The unions representing locomotive mechanics and railroad electricians want the Senate to take action to help move the rail safety bill toward a vote.

“With its comprehensive approach, the Railway Safety Act focuses on vital safety measures, as it creates a significant step toward safeguarding railway employees and the public,” said a Wednesday letter addressed to all senators and signed by the heads of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). 

IAM and IBEW estimate that they represent nearly 1.4 million members across the U.S.

“By supporting this legislation, you will help foster a safer working environment for our members while ensuring the efficient and reliable transportation of goods and passengers across the country,” said the letter signed by IBEW International President Kenneth W. Cooper and IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. 

Two aspects of the bill that interest IAM and IBEW in particular are ensuring that there are no time constraints placed upon rail car and locomotive inspections and calling for specialized workers to conduct inspections, as opposed to having operating crews or untrained crafts carry out inspections.

“The Class I railroads will claim they cannot abide by these modest, commonsense safety reforms. However, all safety inspection reforms are simply process clarifications and improvements of existing regulations with which the railroads should already comply,” the letter said.

Furthermore, “by implementing the more stringent inspection mandates outlined in this legislation, you are effectively guaranteeing that highly skilled trade workers, who have undergone years of training to achieve journey-level status, are responsible for carrying out the tasks they have been specifically trained for. In addition, this ensures that unqualified workers from unrelated trades or contractors who may have only completed a brief online training course are not assigned to perform the work.”

It’s still uncertain when and if the rail safety bill will see votes on the Senate floor. An amended version passed the Senate Commerce Committee on May 10 mostly along party lines. The bill was first introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, including Ohio Sens. J.D. Vance, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, in response to the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio.

Last week, groups representing local and state leaders pressed senators to move forward with the bill, commending especially the bill’s provisions that seek to address blocked crossings. Separately, both liberal-leaning pundits and conservative-leaning pundits have noted the work by industry stakeholders and union supporters in crafting the version that passed the senate committee last month.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related links:

State, local government officials push Senate to take up rail safety bill

Rail safety bill passes Senate committee amid GOP resistance

Federal regulators plan broad safety review of all Class I railroads

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