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Putting America Back On Track: A 21st Century Public Rail System

As America grapples with the everlasting impacts of the derailment in East Palestine, OH., Public Rail Now and Railroad Workers United released their latest report entitled  "Putting America Back on Track: The Case for a 21st Century Public Rail System." Authored by Maddock Thomas, a Stone Fellow from Brown University and recipient of the North American Rail Shippers Association scholarship, this report presents a compelling argument for transitioning the United States' rail system to public ownership. Drawing on historical precedent and rigorous analysis, it makes a compelling case for overseeing our rail infrastructure in the same manner as our interstate highways, inland waterways, and airports.

Judge Orders Railway To Pay Washington Tribe For Trespassing

Seattle, WA — BNSF Railway must pay nearly $400 million to a Native American tribe in Washington state, a federal judge ordered Monday after finding that the company intentionally trespassed when it repeatedly ran 100-car trains carrying crude oil across the tribe’s reservation. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik initially ruled last year that the railway deliberately violated the terms of a 1991 easement with the Swinomish Tribe north of Seattle that allows trains to carry no more than 25 cars per day. The judge held a trial earlier this month to determine how much in profits BNSF made through trespassing from 2012 to 2021 and how much it should be required to disgorge.

Threat Of Canadian Rail Strike Looms After Bid For Conciliation Fails

Last week’s meetings between the Teamsters union (TCRC) and Canadian National Railway (CN) were abandoned less than halfway through, as the parties refuse to see eye-to-eye. Rail workers at CN and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) were set to strike on 22 May, but a request from the government for the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to “review if a strike could endanger public safety” put this on pause. The CIRB process does not impact continued bargaining, and last week TCRC and CN planned three days of meetings with the participation of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services.

Electric Trains Are The Powerhouse Electric Vehicles

Lawmakers and business leaders alike are touting electric cars as a game-changer for climate change. And it’s true that cutting carbon pollution from vehicles is critical. The transportation sector accounts for about 29 percent of greenhouse-gas pollution in the US. The on-road emissions in Texas alone account for nearly ½ of 1 percent of all carbon-dioxide pollution globally. But the hype around electric cars is misplaced. Electric trains are the true powerhouse EV in the fight against climate change. And it’s not even close. Data from the UK shows that the national rail system is about 25% more energy efficient than electric cars, and London’s subway system is about 40% more efficient.

Reformers Win Rerun Election In Rail Machinists

Reformers in the Machinists rail union have ousted incumbents in a Department of Labor-supervised election. According to the results posted on the union’s website, challenger Reece Murtagh won the presidential election in District 19 of the IAM, 820 to 748, while his slate-mate Marty Rosato won 787 to 774 for secretary-treasurer. Both Murtagh and Rosato are full-time railroad workers. Murtagh is a roadway mechanic for CSX and the president of his local lodge in Richmond, Virginia; Rosato works at CSX in Selkirk, New York. They will take office June 3. Murtagh received the news while he was finishing up his shift at work. In his shop, his co-workers celebrated victory by playing the “Rocky” theme from their phones.

State Agency Met Privately With Oil-By-Rail Firm Ahead Of Permitting

Oregon state environmental regulators are deciding whether to issue an air permit for a contested oil-by-rail operation in Portland, a site that received local approval after a deal worked out in private between the company and city officials. Now, new documents show that the state agency also met privately with the company before the application was submitted.  The agency said the meeting was informational and involved no commitments. But for groups that oppose oil-by-rail in Portland, the documents add to the sense that multiple layers of government are favoring the company’s interests over public health and safety. 

Railroad Workers Urge Rejection Of Ron Batory To Amtrak Board

Railroad Workers United (RWU) expresses serious concerns following the White House’s recent announcement nominating Ron Batory to the Amtrak Board of Directors, a decision that appears influenced by political maneuvers rather than a commitment to rail safety, labor interests, or Amtrak itself. Ron Batory’s tenure as the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was marked by policies favoring “operational efficiencies” (i.e., corporate profits) over the safety and well-being of rail workers and the public.

