“The derailment of the Max train on Monday, was the result of TriMet’s practice of deferring both maintenance and training in favor of system expansion and other expenditures,” says Union vice president, Jonathan Hunt. Tuesday, KOIN carried a story about a train derailment that was caused by a bracket breaking. This incident was no surprise to the mechanics who fear even more brackets might give way.
“The train was one of the seventeen-year old type 2 trains that were added to the system in 1997. Undercarriage overhauls of these type 2 trains are way past due. That overhaul would have replaced that bracket. Additionally, to save money on maintenance, TriMet has held back on ordering inventory so it cannot timely obtain replacement brackets.” Hunt says the problem was in October. “We can’t blame the mechanics or the front line managers. It’s upper management that decides what money will be spent and when.”
Hunt puts the blame squarely on the fact that too much in operational funds have been shunted into the Milwaukie expansion, high tech radio and ticket systems, new administrative buildings, new furniture and an excess of highly paid executives. “As the Tribune recently noted, we warned last February that rail system and its equipment was not being maintained properly. Finally, in November, the general manager announces he is re-organizing TriMet, in part, to emphasize rail system maintenance.”
Further Hunt notes that as TriMet added trains and more lines, it should have been training more people. Instead, it reduced the number of trainees. He notes that the result is a shortage of qualified mechanics.
“Management’s last minute solution is to add off-the-street, undertrained, lower paid mechanics,” says Hunt about a recent management proposal. “Once again, it’s the workers who are to suffer for management’s mistakes.” The Union rejected that proposal according to Hunt, saying, “We are not going to accept lower pay for what is a highly-skilled, dirty, physically demanding job. Nor will we accept inadequately trained people. Too many lives are on the line–the passengers, public and operators are all equally at risk. When one of these trains derails hundreds of people can be hurt. We’ve seen that happen in other parts of the country.”
Hunt sees an even bigger problem with TriMet management’s handling of this and other issues. He noted that last Wednesday, on November 13th, TriMet management issued press releases and made statements at the agency Board meeting–telling the Board that the agency was turning over a new leaf. “Management claimed they were going to be more open to involving the community and more transparent. That’s what they said with much fanfare,” Hunt said, adding “Unfortunately, it means even more operational funds will be diverted to promote this ‘transparency effort.’ It’s an effort they should be making as a matter of course.”