Author Topic: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"  (Read 1609 times)

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packers#1

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2021, 09:50:43 AM »
0
I am not pontificating on causes of employee shortages. I am telling the facts in my recent and past experience as a railroad manager.  You are correct that the potential employee pool is shallow to begin with but the drug test is a major issue at least where I am.

Doing any kind of railway safety inspections including but not limited to cab signal and PTC requires employees including myself to submit to random drug tests and pre-employment drug screens. Many applicants reject the job when they are told about the random drug tests.

This has been getting worse over the last few years. When I worked for the P&W in 2014, again as a department manager I was frustrated by this.

I get the anecdote, and I suppose mine is anecdotally as well. I’m just saying that what CSX is saying in the article matches up with my experience and I wouldn’t dismiss it at all.
Sawyer Berry
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Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #16 on: June 08, 2021, 10:33:38 AM »
0
This all ties in with a very depressing theme I've been thinking about.

I was learning about Bronze Age Collapse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Bronze_Age_collapse

And one of the theories is that there was a "general systems collapse" that caused it, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Bronze_Age_collapse#General_systems_collapse

Quote
The growing complexity and specialization of the Late Bronze Age political, economic, and social organization in Carol Thomas and Craig Conant's phrase[53] together made the organization of civilization too intricate to reestablish piecewise when disrupted. That could explain why the collapse was so widespread and able to render the Bronze Age civilizations incapable of recovery. The critical flaws of the Late Bronze Age are its centralization, specialization, complexity, and top-heavy political structure.

Essentially, a bunch of complex but fragile systems started falling apart and the societies weren't able to hold it together when they did.

Now, look at the general break down in social cohesion, political stability, supply chains and various other systems, and you start seeing some eery parallels.

Are we engineering ourselves into extinction? Not exactly, but into another dark age? Very possibly.

sd45elect2000

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #17 on: June 08, 2021, 03:17:21 PM »
+1
Maybe we should drop the drug tests.

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/global-hr/pages/us-drug-testing-rules.aspx

"Let’s start with the fact that the United States is virtually alone in the developed world in permitting employment-at-will. What this means is that in most other countries, employers may terminate for cause only, or risk penalties and even lawsuits. Consider that in much of the rest of the developed world employment agreements are not only commonly used, they may even be desirable for employers. These two concepts alone can be a big surprise for employers who previously have not operated outside of U.S. borders."

snip

"Although our neighbor to the north, Canada, may appear to be very similar to the U.S., the Supreme Court of Canada recently held that the implementation of random alcohol testing for employees in safety-sensitive positions was an invasion of privacy and an invalid exercise of management rights. The Court held that without “evidence of enhanced safety risks, such as evidence of a general problem with substance abuse in the workplace,” such testing was an “unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees,” and therefore impermissible.

"In other words, just because the workplace might be inherently dangerous due to the nature of the work (for example, manufacturing or construction), this fact alone does not justify random testing. While “reasonable suspicion” testing may be permissible under certain circumstances, employers should be sure to carefully document unsafe behavior and verifiable examples of drug or alcohol-related incidents.

"Drug and alcohol testing in Europe can also be tricky, where employees generally have greater privacy rights than in the U.S., and drug and alcohol testing may be seen as a violation of the employee’s basic right to privacy. Although employers and employees can generally set out the parameters of acceptable drug and alcohol testing through employment contracts, some countries, such as Belgium and Finland, prohibit the contracting away of basic privacy rights and may hold such contractual provisions to be invalid. In Poland and the Czech Republic, drug and alcohol testing is generally prohibited.

"Pre-employment screening is permissible in some countries (the United Kingdom), but is strictly limited in others. In France, for example, pre-employment drug-screening is generally prohibited unless an occupational physician recognizes and recommends such testing. In fact, drug and alcohol testing is strictly limited in most European countries, as well as many other countries around the world, including countries as diverse as Chile, Colombia and South Africa. Unjustified testing can result in fines, and even criminal sanctions in several European countries. "

Jim

You are correct, we couldn't drug test anyone involved the fatal Lac Megantic wreck.

