FRA: Rails can discipline camera disabling

June 6, 2010

The Federal Railroad Administration, following disciplinary action by Los Angeles Metrolink against two operating employees who disabled an inward facing camera in the locomotive cab, said that while the agency does not now regulate cab-installed inward facing cameras, it “does not condone the disabling of any devices.”

Moreover, said the FRA, “In instances where a camera has been tampered with, railroads retain the authority to discipline employees for violating railroad rules regardless of whether the rules have any parallel federal requirement.”

In May, one Metrolink locomotive engineer was removed from service and another placed under investigation for allegedly trying to block views of Metrolink-installed inward facing cameras intended to record crew activities.

The cameras were installed to monitor train and engine crews after the National Transportation Safety Board found that an engineer’s actions in texting and use of a cell phone contributed to the deadly 2008 Chatsworth, Calif., disaster.

The FRA’s assistant chief counsel for safety, Mark H. Tessler, said in a letter to Metrolink that such cameras are not “safety devices” as defined by FRA regulations. FRA regulations “prohibit the disabling of safety devices located in the cabs of locomotives,” Tessler said. Such FRA defined safety devices include alerters, dead man controls and various cab signal systems, he said.

“Although equipment to record data is mentioned,” said Tessler, inward facing cameras that record video of locomotive operation are not covered by FRA safety regulations.

Specifically excluded from the definition are, “locomotive performance monitoring devices, unless they record data such as train speed and air brake operations,” Tessler said.

“Inward facing locomotive video camera recorders,” he said, “fall into this category, as they are monitoring devices that do not provide the type of data listed. Further, video recorders are not safety critical devices that have an immediate impact on the safe operation of trains, such as the alerters and cab signal systems … whose functions are to ensure railroad employees appropriately respond to more restrictive signal indications, are not incapacitated and are alert to changing operating conditions.”

However, Tessler said that “cameras can be a valuable tool in conducting post-accident investigations. As such, FRA has instituted a regulation found at 49 CFR Section 229.135(e), which by its terms would apply to in-cab video cameras. That section addresses procedures for the preservation of accident data captured on event records and ‘any other locomotive-mounted recording device or devices designed to record information concerning the functioning of a locomotive or train,'” he said.

Click here to read the FRA letter to Metrolink.