RWU Calls For An End To The Autonomy Sideshow

With shedding union employees being a chronic obsession of the railroads, some of them have given credence to schemes to run trains 'autonomously'. While not having a serious chance of implementation at scale, these autonomous follies can soak up public funding (e.g.: $6MM to Parallel Systems) and the time of regulators and business development staff. RWU has authored a Resolution Against Pod Trains (linked above and below) to detail exhaustively the reasons 'pod trains' as a wasteful diversion.

Potential Rail Strike Would Cause Historic Disruption Of Supply Chains

Workers at Canada’s two largest rail companies are preparing for a strike vote that could have severe ramifications for commercial and passenger transportation across the country. Combined, Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC, formerly CP Rail) own and operate over 75 per cent of the country’s rail network, though those tracks could soon go quiet as ongoing negotiations with the rail workers union have thus far been fruitless. Separate collective bargaining agreements between each respective company and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) union expired at the end of 2023.

Rail Workers Push For One Member, One Vote

Railroad track workers have launched a campaign to get their union officers elected by the members, rather than by convention delegates. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes is one of the largest of the 13 rail unions, with 31,000 members. The campaign is being organized by the group BMWED Rank and File United, with the backing of the longtime reform caucus Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). “We don’t think a handful of delegates can fully express how the membership is feeling—which is why we vote on contracts!” said Deven Mantz, a 13-year BMWED member at BNSF railroad.

Class One Rail Car Loadings Plummet The Last 17 Years

The number of carloads moved by U.S. Class One railroads has dropped dramatically over the course of the past 17 years. In 2006, the Class Ones moved 32.1 million carloads, while in 2023, they moved just 24.4 million, a 24% decline. Statistics are available through the American Association of Railroads (AAR) and Statista. Meantime, these railroads have made exorbitant profits and engaged in massive stock buybacks to boost the price of their shares, at the same time that the workforce has been decimated, customer service has suffered, Amtrak on-time performance has declined, and safety has been downgraded.

Colorado Looks To Rental-Car Fee To Fund Passenger Rail Projects

Denver, Colorado - Colorado legislators plan to introduce a bill that will increase the state fee on rental cars by $2 to $3 per day to help pay for proposed passenger rail service along the Front Range and to Craig, Colo., the Colorado Sun reports. The fee would generate as much as $50 million annually, which the state would use for matching funds for federal grant programs — specifically targeting the $60 billion for rail projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. “I really want to make sure Colorado gets some of that money,” state Senate President Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) told the Sun.

The Koch Network Is Killing Rail Safety

One year after a toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, inspired bipartisan legislation that would have made the nation’s railways safer for everyone, the bill has been all but killed — largely thanks to a familiar conservative foe: the Koch network. Koch Industries, the parent company of various petrochemical subsidiaries run for decades by Charles Koch and his now-deceased brother David, spent nearly $8 million in the past year lobbying on the legislation and other issues, as well as donated $1.4 million to Republican lawmakers who helped stall the legislation. The effort was part of nearly $200 million the conglomerate has spent in the past decade to persuade lawmakers and regulators to block railway safety legislation and other measures — including reforms that could have helped avoid the East Palestine disaster.

Rail Machinists Rerun Contested Election

A new election for top officers will be held in Machinists District Lodge 19 on May 3, after complaints about bad addresses and campaigning at polling locations during a close vote last year. The new vote for president and secretary-treasurer will establish who will set the union’s approach to the upcoming contract fight with the big freight rail carriers. Negotiations between the 13 rail unions and the carriers begin later this year. District Lodge 19 represents 8,000 machinists who repair locomotives and heavy equipment for carriers including CSX, BNSF, and Union Pacific.

Railroad Administration Proposes National Network Of Long Distance Train Routes

In 2021, Congress directed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to study potential restored and new “long-distance” routes.  The High Speed Rail Alliance is a member of the stakeholder group providing input into study. Last week, the FRA presented a proposed list of routes to be studied, as well as, some initial thoughts about governance.  The initial proposal would add 15 long-distance routes, serving 61 additional metropolitan areas to create a true national network. They are seeking public input by Friday, March 8. 
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