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ATDA, BNSF, & FRA Sign C3RS Agreement

Washington D.C. – On June 11, 2024, Leaders from ATDA, BNSF and FRA gathered to officially sign the train dispatchers C3RS agreement they reached last month. During the signing ceremony, ATDA President Ed Dowell, BNSF President & CEO Katie Farmer, and FRA Administrator Amit Bose each spoke about the agreement’s impact.

Below is President Dowell’s speech from the event, presented in its entirety:

Today is a pivotal moment for rail safety. The ATDA is proud to sign this C3RS agreement today and we thank the BNSF for their courage, cooperation, and patience.  I’d like to thank BNSF President & CEO Katie Farmer and her team, because without her support we would not have this agreement.   Vice President Labor Relations Sam Macedonio and I were able to capitalize on our long history of working together to make this agreement a reality.  It is important to not undersell the value of this relationship.   In February of this year, after realizing that a National C3RS IMOU was going nowhere in RSAC, I called Sam and laid out my idea and asked him if the BNSF wanted to be the first to get the train dispatchers and get the press that would follow.  His response was “let’s do it.”  

Less than a week later we were meeting in-person.  Sam had included Matt Garland Vice President, Transportation and Mark Schultz Vice President, Safety to the team.  That demonstrated to me that BNSF was serious about making an agreement with ATDA.  After only one meeting, we had the framework for this agreement that I knew others would want to emulate

I’d also like to recognize our dedicated ATDA Team.  Vice President Brandon Denucci serves as our legislative representative. He has been actively involved in the RSAC C3RS working group and played a valuable role in getting this agreement finalized.  Vice President Barry Cross also served on the C3RS working group and brought his experiences from Amtrak’s C3RS program.  Executive Asst. to the President David Ursini, having previously served as BNSF General Chairman, helped us understand how things operate on the BNSF.  With the next phase of this agreement, I will be relying on the leadership and expertise of Vice President Kevin Porter and General Chairman Kevin Ketcham.  Both will play a pivotal role in the success of this program.  I’d also like to recognize our Vice General Chairwomen and BNSF Train Dispatchers Jessica Stone and Kindralyn Farnes.  Both women are strong well-respected leaders and are likely to be candidates for the Peer Review Team.

To be clear, however, this is a tri-party agreement, and without the FRA this program would not exist. Furthermore, it was the Biden Administration’s commitment to making American railroads safer following the derailment in East Palestine OH that has brought us here today.  Secretary Buttigieg has been steadfast and vocal about the need for vast safety reforms within the rail industry and FRA Administrator Bose has delivered, not only with this program but also regulations on the Certification of Train Dispatchers & Signalmen, 2-man crews, and more.  I’d be remiss without thanking Andrea Wohleber for the countless hours she put in on this IMOU. I can’t emphasize this enough.  This IMOU with the BNSF is the first and only Class1 railroad agreement that includes 100% of the craft employees in this important safety program.

This pilot program carries the potential to bring significant improvement to BNSF’s safety culture, to help us all understand the root causes of railroad incidents, and to provide practical solutions to preventing major railroad accidents.

By allowing Dispatchers to self-report incident data for most events without fear of discipline or decertification, C3RS focuses on proactivity rather than punitive knee-jerk reactions. It departs from the ineffective, adversarial dynamics of past approaches to safety, instead counting on collaboration between the ATDA, BNSF and FRA to move this effort forward. The peer review team will serve as an invaluable component of the program’s success.

But like I said, this Agreement marks a moment of major potential change. To realize that potential, we can’t stop here. The hard work is just beginning.  We must keep chipping away at the entrenched and unproductive railroad culture of the past and learn to trust each other.  I encourage Katie to empower her operations team to consistently adopt the recommendations of the peer review team who analyzes incident data.  Just knowing why an incident occurred is not enough, we must take the steps to prevent others from happening at all.

Just as important, it’s time for other Class1 railroads to follow the lead of BNSF by reaching their own C3RS agreements with ATDA. My message to them is this: The ATDA is ready to move forward.  We have set the pattern.  The time for excuses is past.  Work with us, and let’s bring C3RS to every Class1 railroad in the country, and when we represent the UP, yes them as well. You will benefit. Your Train Dispatchers will benefit. And America will benefit from safer railroads. 

In closing, this agreement is about a partnership between ATDA and BSNF.  I know this is only a pilot program, but it doesn’t have to be.  If we all do our part, we can make this program not only the first but the model that all railroads and all crafts look to. 

Thank you.