WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration will soon publish final rules instituting conductor certification and imposing new hours-of-service limitations on intercity passenger-train and commuter employees in safety sensitive positions.

FRA Associate Administrator for Safety Jo Strang made the announcement at the UTU’s regional meeting June 21 in San Antonio, Texas.

She observed that since former UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo became FRA administrator, the partnership between the UTU and the FRA in seeking improved workplace safety “has certainly been strengthened.”

Conductor certification, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2012, “recognizes the level of professionalism required by our conductors today,” Strang said.

A notice of proposed rulemaking on conductor certification was published in November and is the product of a collaborative effort through the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee, which includes carriers, rail labor and the FRA.

UTU members serving on the RSAC Conductor Certification Working Group include Local 1470 Chairperson David Brooks, General Chairperson (CSX, GO 049) John Lesniewski, Local 538 Legislative Rep Ron Parsons, Local 645 Local Chairperson Vinnie Tessitore, National Legislative Director James Stem, Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch, and UTU safety consultant Larry Mann.

Strang said the passenger hours-of-service regulation will apply sleep science and fatigue management to railroad hours-of-service, “which is the first time in our industry’s history that this has been done. It recognizes the inherent differences between freight and passenger service.”

For example, intercity passenger and commuter railroads operate on fixed schedules. Commuter railroads operate primarily during daylight hours, and most commuter employees return to their home terminals every night.

The passenger hours-of-service regulation will “balance the need to manage fatigue with the need to maximize income,” Strang said. “The rule also recognizes the significant safety contribution that a defined start time has for the employees involved. When the employee knows when they must report for service, they can manage the necessary lifestyle adjustments. The outstanding safety record of our passenger and commuter rail operations is an excellent example of just what it means to have a regular start time.”

Strang also mentioned risk reduction programs, acknowledging that their FRA-sponsored implementation on some railroads “have earned a bad reputation. Let me be clear about FRA’s viewpoint,” Strang said. “Building strong safety cultures can only be accomplished through the establishment and nurturing of voluntary risk mitigation policies and procedures — setting realistic benchmarks and milestones, and favoring constructive corrective behavior over punitive discipline. To be clear, both railroads and labor have to define boundaries since compliance with the rules is at the heart of safety.

“Railroads have had the same culture for 180 years,” Strang said. “We have been trying to change it for five years.”

Working in a rail yard puts life, limbs and career at risk more than any other job.

 Members attending UTU regional meetings in San Antonio and New York have access to a yard-safety workshop – conducted in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration’s risk-reduction team.

 Attendees will gain more from this workshop if they first review a portion of a recent FRA report prepared by the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group.

To read Chapter 3 of that report:

  •  Go to www.utu.org
  • Place your cursor on “Safety” in the drop-down menu above, and then left-click  on “Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis”
  •  Left-click on the SOFA logo.
  •  Left-click on the first link, “Findings and Advisories of the SOFA Working Group Volume I.”
  •  Scroll to Chapter Three, “Switching Fatalities – Understanding and Prevention,” which begins at page 13.

 “This chapter will give you a good introduction to the entire report and a basic understanding of the report before you attend one of the SOFA workshops,” says UTU Louisiana State Legislative Director Gary Devall, who is one of the UTU’s representatives on the SOFA working group along with Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy and Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.

 Also to be found on the page where the SOFA logo appears, is the first quarter 2011 SOFA update.

 All UTU members working in rail yards also are urged to review the following message on yard safety:




LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit brought by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen against Los Angeles Metrolink to eliminate inward-facing video cameras in the cab has been dismissed by a judge here.

Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin said the inward-facing cameras, which monitor crew activities in the cab, do not violate privacy rights, reports the Associated Press.

Metrolink ordered that inward-facing cameras be installed in commuter-train cabs following a September 2008 catastrophic accident in Chatsworth, Calif., in which a Metrolink train ran a red signal and collided with a freight train, killing 25 and injuring more than 100 on the Metrolink train. The Metrolink engineer, who died in the crash, was found to have been texting repeatedly.

