FRA proposes permanent cell-phone ban

May 18, 2010

The Federal Railroad Administration is moving to make permanent an October 2008 emergency order restricting the use by on-duty train crews of cell phones and other electronic devices.

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published Tuesday, May 18, in the Federal Register, indicating a final rule, supplanting FRA Emergency Order No. 26, is to go into effect not prior to a 30-day public comment period. The comments will be used by the FRA to make adjustments to the proposed final rule.

Until a final rule is in effect, the FRA’s Emergency Order No. 26 will remain in force.

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen intend to file joint comments to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The proposed rule would prohibit the use of an electronic device — whether personal or railroad-supplied — if it interferes with that employee’s or another employee’s performance of safety-related duties. 

Railroad operating employees would be permitted to use cell phones or similar electronic devices under highly limited circumstances. In fact, the UTU and BLET, in joint comments filed with the FRA following issuance of the October 2008 emergency order, sought that exemption.

The proposed rule also provides certain exceptions for watches, calculator use, medical devices, railroad radios, cameras used to document bona fide safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws and various emergency situations – other exemptions the UTU and the BLET suggested following issuance of the October 2008 emergency order. 

Also proposed for a final rule is a requirement that each railroad turn over to the FRA, for its review, the carrier’s training program on the use of electronic devices; and each railroad would be required to retain records documenting employees receiving recurrent training at specified intervals. 

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking specifically asks for comment on whether violation of the final rule should be used as a basis for revoking a locomotive engineer’s certification – or, for that matter, a conductor’s certification once those standards are established pursuant to the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

To view the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, click here