Union Pacific is asking the Federal Railroad Administration to allow a train that regularly originates in Mexico to undergo safety inspections south of the border and enter without any checks in the U.S.

The FRA has scheduled a waiver hearing on the matter Feb. 7 in Laredo, Texas,

The United Transportation Union, a broad-based labor union headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, opposes the move.

“Already at war with many of its customers over poor service and escalating prices, Union Pacific now is seeking authority to avoid safety inspections on U.S. soil and run trains from Mexico as far as 1,500 miles through and into major U.S. metropolitan areas,” the union says.

Paul Thompson, the UTU international president, has gone on record objecting to the plan.

“It’s as if 9/11 never occurred, and public safety and national safety must take a back seat to increased profits and bigger executive bonuses,” he said. “If Union Pacific succeeds in avoiding safety inspections on U.S. soil, many of those trains will be interchanged, without appropriate U.S. safety inspections, to other railroads, such as CSX and Norfolk Southern, as part of their 1,500-mile trip through dozens of U.S. cities.”

James Barnes, a spokesman for Union Pacific, told WND the railroad is seeking a waiver to inspect the train in Mexico for only one of the many trains that Union Pacific runs across the border at Laredo.

“We are seeking approval to permit a single run-through train that originates in Sanchez or the classification yards in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, that interchanges with the Union Pacific at Laredo, Texas,” he said.

“If approved, the waiver would recognize the inspections and brake test at the Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, rail facilities. The test is presently being performed by agents of Kansas City Southern de Mexico Railroad, which are U.S. contractors, certified in FRA regulations.”

The UTU’s Paul Thompson disagrees.

“The Union Pacific wants the train safety inspections to be performed in Mexico, where U.S. safety regulations have no force and need not be followed, and where the level of safety training and commitment is unknown,” he said.

Thompson further argues a drug war has been raging in Nuevo Laredo.

“It is too dangerous for Americans to set foot in Nuevo Laredo,” Thompson said. “Union Pacific says with a straight face that mechanical safety inspections of trains can be performed safely in Mexico, but even its own officials won’t travel there. Nor will FRA officials even visit the facility where these inspections allegedly will be performed by who knows whom, under unknown conditions, and with no U.S. federal safety oversight.”

Union Pacific’s Barnes explained to WND the waiver is being sought on an “inter-modal” train that carries containers with auto parts being delivered to a location in the Midwest. Barnes said this train was a “run-through” where the individual cars are all headed to the same destination.

When asked by WND, Barnes did not know if the containers originated in Mexico or were being brought in from China via the Mexican port of L?zaro C?rdenas.

Barnes told WND the waver was being requested to avoid “duplicate train or locomotive inspections at the U.S./Mexico border at Laredo.

Barnes claimed that main problem was congestion at the U.S. border.

“Presently, these redundant inspections are performed on every train that enters at the U.S./Mexican border at Laredo, Texas,” he said. “This not only generates enormous traffic congestion, involving the blocking of numerous road crossings for the city of Laredo and creating safety concerns for the general public, it also inhibits rail capacity and constrains any attempt to provide on-going efficiencies for U.S. suppliers.”

Barnes was asked if the congestion problem cited by Union Pacific suggested the waiver might be intended to serve as a precedent for a general waiver on the U.S. safety inspection requirements at Laredo.

“No,” he said, repeating that the waiver was being sought only for the “run-through” inter-modal train.

The UTU’s Thompson notes that in 2004, the FRA rejected a similar request by Union Pacific for a waver of inspection requirements on U.S. soil in favor of inspections in Mexico. Thompson argues “public safety and national security demand the FRA again reject this waiver request.”

Thompson sharply criticized Union Pacific economics.

“America should not be rolling the dice on public safety and national security to benefit an already highly profitable railroad able to pay its chairman $25 million annually and hand out $1 million year-end cash bonuses to top executive,” he said. “Public safety and national security should not take a back seat to corporate profits. It is that simple and that urgent.”

Barnes counters by explaining that all Union Pacific trains are available for inspection by Border Patrol and Homeland Security within the U.S. and that the procedures, including the safety inspection in Mexico, are designed to be in full compliance with all applicable U.S. laws and regulations.

“Our goal is to streamline the inspection process without hampering safety,” Barnes told WND. “We have a very robust security system and a very robust inspection process in place. We are just trying to make sure that we are able to provide fluidity and efficiency for U.S. shippers.”

The UTU is an AFL-CIO affiliate representing about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, and mass transit workers in the U.S. and Canada.

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