Following that accident, the Federal Railroad Administration banned the use by train crews, nationwide, of most electronic devices.

MINERAL SPRINGS, N.C. — CSX conductor Phillip E. Crawford Jr., 33, and locomotive engineer James Gregory Hadden, 36, were killed early May 24 in a rear-end collision here involving two CSX freight trains, according to news reports. Mineral Springs is some 30 miles south of Charlotte.

Crawford was a member of UTU Local 970, Abbeville, S.C. He signed on with CSX in October 2005.

Two crew members on the lead train, which was hit from the rear, suffered minor injuries, reported the Charlotte Observer.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating the North Carolina train collision, and a member of the UTU Transportation Safety Team is assisting the NTSB.

A CSX spokesperson told the Associated Press that the rear-end collision occurred on northbound tracks and involved one train enroute to Hamlet, N.C., from New Orleans, and another enroute to Charlotte from southern Georgia. Each train was pulled by two locomotives; one pulling nine freight cars, and the other 12, said CSX.

In Ft. Worth, a BNSF switch foreman and UTU Local 564 member, Paul Young, 28, with almost seven years’ service, lost both legs and an arm after being hit by a train in BNSF’s Alliance Terminal of May 23. Young, a resident of Haslet, Texas, reportedly was performing a gravity switch at an ethanol plant at the time of the accident.

California’s Amtrak-operated Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin routes are due for an equipment upgrade following a Federal Railroad Administration $100 million direct grant to the California DOT (Caltrans).

Amtrak operates the routes under contract to Caltrans.

The money must be used for 27 domestically manufactured bilevel passenger cars and two domestically manufactured diesel-electric locomotives, under Buy America provisions of the grant.

The Pacific Surfliner route experienced a 65 percent increase in ridership over the past 10 years, while the San Joaquin route had a 45 percent increase in ridership over 10 years.


By FRA Associate Administrator for Safety Jo Strang

The Federal Railroad Administration’s Risk Reduction Program is a voluntary industry-wide initiative to reduce accidents and injuries and build a strong safety culture by expanding the toolkit to analyze and manage risk.

Eventually, these assessments will complement other programs such as safety inspections of railcars and injury reporting.

We are currently drafting a regulation requiring railroads to develop comprehensive risk reduction programs.

The FRA Risk Reduction Program affects every railroader through timely reporting of employee injuries and illnesses.

Additionally, an FRA team is collecting data on current practices and is seeking ways to prevent harassment and intimidation of injured railroad employees.

The data is collected from FRA complaint and enforcement records and directly from rail labor organizations.

The FRA also is working with outside sources, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to gain a clearer understanding of that agency’s whistle-blower regulation for railroad employees, and other factors that can contribute to solving harassment problems.

Using what they have learned, our Risk Reduction Program team conducted numerous presentations for UTU members on their rights regarding work-related injuries. The team learned a tremendous amount about current conditions railroad employees face daily.

The FRA also is strongly encouraging railroads to take actions that remove the punitive policies and practices that invite or induce retaliatory harassment and intimidation.

Amtrak is one railroad that has taken strides in this direction.

In implementing its Safe 2 Safer program, Amtrak has taken positive steps to improve its safety culture. The FRA Risk Reduction Program team noted that, as a result, the number of injuries reported by Amtrak employees has risen as expected, and the number of OSHA whistle-blower cases reported by employees has decreased.

The FRA hopes this indicates that injured Amtrak employees are now seeking and receiving appropriate care; and that other railroads will learn from Amtrak’s success and implement similar programs.

The FRA appreciates the UTU’s assistance in providing this invaluable data and input to the investigation team. When and where the team is successful in mitigating risks and hazards identified, safety is improved for railroad employees and the public.

An Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register in December, and we are currently reviewing the comments received. However, in order to obtain as much stakeholder input as possible, we plan to conduct a public hearing.

