2011 "Black Shirt Friday"

This year’s action was originally designed to focus on the March 23rd fatal crash in Longview-Kelso, WA. which took three lives, while a fourth rail employee lies in critical condition. “While the company flails about wildly searching for workers to blame”, states RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow, “their actions beg the question: why was such a dangerous railroad crossing -- an obvious hazard, an accident waiting to happen -- allowed to go unprotected year after year?

Help us to make a statement to the carriers that we will not go along with business-as-usual corporate sponsored safety programs that only look at our behaviors and fail to take an interest in alleviating these sorts of hazards. RWU is selling T-shirts to railroaders in the Pacific Northwest to heighten awareness of the issue.

Since this incident, five more rail workers have been killed while at least four others have sustained critical injuries, including two amputations. RWU believes that the rail carriers’ failure to alleviate existing and known hazards -- together with their penchant for simply blaming worker behavior -- is what lies behind many of these and other rail accidents, injuries and fatalities.

RWU Press Release

Railroaders Killed on the Job in 2011

December 18, 2011 - Navosota TX - Stacy Rieger, 41, a BNSF conductor and a member of Local 1957 at Silsbee, Texas, was killed Dec. 18 when his head reportedly struck a bridge beam. It appears he was leaning over the railing of his moving locomotive’s side running board in an attempt to check the fuel level in a fuel-tank sight glass. After striking his head, Rieger tumbled from the locomotive down a 48-foot embankment into the Navasota River. The nighttime accident occurred some 80 miles northwest of Houston. He is survived by his wife, Ann, four daughters and a stepdaughter.

September 19, 2011  - Elkton, MD  -  A CSX employee died Monday after falling from a railroad bridge over Garrett Island. Authorities say Bernard T. Burrows, 58, of Stanton, Del., was on the CSX bridge over the Susquehanna River when he fell at approximately 2:20 p.m. "It's being treated as an occupational fatality," said Sgt. Art Windemuth, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, which responded to the incident. Garrett Island sits in the river between Cecil and Harford counties. CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said Burrows was working as a bridge repairman and has been with the company since 1973. Burrows was a member of a crew working on the bridge when he fell.

September 8, 2011 - CSX conductor Dennis A. Hemme, 59, was crushed to death near Botkins, Ohio, Sept. 8 during a mainline shove of a stalled train. Botkins is some 110 miles north of Cincinnati. Hemme, with some six years of service, was a member of UTU Local 14 (Cincinnati) and is survived by his wife and three children.

August 28, 2011 - A Union Pacific Railroad employee from Wakarusa was killed in a collision Sunday afternoon after the cross arms didn’t come down at an intersection just east of Abilene. Elmer “Butch” Hulse, 59, of Wakarusa, died after being taken to Abilene Hospital, the Kansas Highway Patrol accident report said.

August 19, 2011 - BNSF conductor and UTU member, Blaine Mack along with BLET member Todd Burckhard, 35, were killed in the line of duty on August 19, 2011 when the crew van they were riding in was involved in a collision near Frazer, Mont. Brother Mack, 56, was a member of UTU Local 1059 (Minot, N.D.), with 36 years of service. He lived in Minot. Brother Burckhard was a BNSF locomotive engineer and member of BLET Division 695 in Minot, N.D. He first joined the Brotherhood on November 1, 2010. He had about seven years of railroad experience. The crew van driver, a contractor, was hospitalized for minor injuries. The crew van was traveling westbound on Highway 2 when it was struck by an eastbound pickup truck operating in the westbound lane of traffic.

August 15, 2011 - BNSF Railway yard worker, Thomas F. Bleyenberg, a member of UTU Local 5, Kansas City, Mo., was killed Aug. 15 when he became trapped between two rail cars at the carrier’s Argentine Yard in Kansas City, Kan. He was working a two-person remote control assignment. He had been a UTU member since 1994. He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Nita, and his children, Matthew and Amanda.

August 14, 2011 - West Islip NY - Long Island Rail Road car inspector Russell DeCeck, 48, a member of Local 722, Babylon, N.Y., was killed Aug. 14, when he reportedly came in contact with the third rail while working at the carrier’s Babylon yard in West Islip, N.Y. DeCeck, of Coram, N.Y., had 28 years of service. He joined the UTU in 1989.

