Conferences in March to
discuss fight for rail safety
BY JEFF POWERS
SAN FRANCISCO — “The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community and the Environment” is the title for two upcoming conferences sponsored by Railroad Workers United, a labor group active in last year’s successful fight against one-person “crews” at the BNSF Railway, and Backbone Campaign, an organization based in Washington state active on environmental and other issues. The conferences will be held March 14 in Richmond, California, and March 21 in Olympia, Washington.
“In the wake of Lac-Mégantic and other derailments, the public is alarmed about oil trains and the movement of trains in general through their communities,” the brochure for the conferences says. The 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, led to an explosion and fire when tank cars filled with fracked crude oil burst, killing 47 people.
“The public generally has no idea what goes on daily on America’s railroads,” the brochure continues. “Chronic crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, draconian availability policies, short staffing, [and] limited time off work create challenging safety issues of concern not just to railroaders, but to the entire population.”
“I was up in Martinez this weekend supporting refinery workers at Tesoro who are on strike,” Richmond conference organizer Gifford Hartman told the Militant Feb. 10. “The big issue in their fight is safety.”
That “is the big concern for railroad workers,” Hartman said. “Working-class communities near the tracks and refineries are forced to deal with the same problem — safety. Everyone’s issues overlap. The conference will help build alliances with railroad and other workers and the communities that are affected by rail traffic.”
Workshops planned for the conferences include “Single Employee Train Crews and the Importance of Teamwork,” “Railroading 101 for Beginners,” “The Problem with Excessively Long and Heavy Trains” and “Climate/Environment and Transportation by Rail of Extreme and Dirty Energy 101.”
Thirty labor, environmental and other groups and individuals have endorsed the gatherings, including SMART Transportation Division Local 31, Greenpeace USA, the Puget Sound District Council of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Richmond Progressive Alliance, and the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters.
If the two meetings are successful, a resolution adopted by the conference organizing committee in November says, they want to expand them “to other towns and cities across North America.”
For more information and to register, go to www.railroadconference.org.
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