BNSF Railway says shifting cross-border train inspections from its “rudimentary” facilities inside Texas to better sites in Mexico would reduce congestion as well as “risk in the work environment.”
Organized labor has an entirely different take on it. “This request is a blatant effort to cut costs by outsourcing important safety jobs to a foreign country and must be rejected by the Federal Railroad Administration,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL- CIO’s Transportation Trades Department.
The dispute puts the FRA in the seemingly unlikely position of ruling on one of the hot-button issues in the American economy, the movement of United States jobs abroad.
The conflict stems from a request BNSF submitted in October, along with Ferrocarril Mexican Railway, for the FRA to give the two rail lines a test waiver on U.S. rules for new inspections of brakes and end-of-train devices just after a northbound train enters the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas.
Instead, they want Ferrocarril to conduct the inspections at its yard near the U.S. border at Rio Escondido, or deep inside Mexico at Torreon.
“The available inspection track on the U.S. side of the border is rudimentary at best with no option for expansion from adjacent landholders,” they said. The facilities in Mexico are better and those at Rio Escondido are “equipped with the latest in freight car repair technology and tooling.”
With heavy congestion at Eagle Pass, BNSF figures “risk in the work environment is halved by performing inspections and repairs at Rio Escondido or Torreon, as compared to the present U.S. facility.”
All those arguments are old hat to the union. Wytkind said Union Pacific Railroad sought such a waiver in 2004, and the FRA denied the bid, and again in 2006 before withdrawing the request.
In 2008, he said in formal comments filed with the FRA, Congress set down requirements in case it arose again, saying the secretary of transportation would have to certify the inspections meet U.S. regulations and that Ferrocarril employees making them have training similar to that of U.S. railroad workers.
The union also points to a potentially major hitch: The 2008 law requires onsite FRA inspections to ensure compliance. “We are not aware, and the application makes no mention of, any agreement between the government of Mexico and the FRA on enforcement,” Wytkind wrote.
That means the FRA would not be able to sanction Ferrocarril for any safety-related issues, he said, so the “inspections cannot be used as a substitute for those administered at the border by U.S. personnel.”
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