and released a proposed rule that would make them mandatory. Experts warn that states with speed limits that exceed the maximum level proposed by FMCSA will see an increase in traffic accidents due to the extreme speed differences between automobiles and heavy vehicles. More trucks will be needed to move the same amount of goods which in turn leads to an increase in highway congestion.
The letter concluded by saying “President Trump’s desire to create a regulatory environment that enables businesses of all sizes to grow is commendable and welcomed. However, to do so this administration must eliminate the most egregious regulations developed under the haphazard, one-size-fits-all approach to rulemaking embraced by its predecessor.
The delay and removal of the ELD mandate, as well as the elimination of the proposed speed limiter rule, will provide immediate and overdue regulatory relief to a wide variety of industries, allowing them to devote greater resources to growth. Of all the regulations your department will consider repealing under the Executive Order, none will have a greater positive impact on American businesses than these two costly and burdensome rules. We encourage you to prioritize the ELD mandate and proposed speed limiter rule when identifying regulations for elimination”.
Letter to Secretary of Transportation
(as reported by NITL)
A train carrying recycled lithium ion batteries exploded near downtown Houston at 6:00 pm.
Jeffrey Degraff, a representative for Union Pacific, stated an operations manager from a nearby facility notified the conductor that one of the boxes was smoldering. The conductor was able to stop the train and contact emergency crews.
The Houston Fire Department was able to extinguish the fire within two hours. There were no injuries reported but there was some property damage to nearby homes. Anyone that was affected by the explosion may contact Union Pacific to file a claim by calling 888-877-7267.
Staying informed of incidents happening all over the world can be very challenging. While some of those incidents are reported on various news outlets, many are never made public. There is now a way to follow incidents as they happen anywhere in the world. Global Incident Map is a subscription website that allows you to follow 13 different categories of events that include hazmat situations, outbreaks of diseases, border security issues, amber alerts, earthquakes, and terrorism event predictions.
Global Incident MaP
In an effort to reduce regulation and expenses, President Donald Trump has made several changes since taking office. One of the most important changes he made was placing a regulatory cap on Fiscal Year 2017 that would require agencies requesting new regulations to identify two existing regulations to be repealed.
In addition, the agencies were informed that the total incremental cost of the new regulations and repealed regulations that are to be finalized in 2017 must be no more than zero unless prior written approval has been issued by the Director of OMB.
Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs