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FEDERAL STANDARDS FOR RAILROAD SAFETY
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 1968
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The committee met at 10 a.m., pursuant to notice, in room 2123, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Harley O. Staggers (chairman) presiding
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order.
This is a continuation of the hearings on H.R. 16980 and related bills, to authorize the Secretary of Transportation to establish safety standards, rules and regulations for railroad equipment, trackage. facilities, operation, and for other purposes.
Our first witness this morning is the Honorable Richard D. McCarthy, Congressman from New York.
Mr. McCarthy, you may proceed.
STATEMENT OF HON. RICHARD D. MCCARTHY, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK Mr. MCCARTHY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am very pleased to be here this morning to testify regarding the railroad safety bill, of which I am a cosponsor, along with the distinguished chairman. I think that anyone who has looked into this would agree that there is a need for new and better safety regulations in the railroad industry. I became interested in this subject after two accidents occurred in my district, which is mainly the suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y.
On February 18 of this year, a tank car of the Penn Central Railroad ruptured during unloading at the railroad yard, in the village of Sloan, N.Y., spilling the entire contents, 10,000 gallons of styrene, into a drainage ditch in the village.
The styrene, in turn, seeped into the sewer system of the village, causing hundreds of residents of the village to flee their homes. They were forced to evacuate. According to an official of the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, the styrene in the area was toxic, and caused dizziness, and eye and ear irritation to many of the residents of the village.
In checking into this matter further, I found that there was little that could be done about this incident.
The styrene did not come under the hazardous materials regulations administered by the Bureau of Railroad Safety, nor did it come under the regulation of any other piece of legislation now on the books, so that the Federal Government was paralyzed, couldn't do anything about this incident.
Then almost a month later, on March 20 of this year, another accident occurred at the same place, involving a two-car derailment, and another car ruptured, spilling approximately 500 gallons of volatile methyl acetone. The substance leaked into the ground in the same vicinity as the first accident, but fortunately, this time it did not get into the sewer system.
The people in the areas affected were lucky that the accidents did not present more severe hazards than they did, but the fact remains that these and other similar accidents were totally unnecessary.
So I began to wonder about the whole question of railroad safety. As I began to investigate, I found out many of the shocking facts that I am sure you on the committee are already aware of.
The fact that train accidents have been increasing at the alarming rate of 71 percent since 1961; that deaths have increased by 35 percent; that track and equipment damage has increased by almost 100 percent; and that derailments, which occur more frequently than any other accident and which figured in the two that happened in my district, increased by 61 percent since 1961.
Lethal materials and noxious chemicals that did not exist 50 years ago are constantly being transported through the Nation's communities at the fantastic speeds of modern rail transportation in cars and on tracks and over railroad bridges that are not subject to Federal inspection.
And we have noticed in our investigation that since the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central, they are stepping up their operations, they are moving these trains faster through heavily inhabited areas, and of course,
many of these trains have cars containing these chemicals.
I believe very strongly that we must put railroad safety regulation on an equal footing with the regulation of auto and aviation industries.
I might say that in this connection, in the House Public Works Committee, we are considering regulations that would affect navigation, particularly as it relates to the carrying of oil.
I think that we have established the principle that the National Government does have an interest, and an obligation to set certain minimum standards for safety, and I think the mode of conveyance is secondary:
The idea is to protect the passengers and the general public, so we have moved in this direction, in automobiles and aviation and in marine navigation, and now your committee is considering railroad transportation.
I think it is perfectly consistent with what we have done.
I further believe that we must provide the necessary safeguards to protect railroad workers and the lives and property of the general public from unnecessary railroad accidents by granting the Secretary of Transportation the broad powers necessary to achieve the maximum in safety precautions for all our citizens.
I think this bill does it. I don't have any specific amendments. I think the bill as it now stands would be certainly adequate to the situation.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. McCarthy, for coming and giving us the benefit of your views, and especially of the two accidents that you know of personally that have happened in your district.
