DATE: Wednesday, August 27, 1997 TAG: 9708270584 SECTION: BUSINESS PAGE: D1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY CHRISTOPHER DINSMORE, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: 55 lines
Some Norfolk Southern train workers are crying foul because they say the railroad does not provide adequate toilet facilities on its locomotives.
Five rail crew members - supported by their union, the United Transportation Union - sued the railroad two weeks ago over the toilet issue in Jackson County Circuit Court in Kansas City. They want the suit certified as a class-action suit on behalf of 5,000 other train crew members.
The suit calls the toilet system on Norfolk Southern's locomotives ``disgusting and barbaric'' as well as ``unsanitary, unhealthy and unsafe.''
Norfolk Southern issues bags to train crews that are used to line a commode in the bathroom of a locomotive's cab. Once the bag is used, it is sealed and placed in a 5-gallon bucket to be disposed of later. The cab's bathrooms also feature a urinal that drains onto the tracks and a sink.
The union says Norfolk Southern is the only major railroad in the nation that does not provide chemical or flush toilets in locomotives used for long-haul service.
For example, CSX Transportation uses a chemical toilet similar to a portable commode, a spokesman said.
Norfolk Southern spokesman Frank Brown declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the railroad tested other systems before settling on this ``dry-hopper'' system as the most dependable.
Fluid-based toilets tend to freeze up in cold weather, Brown said. The dry-hopper system does not have moving parts or rely on electricity, so it doesn't break down, he said. ``It's pretty much maintenance-free,'' he said.
Brown also said the system meets or exceeds all federal and state standards, adding that some employees prefer the system to others.
The bags are numbered and registered by the railroad to discourage the train crew from tossing used bags off trains.
Besides calling the use of the bags ``disgusting and barbaric,'' the suit says that sometimes the storage bucket spills in a locomotive cab and onto the train crew, ``causing unsafe and unsanitary conditions. A foul and nauseating odor occurs.''
The suit alleges the ``practice and conditions are degrading and . . . cause plaintiffs painful physical injuries and emotional distress.''
The goal is to win monetary damages for all 5,000 workers and to stop that disposal method, said Lawrence Mann, the union's attorney.
Mann acknowledged that federal regulations do not require toilets in locomotives.
The suit was filed after discussions with the railroad failed to resolve the issue, Mann said.
``Our members have put up with this for much too long,'' said James M. Brunkenhoefer, the union's national legislative director. ``NS should be ashamed of the situation. I doubt that this operation would be used by NS officers at their headquarters building.'' MEMO: (Landmark News Service and the Journal of Commerce contributed to
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