In the meantime, we would appreciate receiving comments and suggestions from UTU members, which should be sent to the UTU National Legislative Office in Washington, D.C., which will collect and forward them to the FRA’S Risk Reduction Program team.

Thank you for your involvement in building a strong rail safety culture.

WASHINGTON — A new safety advisory applying to switching operation hazards has been issued by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The advisory focuses on federal federal regulations and railroad operating rules governing procedures for leaving rolling equipment in the clear of adjacent tracks. It was issued in response to two recent incidents where railroad employees were killed during switching operations.

The advisory recommends that railroads review the recent incidents with employees and reinstruct them on procedures and rules governing leaving rolling equipment clear of adjacent tracks. It also recommends that railroads review job briefing procedures.

To read the safety advisory, click on the following link:



WASHINGTON — The single most important action Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration can take to improve rail safety — especially in the movement of hazardous materials — is to eliminate train-crew fatigue and provide predictable start times for train crews.

That was the message delivered April 7 to the House Railroad Subcommittee by UTU National Legislative Director James Stem. The subcommittee met to learn more about rail hazmat safety.

“The unpredictable work schedules of safety critical operating employees in the railroad industry has and continues to be the root cause of the fatigue problems that have placed many releases of hazardous materials on the front pages of our newspapers,” Stem told the subcommittee.

Although the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) provides for 10 hours of undisturbed rest between work assignments, “the application is misplaced because it does nothing to improve the predictability of reporting times nor does it allow employees the opportunity to plan their rest before reporting for duty,” Stem said.

“One small improvement that will make a tremendous difference in the safety for all train operations is simply to move the required 10 hours of undisturbed rest from immediately following service to immediately preceding service,” Stem said.

“The minimum of 10 hours of notification before reporting for 12 hours or more of safety critical service will allow operating employees to get their proper rest prior to reporting for duty so they can safety and alertly operate their train while on duty.

“An even greater safety enhancement would be to assign regular start times for each crew, or at a minimum require that crews be notified before going off duty of the time they must report back for service,” he said.

Stem told the subcommittee that many railroads “have worked hard since RSIA was passed to develop new software programs to enable their operations to deny the required rest days for employees. Many employees are required to observe their only day off while laying over in a one-star hotel at the away from home terminal.

“The itemized six-and-two and seven-and-three work-rest schedules in the RSIA remain a dream for 95 percent of our freight operating employees,” Stem said.

The UTU’s national legislative director also stressed a need for more frequent track inspections. “Timely track inspections by qualified track inspectors should be conducted with a frequency directly proportional to the amount of traffic passing over a track segment,” Stem told the subcommittee.

Stem provided the subcommittee, on behalf of the UTU and its members, a list of 24 specific recommendations to reduce crew fatigue:

