Congress should consider conducting an annual railroad “stress test” to ensure railroads have appropriately invested in their infrastructure and people, according to policy position papers released this week at a biannual meeting of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD). have been approved.
According to the TTD, which is part of the AFL-CIO, these position papers serve as political guidelines for the coalition for the coming months. These positions are supported by the group’s 37 affiliated unions, including affiliated railway unions.
To ensure railroads have the infrastructure and staff they need to ensure adequate network capacity, Congress should consider improving the definition for the common carrier obligation, TTD said.
The shared carriers obligation obliges railroads to carry freight, but some in the industry claim that the shared carriers obligation in its current form is too vague and does not adequately define service standards.
According to TTD, the Surface Transportation Board could be the federal agency that would work on the definition. Indeed, recent Congressional legislation has attempted to address this issue, although the switch of power in the US House of Representatives from Democrats to Republicans could potentially affect whether this legislation gets much traction.
“At the moment, Deutsche Bahn is not fulfilling its common carrier obligation. The railroads’ current service falls far short of what their customers and this country need, and cannot be considered ‘adequate’ by any reasonable definition of the term,” TTD said. “Unfortunately, because the common carrier obligation is not clearly defined and the term ‘reasonable’ is in the eye of the beholder, the Surface Transportation Board, shippers are reluctant to bring common carrier cases and it is difficult for the agency that Railways enforce “common carrier obligation”.
Any definition of the obligation for common carriers should take into account factors such as railway staffing levels and equipment availability, and better enable STBs to enforce this obligation by requiring railways to increase employment levels or more equipment into the system to bring in, TTD said.
While the STB is currently conducting an annual railway revenue adequacy test to ensure that the railways are generating sufficient revenue, “we believe it is warranted to consider that the STB conduct a parallel test to examine whether the railways have sufficient manpower and physical infrastructure to meet their needs, TTD continues. “Such a ‘stress test’ of staff and capital infrastructure would proactively ensure that the railways can indeed meet their collective carriage obligation, rather than waiting until things get bad enough to require emergency orders from the STB, as has happened recently was.”
TTD also proposed two other areas of policy reform: “permanently restoring health and unemployment benefits for railroad workers that have been confiscated by the federal government over the past decade” and “committing the Federal Railroad Administration to fill a loophole allowing railroad workers to transferred through federal grants”.
The coalition says the railroad unemployment and health insurance program has been subjected to budget requisition by Congress, and TTD is asking Congress to exempt the program from budget requisition.
TTD also alleges that there is a loophole in the FRA-managed rail passenger grant schemes, where funded projects have the potential to affect staff on those projects. TTD demands that these workers be given the same protections as rail freight and public transport workers if there is a possibility of job or wage displacement.
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