BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A Lee County Supervisor is asking the public to get involved with legislation that could guarantee a minimum of two crew on freight trains moving through Iowa.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Gary Folluo took a moment during a time for supervisors to report on committee work, to express concern about the moves being proposed by the nation’s rail haulers.
Railroads have been testing what they call Positive Train Control technology as early as 2004 on short runs, according to an article on Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainman’s website. https://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/headline.asp?id=16361
According to a statement from the American Association of Railroads website:
“America’s freight railroads continue to strive towards an accident-free future through a tireless commitment to addressing the major causes of accidents — track, equipment and human error. Continued safety improvement in the years ahead, however, will become harder to achieve and require new and different solutions. Technology is one of those solutions. Widespread deployment of new technologies like Positive Train Control (PTC), designed to address human error, will open the door to an exciting new era of safety and efficiency improvement for U.S. freight railroads.
But Folluo and Supervisor Chairman Ron Fedler said reducing crews to just one is a dangerous proposition for Lee County and the state of Iowa.
Folluo said the legislation proposed last year – U.S. Senate File 1979, The Safe Freight Act, and House File 1748 – would guarantee a minimum crew of two on all trains.
“This is something that we don’t know about or talk about very often, but it effects our communities enormously. Especially Fort Madison with the number of trains running through,” Folluo said Tuesday.
“There used to be five people on a train and they have whittled that down, and now the railroads are lobbying to have one person on a train.”
Folluo said if that person would have a medical emergency it could prove disastrous. The new systems have a shut down if no one responds to certain warnings, but he said a lot of damage can be done before that shut down takes place.
“Our senators and representatives at the federal level need to hear from us on this issue. You need to contact your senators and ask them to cosponsor this legislation,” Folluo said.
He said state elected officials are also looking at trying to accomplish something at the state level.
“This is federal legislation, but it involves the state of Iowa and we have a lot of rail that goes in and out of the state and our community,” he said. “We need to be paying attention to this as citizens of Lee County.”
Fedler said he agreed with Folluo.
“It’s not if something’s going to happen but a matter of when something’s going to happen, because we’re all human and at anytime we could be hit with a stroke or heart attack and with one person it would be a disaster,” Fedler said.
He said his last information indicates that close to 100 trains go through Fort Madison every 24 hours.
“That’s a lot of trains so we want to make sure they are taking safety precautions.”
In a June Kansas City Star article, U.S. Dept of Homeland Security officials expressed concerned with railroad hijacking, but rail officials countered saying the PTC would actually be safer, because if engineers don’t respond to warnings, the train would be shut down.
“With this system, if somebody were to get on, they wouldn’t be able to move the train,” Patrick Hiatte, a spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF Railway said in the Star article. “If that train didn’t have authority, it wouldn’t move.”