When I first started on the railroad there wasn't any drug screening. People got violated on rule G very seldome even though it was commn practice to settle the nerves before running a train.
Everything changed after the Chase Maryland wreck. There was public outcry, congressional hearings and a call for action. All followed by a flurry of rule making from the FRA. When I started there wasn't even a certification card. I personally don't care if drug testing is gotten rid of, I only have a few years left to work. Let the carnage begin after I'm gone !

Dont thnk that PTC is the answer either, there are more train wrecks caused by other things than a collision.

BCR751

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #18 on: June 08, 2021, 03:18:19 PM »
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That statement is a load of horse dung.

I beg to differ.  A few years ago when I got laid off, the railroad was hiring so I went for an interview.  I passed that and was told to attend a job 'seminar' to explain the positions that were available.  The personnel lady gave about a half-hour long spiel explaining the various jobs and then said that after the coffee break, there would be drug tests administered.  When the break was over, 6 out of the 28 people who were there previously returned to the meeting room.  Horse dung?  I don't think so.  By the way, I wasn't hired because I wore glasses.

Doug

John

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #19 on: June 08, 2021, 04:26:09 PM »
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I've been subject to drug tests in the military, and as a civilian employee -- it's no big deal to me ..  but I don't think I would want someone running 10000+ tons at 60mph while they are stoned out of their mind either ..

CRL

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #20 on: June 08, 2021, 04:26:23 PM »
0
It’s required that random drug tests for commercial truck drivers holding a CDL and they’re only handing an 80,000+ pound missile. Most commercial construction companies perform at least “cause” testing, like when a job related injury occurs. This helps keep all the employees on the job site safe and reminds the workers that if they’re injured on the job while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they will not have their medical & lost time paid for by Workers Compensation. That’s the law in most every state.

I don’t see where driving a train should not require the same.

peteski

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #21 on: June 08, 2021, 05:04:22 PM »
0
Last time I changed jobs (13 years ago), there  was a drug test involved during the hiring process. And I work for a large computer company as a tech support engineer (I remotely troubleshoot computer problems).   I believe that any company can decide to screen the prospective candidates for drug use.
. . . 42 . . .

Hyperion

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #22 on: June 08, 2021, 07:00:19 PM »
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I beg to differ.  A few years ago when I got laid off, the railroad was hiring so I went for an interview.  I passed that and was told to attend a job 'seminar' to explain the positions that were available.  The personnel lady gave about a half-hour long spiel explaining the various jobs and then said that after the coffee break, there would be drug tests administered.  When the break was over, 6 out of the 28 people who were there previously returned to the meeting room.  Horse dung?  I don't think so.  By the way, I wasn't hired because I wore glasses.

Doug

Did you come to one of my hiring events up in the PNW area? ;)

The issue with drugs is there.  It is regional, for sure.   But it's real.   In the PNW area, specifically eastern Washington, I had a really, really hard time getting anyone who could pass a test.

And that's IF they even bothered to try.   As Doug mentions, it's part of the standard hiring spiel that we tell them that they're going to have to a drug test at the next break and the results will be reported to the DOT preventing any hiring anywhere in the entire transportation industry for years if they fail.   If they leave during the break, no hard feelings and they can re-apply when they feel they are clean.   In the Midwest I might get 10% that would leave.  Failures of those remaining were rare.  In the PNW, I'd be lucky if 25% stayed. And most of them wouldn't pass the test, they were just desperate (or hopeful).

The vast majority of these guys were truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, etc.... and few could pass a drug test.   I just hope they were keeping it to the weekends.  Nothing against them or their choices.  Clearly there are different stressors and different relievers in different parts of the country.

We won't even get into the number who can't pass an opioid test (it's not part of the normal screening, but is optional after accidents).
« Last Edit: June 08, 2021, 07:02:35 PM by Hyperion »
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Hawghead

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #23 on: June 08, 2021, 09:11:50 PM »
+2
Quote
Run longer trains.
  Personnel best the other day, 14,700' Z train.