I want to congratulate you, and congratulate your constituents on having a Congressman who is alert to the situation, and who is willing to come before the committees of Congress and tell them of the things that affect your District.
Thank you very kindly.
Mr. MCCARTHY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is always a pleasure to come before this committee under your chairmanship.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you. Mr. Friedel?
Mr. FRIEDEL. No questions. I want to compliment you on a very fine statement.
The CHAIRMAN. Anyone else?
Our next witness, Mr. Al H. Chesser, is chairman of the RLEA Safety Committee and national legislative representative of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
STATEMENT OF AL H. CHESSER, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE REPRE
SENTATIVE, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD TRAINMEN, AND CHAIRMAN, SAFETY COMMITTEE, RAILWAY LABOR EXECUTIVES' ASSOCIATION; ACCOMPANIED BY WILLIAM FRAVEL, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT; SHELDON BERNSTEIN, COUNSEL; AND WINFIELD M. HOMER, LABOR BUREAU OF THE MIDDLE WEST
Mr. CHESSER. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, at the table here with me this morning is our counsel, Mr. Sheldon Bernstein, and Mr. Fravel, on my far right, of our staff, and Mr. W. M. Homer, on my left, of the Labor Bureau of the Middle West.
The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed. Mr. CHESSER. Mr. Chairman, we felt it was the wish of the committee that we file our entire statement and attachments for the record and that we review that statement in the essence of your time.
The CHAIRMAN. I think that would be fine.
Mr. CHESSER. We will attempt to do this. You have before you the text of my testimony, a memorandum on a release by the Association of American Railroads, and a supplementary memorandum prepared by Mr. Homer of the Labor Bureau of the Middle West on some statistical information, and a leaflet he prepared, outlining and indicating some accidents, and those leaflets are with Mr. Williamson, clerk of the committee.
The CHAIRMAN. We would be very glad to have your testimony. The complete text will be inserted in the record, and you say you are going to summarize it; that will be fine. Mr. CHESSER. Thank you, sir.
The text of Mr. Homer's presentation here includes the accident experience for the carriers, viewed in the light of technological and operational changes made over the last three decades, the causes of railroad accidents today, and the human and monetary costs of railroad accidents.
And with reference to my full statement, attached to this statement, you will find a number of suggested amendments to H.R. 16980,
which we certainly hope you will give consideration to. Those are attached at the back.
Also attached to that statement is the text of the present laws that are administered now by the Department of Transportation, the Railroad Safety Division.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Al H. Chesser. I am national legislative representative of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and I am also here this morning representing the Railway Labor Executives Association, as chairman of the committee on safety of this association.
The affiliates of this association are listed on page 1 of my testimony, so in the essence of time, I will defer from reading those, if it is permissible to the chairman.
I will briefly summarize the major points, and ask that my entire statement and the attachments that I just reviewed be included in the record, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. That is agreeable.
STATEMENT OF AL H. CHESSER, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE REPRESENTATIVE,
BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD TRAINMEN Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Al H. Chesser and I am National Legislative Representative of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. I also serve as Chairman of the Committee on Safety of the Railway Labor Executives' Association, which association has affiliated with it the following railway labor organizations:
American Railway Supervisors' Association
Express and Station Employees
Forgers and Helpers
Transportation-Communication Employees Union These organizations and the Railway Labor Executives' Association appreciate the opportunity allowing me to testify today on H.R. 16980, introduced by the Chairman, Representative Staggers, and on H.R. 17093, a companion bill introduced by Representative McCarthy of New York. We are grateful for the recognition, though belated, that such legislation is imperative to assure the safety of the traveling public and of railroad employees. Incidentally, I would like to commend our good friends, Representative Moss and Senator McGee, who earlier recognized the necessity of such legislation by introducing measures to provide for railroad safety laws (H.R. 5934, H.R. 5935, S. 526 and S. 527).
