Coming off a record week for both total ton miles and for intermodal freight, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) found little time to celebrate as it was forced to defend its safety record against accusations by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
With total rail volume on U.S. railroads reaching 34.6 billion ton-miles in week 37 and intermodal traffic up 6.9% over the same period a year earlier, both volume measures established new records, according to the AAR. Cumulative volumes for the first 37 weeks of 2005 totaled 12,323,245 carloads, up 1.5% over 2004. Intermodal trailers and containers reached 8,169,890, up 6.3%. Total ton-miles topped 1 trillion.
But as the railroad industry reported an increased role in commerce, the IBT said safety and security measures are lacking. “Our members told us that dangerous and possibly deadly situations are a daily occurrence on the rails,” said John Murphy, director of the Teamsters Rail Conference. AAR President Edward Hamberger defended the railroad safety record, saying the Teamster report misrepresents the industry’s safety record. “This report is not about safety,” said Hamberger, “it is a bargaining strategy.”
The railroads are engaged in a round of bargaining with their unions, Hamberger pointed out. This includes a coalition of seven unions represented by the Teamsters. That coalition, said Hamberger, represents less than half the railroads’ unionized work force. “So in an effort to improve their position at the bargaining table, the Teamsters have chosen to misrepresent the industry's excellent safety record,” he continued.
Rail industry safety has improved dramatically in the 25 years since economic deregulation, said the AAR statement, referring to the upcoming anniversary of enactment of The Staggers Act. (On October 19th, the Surface Transportation Board will hold a public hearing marking the anniversary to provide “a forum for the expression of views on the impact, effectiveness, and the future of the Staggers Act.”)
In the last 25 years, the train accident rate declined by 64%, collisions have dropped by 80% and derailments were reduced by 67%, according to the AAR. Further, said Hamberger, the employee casualty rate fell by 77%. In 2004, railroads recorded the lowest employee casualty rate in history. Hamberger cited additional Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) figures and countered additional Teamster claims saying a soon-to-be-released report by FRA will show remote control locomotive operations are safer than where the technology is not used.