August 4, 2011 - BNSF employee and UTU member Deborah Ann Beeler was killed in a Tulsa, Okla., yard accident Aug. 4 when a vehicle in which she was riding was struck by a flatcar during a hump operation, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Deborah Ann Beeler, 39, of Claremore, was pronounced dead at the scene from multiple injuries. Beeler is survived by her husband, Michael, and sons Tyler, 11, and Wyatt, 9. She was a member of UTU Local 1289 since July 2005.

July 25, 2011 - Andres Tapia, 34, a Belt Railway of Chicago switchman and member of UTU Local 1597 (Chicago) with three years’ service was crushed to death between two rail cars in a hump yard in Chicago just after midnight July 25. Tapia, who was working a two-person remote control assignment, reportedly was found between the cars by fellow workers after his remote control device broadcast an automatic “man down” alert. Tapia is survived by his wife, Sonia, and children Andres III and Tristan.

July 14, 2011 - Police say a miscommunication may have led to a collision that killed a CN track worker east of Toronto on Thursday. Track maintenance engineer Rick McColl, 53, of Hampton, Ont., died after he was struck by a westbound VIA passenger train at 1:10 p.m. The accident happened five kilometres east of Guildwood Station in Pickering. McColl and another worker, who was not hurt, were performing routine track maintenance when McColl was struck by VIA train No. 51 travelling to Toronto from Montreal and Ottawa. The accident is being investigated by CN, which owns the tracks, and the Durham Regional Police. Ontario's Labour Ministry is also investigating. Durham Regional Police Insp. Dave Saliba told CBC News the CN workers expected the tracks would be free of train traffic while they worked. Both CN workers had made arrangements that the tracks would be clear for approximately 15 to 20 minutes to get scheduled maintenance done," said Saliba. "Our understanding at this time is that there's some type of miscommunication that may have occurred, we're not sure exactly what the cause was." Saliba said the train was travelling "at a high rate of speed" when the accident happened. "The two workers that were there, we had one worker that ran to the north and one worker that ran to the south," he said. "Unfortunately, the worker that ran to the south was struck by the VIA train." Saliba said police do not expect to lay charges. CN spokesperson Frank Binder said McColl was a 32-year veteran of CN. "CN has asked its employees to keep Rick, his family and his colleagues in their thoughts and prayers," he said. The accident caused some delays for VIA and GO Train passengers. GO Train service was suspended between Pickering and Guildwood stations before resuming just after 5 p.m. Thursday.

June 24, 2011 - Amtrak conductor Laurette Lee, 68, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., was killed June 24 when a tractor-trailer combination rammed the side of a double-deck passenger car of Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr at a highway-rail grade crossing. Lee, a mother of three, was from a railroad family. Her grandfather and great-grandfather were rails, her brother is an Amtrak dispatcher and her nephew, Ben Rankin, is an Amtrak conductor and member of UTU Local 1732 (San Jose, Calif.). Lee began her railroad career in 1988 as a baggage handler and later was promoted to conductor. She was a member of UTU Local 166 at Salt Lake City, Utah. [Note: This accident was the focus for the 2012 RWU "Black Shirt Friday" action.]

May 24, 2011 - CSX conductor Phillip E. Crawford Jr., 33, and BLET member James Gregory Hadden were killed early May 24 in a rear-end collision involving two CSX freight trains in Mineral Springs, N.C. Brother Crawford was a member of UTU Local 970, Abbeville, S.C. and had signed on with CSX in October 2005. Brother Hadden was a member of BLET Division 498 in Abbeville, S.C. He joined the Brotherhood on March 1, 2003. A CSX spokesperson said that the rear-end collision occurred on northbound tracks and involved one train enroute to Hamlet, N.C., from New Orleans, and another enroute to Charlotte from southern Georgia.

May 18, 2011 - St Joseph MO  -  Buchanan County Undersheriff Lt. Col. Bill Puett said around 1 p.m., Robert V. Montgomery, 40, was “working on a piece of a railcar and there was an accident where a piece fell and killed him.” He said Mr. Montgomery was pronounced dead at the scene after the piece of equipment fell directly on him. The accident occurred at Herzog’s railcar repair shop, just off Easton Road on County Road 55. Workers there perform maintenance as well as custom work on railcars. Employees at Herzog, which is headquartered in St. Joseph and does construction and railroad business across the country, declined to comment on the accident.