While meaningful and effective railway safety legislation will require a number of revisions of the pending bills to which this statement is addressed and these
proposed revisions will be discussed later in my statement-railway labor strongly supports the basic thrust of this legislation because of its long standing and deep concern over the deplorable safety record of the railroads. The Department of Transportation has reported that 2,684 human beings were killed and 25,552 were injured in railroad accidents in the year 1966; 159 employees on duty were killed and 18,195 were injured. There were 6,793 train accidents-a record for recent years for which comparable figures are available. Preliminary figures published for 1967 indicate that train accidents last year exceeded the record 1966 levels by about 5%; and the first two months of 1968 exceeded the same period of 1967 by about 10%. Thus, there is no indication that the transfer of safety responsibility from the Interstate Commerce Commission to the Federal Railroad Administration has yet had any effect in improving railroad safety. Virtually all types of accidents have increased—collisions, derailments, railhighway grade-crossing accidents, accidents involving track motor cars, accidents involving inflammable and explosive materials, accidents affecting both operating and non-operating classes of employees. Although there have been many causes of railroad accidents, prime responsibility must be placed directly on the carriers. The limited legal authority possessed by the Federal Government over railroad safety has made it impossible for the government to take meaningful action to compel railroads to operate safely.
Existing laws relating to railway safety leave wide gaps where neither Federal nor state agencies have any authority or control. Furthermore, even where Federal laws do operate, penalties for violations are far below what is needed to deter the railroads from violations when corporate objectives dictate otherwise. Each of these shortcomings in the existing pattern of Federal regulation is dealt with in the bill before the Committee. I shall discuss these matters in some detail.
Existing federal regulation of railway safety is covered by nine statutes. Exhibit A attached to my statement contains the texts of these laws. The most important are the Safety Appliance Acts, the Locomotive Inspection Act, the Signal Inspection Act, the Transportation of Explosives' Act, the Hours of Service Act, and the Accident Reports Act. The Safety Appliance Acts which, to a limited extent, cover certain safety devices are seriously defective even within their limited scope. The other Acts, although broader in coverage within their several spheres, fall far short of providing comprehensive protection for the general public or for railroad employees.
The Safety Appliance Acts best illustrate the infirmities in the Federal system of safety regulation. These Acts-legislated over a long period stretching from 1893 to 1958--provide in their language specific delineation of Federal powers. This explicitness, however, is limiting in its effect and application. Let me illustrate. The original Act of 1893 requires that cars and locomotives be equipped with automatic couplers, that such couplers or draw bars be at a standard height above the roadway, that they can be uncoupled without the need of men going between cars, and that grab irons or handholds be installed on the ends and sides of the cars for the security of the men doing the uncoupling. But the statute says nothing about the levers the men must operate to perform the uncoupling. The action of coupling and uncoupling cars is among the most hazardous tasks faced by railroad employees. Eight men were killed and 1,017 were injured in the year 1966 while coupling and uncoupling cars and in related tasks. One hundred eighty one (181) were injured in the single act of manipulating the uncoupling lever. This is clearly a function and a device that should be completely subject to adequate legal controls. But, because the uncoupling levers were not specifically mentioned in the statute, the courts have held the Interstate Commerce Commission without power to specify standards governing them.1 To the credit of the Interstate Commerce Commission, it prescribed standards for uncoupling levers; however compliance has been wholly a matter of voluntary acceptance by the carriers.
Air brakes, of course, are of the utmost importance to operating safety. The 1893 Act provided that some cars in the train (the number or percentage of such cars to be determined by the Interstate Commerce Commission) must be equipped with power brakes. However, the Commission was given no legislative authority whatever to control the installation, inspection, maintenance, and repair of such brakes or the testing of air brake systems. Although the Commission requested authority for such controls for many years, it was not granted until Congress passed the Power Brake Act of 1958.
If, next week, or next year, railroad equipment manufacturers invent a new device which will provide some significant operating or economic benefit to the
1 Apache Ry. 00. v. Shumway, 158 P. 2d 142, 62 Ariz, 359.