The Railroad Industry's Solution to Truck Competition? 
Treat truck drivers like locomotive engineers!
THE PROBLEM

Ever since the Highway Trust Fund and the Interstate Highway System was developed during the Eisenhower administration, freight railroads have been screaming about government subsidies for their rubber tired competitors, the nation's motor carriers. They cry that truckers don't pay their fair share of the estimated 100 billion dollar construction cost of the interstate highways, nor adequately compensate states for the damage their increasingly heavy loads wreak on the highway system. The railroads rightly claim that they are at a competitive disadvantage because they have to purchase, maintain, and pay taxes on their right of ways while the motor carriers pay a relatively small percentage of their profits in fuel and use taxes. There is a way, however, to solve the problem of, what is considered by many, the Federal Government's unfair subsidization of the trucking industry.

THE SOLUTION

If the Feds are being less than magnanimous with regard to the fair and equitable treatment of railroads as an integral part of the nation's transportation infrastructure, what's an unfortunate, cash starved Class 1 railroad to do? How do you level the playing field so the railroads can compete effectively with the motor carriers taking into account the differences in costs between private and public rights-of-way? How do we get all those big, bad, asphalt bending trailers off the roads and onto rail cars? Well, the solution is quite simple; treat trucker drivers like locomotive engineers.

The remedy to the anti-competitive nature of the trucking industry with regard to the railroad industry is to slow the trucks down by tightening the enforcement of regulations on the men and women who actually do the work of the motor carriers, the truck drivers, thereby taking away their biggest advantage over the railroads, the fast delivery of freight. The railroads, enlisting the aid of the many motorist lobbying groups, should petition the Federal Government to impose upon the motor carriers the same standards and penalties to which locomotive engineers have been held to since the inception of engineer licensing in 1991, all under the banner of safer highways. As you will see, its a win-win situation for the government and the railroads, not to mention the ancillary benefits to the automobile driver who must share the highway with the big rigs. Of course, this remedy will have the taste of castor oil to the trucking industry but we can't please everyone.

What are these standards and penalties for locomotive engineers and how would they apply to truck drivers? Violations of Federal statutes for the locomotive engineer include passing a stop signal or entering a track segment without permission, exceeding the speed limit by ten miles an hour, violation of Restricted Speed, and working past the allowable Hours of Service (HOS). These and other violations can lead to large fines and/or decertification, that is, the loss of the engineer's license to run trains for thirty days for the first offense. Penalties increase if further violations occur within specified time limits. In effect, violating the rules means loss of income and possible loss of job.


How do these standards and penalties for locomotive engineers transcribe to the trucking industry? The first, speeding, is a natural. Running ten miles an hour over the speed limit, for example, equals a thirty-day loss of license for the first time offender. Another violation for truckers would be running overweight. While there is no equivalent in the railroad industry, the overweight vehicle is doing more damage to the road then one that is running within the legal limit. A third would be any violation of the trucker's Hours of Service (HOS).
 

Fines, in addition to loss of the driver's Commercial Driver's License (CDL), can be imposed on the driver for other violations of motor vehicle regulations. We don't want to hear about the truck driver not being able to make a living without his CDL. Since locomotive engineers do not have the option, neither should the truckers. Under this new regulation, a truck driver's automobile license would not be in jeopardy for a violation committed while driving under his CDL license.


Now, you ask, how are we to catch these offending truckers when there are not enough police and truck checks to eliminate all the offenders? Here is where technology comes into play. On every locomotive there is an electronic device called an "event recorder" which monitors many different aspects of a locomotive's performance in real time including such specifics as speed, horn, headlights, and bell operation, power being applied, brake application, etc. These monitoring devices can be easily checked, at any time, by plugging in a laptop computer and downloading the stored information or pulling the memory card from the event recorder for later playback. The event recorder on a truck would store information over a period of up to seven days before recording over the information. Data recorded could include the truck's speed, whether the headlights, horn, or windshield wipers were in use, steering column deflection, brake reservoir and brake application pressure and other such information law enforcement officials might deem important, especially in an accident investigation. Event recorders would be mandated on all new trucks built after the legislation was passed. The cost of the event recorder would be added to the cost of a new truck. The Federal Government could supply states and local municipalities with laptop computers designed to mate to the vehicle's event recorder.


When a truck is stopped for speeding, a pollution check, a truck scale, random highway stop, or after being involved in an accident federal regulations would require that the truck's event recorder be downloaded and tickets issued for offenses evident in the event recorder's tape, the same liability the locomotive engineers now face. If the downloading officer sees a major violation that would require the immediate loss of license, the tape is impounded along with the driver's CDL and the evidence is brought before a judge or other authorized official. Since it is possible that a lot of drivers will be caught in violation in the first few months after the new regulations go in effect, a judge or authorized official will have to be immediately available to determine the guilt or innocence of the driver. If the driver is judged guilty, his license to drive a truck is immediately revoked based on the federally established penalty schedule and his truck is impounded until a properly licensed driver is found to continue the trip. Fines levied can be paid to the state and local governments to encourage enforcement of the statutes. Appeal of a conviction can be made after the fact, as the tape will be held as evidence until the appeal process is complete. Federal regulations would mandate that the states perform a minimum number of random downloads per month with records available for inspection by the DOT. The current driver's logbook will be kept and must coincide with the event recorder.

WHO'S ON BOARD?

The first and most important effect of the new regulation would be to get offending truckers off the road so the automobile associations will definitely be on board.. Those drivers who insist that they cannot make a living within the required Hours of Service, weight limitations, and speed laws will just have to find another means to make a living. To help eliminate those drivers who feel they can run in spite of a revoked license, the driver's company, or the shipper, if the driver is an independent, will be subject to a large fine if the driver does not have a valid license when caught hauling their load. Those companies who presently require their drivers to observe all the motor vehicle regulations should feel no further impediment by this legislation. Displaced truck drivers would be eligible for Federal job training programs to become Locomotive Engineers, Roadside Truck Inspectors, and Roadside Truck Inspector Supervisors, or Truck Stop Waitresses.

The railroads would benefit most and soonest by these new regulations so they are not only on board but will probably provide the train, most likely consisting of newly purchased intermodal equipment. The railroads would not actually have to improve their performance to reap the benefits, just load up the trailers and containers that would no longer travel the highways because the delivery times of truckers would be less competitive creating "more gain with no pain" for the railroads.


The Federal Government benefits because they get to fulfill their mandate, which is to expand the bureaucracy, and tighten their control over all citizens. New departments will have to be created to dole out the funds, inspectors will have to be hired to fulfill the requirements of the newly minted regulations, and more supervisors would be hired to monitor the inspectors. The Feds will also acquire a new stick to hold over the states by threatening to withhold federal highway trust funds for noncompliance. Last, but not least, the new regulations will help Big Business and the Federal Government exploit their greatest talent; dumping on the little guy.
 

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