Right now U.P. is faced with two major problems. (1) A significant portion of their motive power has been either sold or put in storage.  As a result engines are being constantly used with little or no maintenance between trips.  This creates a domino effect as lack of maintenance causes locomotives to fail and further reduce an already inadequate pool of motive power.  My last three trips had locomotive failures on each train.  One had a complete failure of all dynamic brakes due to a fault in the control panel of the lead locomotive.  I had to use stretch braking for the whole trip, I know a lot of younger engineers who would have been unable to make the trip as they had never been trained on how to use air to control a train over an entire trip.  Another the second unit of the lead consist failed due to over heating, this resulted in having to run a DPU train 1x2 (one lead locomotive and two mid train DPUs.)  This is a dicey operation at best, so much so that there are rules that supposedly prohibit this (I was ordered to take the train) and finally on the above mentioned Z train, we had to switch out the mid train DPUs as the controlling unit on the mid pack kept giving a wheel slip alarm every time I tried to move the train.  Turns out this locomotive had come in the night before with a locked axle and the roundhouse personnel had cut out the traction motor, moved it a couple of feet in the RIP shed and declared it fit for use. (I'm sure they knew it would fail, but were over-ridden by the roundhouse manager).  This resulted in a premium inter-model U.P.S. train departing 4 1/2 hours late and having to be re-crewed. 

(2) Lack of personnel across all crafts.  Over the last couple of years personnel manning has been reduced by up to 60% in some crafts resulting in locomotives and rail cars getting what amounts to a lick an'a promise before being sent back out on another trip (as discussed above).  Additionally the railroads practice of hiring new people and then furloughing them months after being hired, then bringing them back for a month or two then furloughing them again over and over means about 75% of them leave for other jobs.  Word has gotten out about railroad hiring practices also, such that in the last hiring class in the Portland area only four people applied.  As traffic continues to increase these personnel cuts are starting and will continue to have a significant effect on the railroads ability to move goods in a safe and efficient manner.  Now I'm talking about the U.P. but I would be very surprised if these very same issues aren't effecting all railroads.  As we are talking root causes, it, in my opinion, is caused by the simple fact that railroad CEOs have little to no real business acumen.  All they know is to cut costs which means people and equipment.  But when you've cut to the bone then what?

As for eliminating drug testing please wait until I retire, there are enough stupid railroaders out there, I don't want them stoned/drunk also and operating on the same mainline as me.

Scott
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Philip H

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #24 on: June 09, 2021, 08:03:03 AM »
0
It's really beneficial to have all the professional railroaders here - we learn a ton from you guys.  And I want to see a 14,700 ft train - that exceeds the passing siding behind my house on CSX!

That said - I'll ask an ill informed but necessary question - how many accidents on railroads or any other mode of surface transportation are caused by drug use (outside alcohol which has well known effects)? My take is we started pee testing everyone due to perception, and now with worker shortages that perception is having serious negative economic impacts.  Being a data guy I'd say we need to haul out the actual numbers.  Seems to me the unions would support such a revisit as they could gain some new members.  Railroad CEO's might well hate it, but at some point the lack of people to move the freight will make enough customers angry they will go to Congress with another data poor request.  And congress being Congress they will "do something" which like pee testing may well be useless in addressing actual problems.

And I say all this as a federal bureaucrat who can't smoke weed even if my state allows it and is subject to random pee test rules (never enforced even at hiring).
Philip H.
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Baton Rouge Southern RR - Mount Rainier Division.

"Yes there are somethings that are "off;" but hey, so what." ~ Wyatt

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sd45elect2000

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #25 on: June 09, 2021, 08:15:26 AM »
0
It's really beneficial to have all the professional railroaders here - we learn a ton from you guys.  And I want to see a 14,700 ft train - that exceeds the passing siding behind my house on CSX!

