Conductor certification coming Jan. 1, 2012

November 10, 2010

WASHINGTON — In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Nov. 10 Federal Register, the Federal Railroad Administration proposes to make Jan. 1, 2012, the effective date for implementation of conductor certification.

The rulemaking on principles, elements and methods of conductor certification was ordered by Congress in the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act.

The NPRM — preceding publication of a final rule, expected in early 2011 (ahead of implementation) — was developed through the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), comprised of stakeholders, including affected labor unions, railroads, suppliers, manufacturers and FRA safety experts.

The various stakeholders had many conflicting objectives for the rulemaking, and the NPRM is a consensus document that required compromise among all stakeholders.

The UTU was represented on the RSAC Conductor Certification Working Group by a team appointed by International President Mike Futhey:

  • * Local 1470 Chairperson Director David Brooks
  • General Chairperson (GO 049) John Lesniewski
  • UTU Training Coordinator and Local 528 Legislative Representative Ron Parsons
  • National Legislative Director James Stem
  • Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch
  • Local 645 Chairperson Vinnie Tessitore
  • UTU Rail Safety Coordinator for Designated Legal Counsel Larry Mann

The UTU will respond to NPRM with recommendations for improvement and change in the final rule — as will all stakeholders. The FRA will make the sole determination as to contents of the final rule.

Following are major provisions of the rulemaking. A link to a more detailed summary of the 53-page NPRM is provided at the end of this article.

  • Conductors who must be certified are defined as “the crewmember in charge of a train or yard crew.”
  • Trains are defined as freight and passenger trains on railroads that connect to the national rail network.
  • Conductor certification does not cover assistant conductors, brakemen, yard helpers, switchmen, utility men, switch tenders, flagmen or others not in charge of a crew.
  • Railroads must implement a formal process — to be approved by the FRA — for training conductors and determining they are competent.
  • To be qualified for certification, a conductor must successfully complete all instruction, training and examination programs required by the carrier. Conductors must also meet minimum federal safety standards, including minimum hearing and vision standards.
  • Passenger train conductors must have received emergency preparedness training to be certified.
  • Current conductors will automatically be certified (grandfathered).
  • Conductors may be decertified for between 30 days and three years, depending on the number of violations.
  • Conductors will be required to notify the railroad if convicted of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and will be decertified if found to have an active substance disorder.
  • Decertification may also take place when FRA safety regulations are violated (such as failing to take appropriate action to ensure a locomotive engineer adheres to train speed limits and signals and signposts, or fails to perform or have knowledge that a required brake test was performed).
  • Decertified engineers will not be allowed to work as a certified conductor while decertified, nor will decertified conductors be allowed to work as certified engineers. An exception is that a conductor, decertified for violating a 49 CFR Part 218 safety regulation, will be able to work as a certified engineer.
  • If the railroad permits, a decertified engineer or decertified conductor may work, for example, as a brakeman, a passenger train assistant conductor, or in another non-certified position.
  • If the railroad permits, decertification time may be used for retraining.
  • All crews are required to have a certified conductor assigned. The NPRM is crew consist neutral, but provides that a lone engineer must be certified as both an engineer and a conductor, or be accompanied by a certified conductor.
  • The process for appealing decertification can be extremely lengthy, and require an attorney-at-law. Mann cites a decertification he is challenging — involving an engineer — that has now dragged into its fifth year. Mann said streamlining the appeals process, before the final rule goes into effect, will be among the top priorities of the UTU.

Although conductor certification carries the risk of decertification, the UTU RSAC Conductor Certification Working Group said certification will enhance the proficiency of UTU members, making them ever more professional and indispensable.

Collective bargaining, not the FRA rulemaking, will determine whether a certified conductor receives additional pay.

Click here to read the 53-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Click here for a more detailed summary of the NPRM.