May 1, 2011 - Veteran BLET member Christopher L. Carter, 57, drowned on his way to work on May 1, 2011, when his car was swept away by swiftly rising floodwaters in Mayflower, Ark. Brother Carter was a member of BLET Division 858 in Pine Bluff, Ark. A Union Pacific engineer, Brother Carter had been a BLET member for more than 36 years, first joining the Brotherhood on February 1, 1975. According to Division 858 Local Chairman Jay Callaway, Brother Carter was on his way to work for the Union Pacific Railroad when the accident happened. It is believed his Ford Explorer hydroplaned in rapidly rising flash flood waters, and his vehicle came to rest in a ditch to the side of the road. Due to the torrential rains that came through the area, water levels rose so quickly that when first responders arrived, Carter vehicle was completely submerged.

April 17, 2011 - UTU Local 199 (Creston, Iowa) Vice Local Chairperson Patricia Hyatt, 48, and Tom Anderson, President of BLET Division 642 were killed April 17 near McPherson when their eastbound freight train pulling 130 loaded coal hoppers collided with the rear of a second BNSF train. The lead locomotive of the coal train was engulfed in fire. Sister Hyatt, daughter of Evan Aubrey Shiver and Christine (Elliott) Shiver, was born Feb. 25, 1963, in Fort Ord, Calif. She graduated from Crystal River High School in Crystal River, Fla. She went on to study for two years in college and served six years in the U.S. Army. Brother Anderson, 48, joined the BLET on January 1, 2000. CLICK HERE for the NTSB report.

March 23, 2011 - A freight train struck a shuttle van in Longview Wednesday, killing three people and critically injuring a fourth. The shuttle van was transporting three Burlington Northern Sante Fe crew members across the tracks when it was struck on the passenger side by a northbound grain train, according to Gus Melonas with BNSF. The private rail crossing had warning signs and a stop sign, but no safety crossing arms. Investigators said a parked train may have obstructed the van driver's view of the oncoming train. Witnesses said they heard a train bell sound just before the horrific crash. Two BNSF crew members were killed. Authorities identified them Thursday as Chris Loehr, 28, of Vancouver, Washington and Tom Kenny, 58, of Seattle. The driver of the shuttle van was also killed. He was identified by police as Steven Sebastian, 60, of Castle Rock. The lone survivor was also a BSNF crew member. Dwight Hauck, 52, of Auburn, Wash. was listed in critical condition at Oregon Health & Science University, according to the Associated Press. Authorities said Loehr was a conductor trainee working out of Port Bay, Wash. and Kenny was an experienced engineer who had worked for Burlington Northern the past 22 years. CLICK HERE for the NTSB report. [Note: This accident was the focus for the 2011 RWU "Black Shirt Friday" action]

March 8, 2011  -  Council Bluffs, IA - Cody James Campbell, 28.  Cody was killed when struck by a piece of metal while working at Railworks Track Systems in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  IOSHA investigated the incident and assessed a $$3,750 penalties and 2 serious violations which was later reduced to $1,875.00. ----Cody lived in Minnesota and was injured on a job site while working in Iowa for Railworks Track Systems and died from his injuries a week later in Rochester, Minnesota. While a work team was pounding in rail spikes, a piece of metal split off the rail and ricocheted backwards 20 feet and struck Cody in the neck, while he was working on something else. The piece of metal severed a facial artery and lodged in the floor of his mouth. We (this from Cody's parents) feel it was a freak accident, but it is our opinion it was the lack of quick response of medical care that caused his death. He got to the emergency room in less than 10 minutes, but they made him sit down and fill out paperwork before seeing him, not realizing the gravity of his injury. So, we feel it is the hospitals worry of whose paying that cost us our son’s life. We did find out that Railworks was issued two Citations from Iowa OSHA for serious violations. One for not furnishing and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that could likely cause death or serious physical harm to employees and the other for hand tools or equipment were not kept in a safe condition.

February 8, 2011 - Stanley L. Watts, Secretary-Treasurer of BLET Division 354 (Kankakee, Ill.), was killed in the line of duty on February 8, 2011, following a switching accident at a Norfolk Southern yard in Kankakee, Ill. Brother Watts, 43, has been a member of the BLET since February 1, 2006. He was a Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer who was set back working as a conductor at the time of the accident. He is survived by his wife Sara and sons Zachary and Andrew. He was working as part of a conventional switching crew consisting of an engineer, conductor and conductor-in-training, and had gone on duty at 6:00 a.m. Brother Watts was born Jan. 1, 1968, in Chicago. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving from 1986-1990. He coached youth football and was active with his sons’ sports. He enjoyed camping and was an avid Bears fan. He loved spending time with his family.