That said - I'll ask an ill informed but necessary question - how many accidents on railroads or any other mode of surface transportation are caused by drug use (outside alcohol which has well known effects)? My take is we started pee testing everyone due to perception, and now with worker shortages that perception is having serious negative economic impacts.  Being a data guy I'd say we need to haul out the actual numbers.  Seems to me the unions would support such a revisit as they could gain some new members.  Railroad CEO's might well hate it, but at some point the lack of people to move the freight will make enough customers angry they will go to Congress with another data poor request.  And congress being Congress they will "do something" which like pee testing may well be useless in addressing actual problems.

And I say all this as a federal bureaucrat who can't smoke weed even if my state allows it and is subject to random pee test rules (never enforced even at hiring).

Rail accidents and fatalities are all public record.

www.fra.dot.gov

Dave V

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #26 on: June 09, 2021, 10:52:56 AM »
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One of the reasons marijuana is such a thorny issue is the testing.  Alcohol is metabolized very quickly, so if it's in your blood or on your breath, you're probably still feeling the effects of it.  So a field test for alcohol is pretty conclusive if given rapidly enough.  I still remember from school that most people metabolize alcohol at the equivalent of roughly one shot per hour.  Let's say you have a very nice, big Manhattan like Ed makes...so let's say there's roughly two shots of rye and a shot of vermouth.  Three hours after you've started drinking it (since your liver starts work pretty quickly), you should be good to go testing-wise.

When the body metabolizes the THC in marijuana, it creates metabolites with very long half-lives.  When you test for marijuana at work, you're not really testing for THC but the body's metabolites of THC.  They can linger in the blood for weeks to months, depending on how regularly a person uses it.  So while the high may wear off in a few hours, testing done same-day and testing done the following week will look very similar.  So there's no really good way to tell when the marijuana was consumed.  It can even linger in the hair and fingernails for months to years in trace amounts.

I learned this as an Air Force squadron commander when I was given an orientation to the military's drug testing program, since it would be my job to enforce it.  And I did on one occasion...had an Airman pop positive for a prescription drug he was not prescribed.

Here's my problem with all of this, especially living in a state where recreational use is legal.  Testing positive for THC metabolites does not imply that person is high has ever reported to work high.  Nevertheless, even here in Colorado, jobs requiring operation of machinery or commercial/government vehicles typically ban any marijuana use.  Until there's more foolproof testing that can actually determine when a person is currently and definitively undergoing the psychoactive effects of marijuana (rather than using it responsibly in accordance with the law), it'll continue to be messy.

EDIT:  Truth in advertising...  As someone with neurological damage and mental health challenges associated with over two decades of military service, I find CBD oil to be very useful.  I buy it from a company that publishes its batch testing numbers so I can be assured that it dos not contain THC.  I had actually been prescribed artificially-derived THC by a military doc while I was on active duty (I know, surprising!) that I'd take at night before bed, but ultimately it provided no significant neurological pain relief for me (although it helps countless other vets with visible and invisible wounds).  CBD actually does, with zero psychoactive effects (other than it combats anxiety...yay!).  I've even given canine CBD treats to Ranger for his doggie arthritis (with his veterinarian's approval of course!).  If we're to tackle the dual opioid abuse and mental health crises I feel like marijuana products really have to be part of that.  That's just my opinion though...I don't expect everyone to agree.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2021, 11:01:44 AM by Dave V »
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learmoia

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #27 on: June 09, 2021, 03:00:48 PM »
0
It's really beneficial to have all the professional railroaders here - we learn a ton from you guys.  And I want to see a 14,700 ft train - that exceeds the passing siding behind my house on CSX!

