NJT inaugurates close call project

November 17, 2009

A confidential close call reporting system pilot project is up and running systemwide on New Jersey Transit, with the UTU, American Train Dispatchers Association and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen participating.

This is the first pilot project involving a passenger operation. NJT operates 794 commuter trains each weekday. The project does not apply to NJT trains operating over Amtrak and Conrail lines.

UTU members participating include more than 1,200 conductors, assistant conductors and yardmasters.

Sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration, and administered by DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (for the purpose of compiling data), the project permits an employee to make a confidential report of safety concerns, and even violations of operating rules, while receiving immunity from sanction by the employer and the FRA.

The object is for otherwise unreported or underreported information on unsafe events to be made available for study by an on-property peer review team of labor, management and FRA representatives.

The analysis of this data will then be used to recommend corrective action, which might include new or improved training methods, changes in the physical plant, changes in existing federal safety laws or regulations, or changes in carrier operating rules.

“The involved labor organizations, NJT and U.S. DOT agencies worked closely to forge a quality memorandum of understanding to ensure the program will work on this property,” said UTU General Chairperson (NJT Local 60) Pat Reilly. “We all worked together with one goal in mind: a safer workplace.”

Reilly, a former accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board and also a former FRA safety inspector, said the project is “the best I have ever seen in my 38-year railroad career. I believe this project will identify and correct potential problems before they turn into major problems or possible accidents.”

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics ensures that the identity of those reporting close calls, as part of the project, remains confidential, including any information as to date or location of the event that could otherwise lead to identification of employees making the report.

The bureau operates under a federal statute that assures protection of the accumulated data from legal discovery, freedom of information requests, and even demands by other federal agencies to view the data.

A close call is defined by the FRA as “a situation in which an ongoing sequence of events was stopped from developing further, preventing the occurrence of potentially serious safety-related consequences. Personal injuries and/or reportable train accidents of any kind do not fall in the category of a close call.”

Examples of close calls include running through a yard switch that does not result in a train accident, improper blocking, and a train in non-signal territory that proceeds beyond its authority.

The UTU is participating in similar pilot projects already in place on Union Pacific in North Platte, Neb., and Canadian Pacific in Portage, Wisc. The UP project is in its third year, and the CP project is in its second year.