That said - I'll ask an ill informed but necessary question - how many accidents on railroads or any other mode of surface transportation are caused by drug use (outside alcohol which has well known effects)? My take is we started pee testing everyone due to perception, and now with worker shortages that perception is having serious negative economic impacts.  Being a data guy I'd say we need to haul out the actual numbers.  Seems to me the unions would support such a revisit as they could gain some new members.  Railroad CEO's might well hate it, but at some point the lack of people to move the freight will make enough customers angry they will go to Congress with another data poor request.  And congress being Congress they will "do something" which like pee testing may well be useless in addressing actual problems.

And I say all this as a federal bureaucrat who can't smoke weed even if my state allows it and is subject to random pee test rules (never enforced even at hiring).

I'll take a stab at this one..

Drugs or Alcohol are rarely a factor in a railroad 'accident' or incident... BUT Railroads are pretty strict about adhering to random drug and alcohol testing to keep people on the straight and narrow..  But at the same time.. What the general public sees for accidents/incidents is the 'tip of the iceburg' for what really goes on..... (Not to say that railroading is unsafe if done by the rules..) I'm referring to a similar concept of .. You hear about 50 car pileups or head on collisions.. but you don't hear about 1-2 car derailments, or track authority violations, or employee injuries, ect.. and most of that stuff is still reported if it goes beyond a fairly low industry threshold.  And all of those incidents are tested for drug and alcohol.. and I'd say 99 out of 100 are negative for both... and 99 out of 100 of those incidents are caused by human error / not following the rules.

Speaking from a shortline perspective, the hiring problem isn't drug and alcohol.. it's finding people who want to work and live a railroad life style, are reliable and decent enough at the job to get a train across the road.
Our issue is compounded by having a Class 1 across town that hires our mid-seniority decent experienced employees after a few years.. So we have a combination of old heads and fresh off the street guys.

Class 1s have the same problem initially, with the added stigma of laying you off every time the wind blows... we have had several people start hear, jump to a Class 1 and come back a few years later..

...We have had never laid off employees until last year with the pandemic where business was cut in half.. partially for cost savings, partially to decrease exposure and spreading of the virus... but it bounced within a few months and we brought everyone back immediately.. then brought back the students that we had hired in February 2020.. then brought in another class 2 months ago.. going through applications now for the next class.

If anyone wants to work for the railroad... https://www.iowanorthern.com/employment/
250 miles short line.. No hotels or away from home terminal crap..

~Ian








« Last Edit: June 09, 2021, 03:04:23 PM by learmoia »
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Philip H

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #28 on: June 09, 2021, 03:04:20 PM »
0
Thanks @learmoia.

SO reading you right

Quote
and I'd say 99 out of 100 are negative for both... and 99 out of 100 of those incidents are caused by human error / not following the rules.

Would suggest that the heavy emphasis on testing and the threat of testing isn't actually getting railroads anywhere, and may be one of several complicated factors in keeping trains moving. Makes one wonder if we need to keep this up.
Philip H.
Chief Everything Officer
Baton Rouge Southern RR - Mount Rainier Division.

"Yes there are somethings that are "off;" but hey, so what." ~ Wyatt

"I'm trying to have less cranial rectal inversion with this." - Ed K.

"There's more to MRR life than the Wheezy & Nowheresville." C855B

learmoia

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Re: "rail industry is trying to do too much with too little"
« Reply #29 on: June 09, 2021, 03:09:17 PM »
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Thanks @learmoia.

SO reading you right

Would suggest that the heavy emphasis on testing and the threat of testing isn't actually getting railroads anywhere, and may be one of several complicated factors in keeping trains moving. Makes one wonder if we need to keep this up.

I get what your saying.. but removing the testing protocol invites in a whole 'nother' world of potential safety issues beyond what we currently have..
With the safety issues we do have now.. adding in potentially drunk and high employees into the mix is just going to compound things..

Being drunk in the wheel of a vehicle is one thing.. being drunk behind the throttle of a 96 car crude oil train going through downs at 45mph...... lets just keep the drug testing...

And it's not up to the Railroads.. it's FRA mandated, so you'd have to convince them.

 

« Last Edit: June 09, 2021, 03:12:02 PM by learmoia »
“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” ~Homer Simpson