  1. Railroad employees covered by the hours of service law shall be provided a predictable and defined work/rest period.
  2. A 10-hour call for all unassigned road service. This provision would require the 10 hours of undisturbed rest be provided immediately prior to performing covered service instead of immediately following service.
  3. All yard service assignments with defined start times will be covered by the same provisions that now apply to passenger and commuter rail.
  4. All yardmaster assignments will be HOS-covered service under the freight employees’ rule.
  5. The FRA shall issue regulations within 12 months to require all deadhead transportation in excess of a certain number of hours to be counted as time on duty and a job start.
  6. No amount of time off-duty at the away from home terminal will reset the calendar clock of job starts, and the employee shall not be required to take mandatory rest days at the away from home terminal.
  7. 24 hours off duty at the home terminal which does not include a full calendar day will reset the calendar clock.
  8. Interim release periods require notification to the crew before going off duty. If the crew is not notified, the 10 hours uninterrupted rest will prohibit changing the service to include an interim release.
  9. There shall be a two-hour limit on limbo time per each tour of duty.
  10. There shall be assigned a minimum of 24 hours off duty at the designated home terminal in each seven-day period during which time the employee shall be unavailable for any service for the railroad. The off-duty period shall encompass a minimum of one full calendar day and the employee shall be notified not less than seven calendar days prior to the assigned off duty period.
  11. A railroad shall provide hot nutritious food 24 hours a day at the sleeping quarters when the crew is at the designated away from home terminal, and at an interim release location. If such food is not provided on a railroad’s premises, a restaurant that provides such food shall not be located more than five minutes normal walking distance from the employee’s sleeping quarters or other rest facility. Fast food establishments shall not satisfy the requirements of this subsection.
  12. A railroad shall be prohibited from providing sleeping quarters in areas where switching or humping operations are performed.
  13. Not later than 12 months after the date of enactment of this act, the FRA shall promulgate a regulation requiring whistle-board signs allocated at least 1/4 mile in advance of public highway-rail grade crossings. Provided, however, such regulation shall not apply to such crossings that are subject to a whistle ban.
  14. Under the railroad whistle-blower law, the secretary of labor shall have subpoena power to require the production of documents and/or the attendance of witnesses to give testimony.
  15. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, regulation or order, whenever Congress enacts legislation mandating that the FRA promulgate a railroad safety regulation, there shall be no requirement for a cost/benefit analysis by the FRA.
  16. During an accident/incident investigation process, upon request, a railroad shall produce event recorder information to law enforcement personnel and to the designated employee representative(s) defined under the Railway Labor Act.
  17. In an engineer or conductor decertification proceeding, if the FRA issues a final order in favor of an employee, a railroad shall be prohibited from subsequently attempting to discipline such employee for any alleged acts which may have arisen from the incident involved in the decertification proceeding.
  18. In an engineer or conductor certification or decertification proceeding the FRA shall have the authority to require the retesting of the employee, to order the employee’s reinstatement with the same seniority status the employee would be entitled to but for decertification or refusal of certification, and to grant any other or further relief that the FRA deems appropriate.
  19. All federal railroad safety laws and regulations shall be subject only to the preemption requirements set forth in the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
  20. A railroad owned or operated by a state or other governmental entity shall, as a condition of being a recipient of federal funds, agree immediately thereafter the receipt of such funds to waive any defense of sovereign immunity in a cause of action for damages brought against such railroad alleging a violation of a federal railroad safety law or regulation pursuant to title 28, 45, or 49, United States Code.
  21. No state law or regulation covering walkways for railroad employees shall be preempted or precluded until such time as the FRA promulgates a regulation which substantially subsumes the subject matter.
  22. In any claim alleging a violation of a federal railroad safety law, a settlement of such claim cannot release a cause of action, injury or death which did not exist at the time of settlement of such claim.
  23. An employee of the NTSB or the FRA who previously worked as a railroad employee has the right to return to railroad employment with all seniority retained.
  24. Amtrak shall not be liable for damages or liability, in a claim arising out of an accident or incident unless the said Corporation is negligent in causing the accident or incident.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s permanent ban on use of electronic devices, including cellphones, became effective March 28, 2011.

Please make careful note of the following:

  • In the event of a collision, derailment or fatality, one of the first actions taken by National Transportation Safety Board investigators is pull the phone records of all crew members involved.
  • NTSB investigators ALSO pull the phone records of crew members on other trains in the area of the event, including the last train at that location, or any other person they think may even remotely shed light on the event being investigated.
  • You don’t have to be directly involved to have your phone records examined by NTSB investigators.

The NTSB has authority under the law to demand these records from cellphone providers. These actions are taken because the NTSB considers distractions to be major contributors to collisions, derailments and fatalities, and the use of electronic devices, including cellphones, are considered a distraction.

Moreover, a carrier’s rule relating to the FRA ban on the use of electronic devices, including cellphones, may be more restrictive than the FRA regulations.

It is thus essential you also be aware of your carrier’s rules as they relate to the electronic device and cellphone ban. While the FRA does not permit carrier bans to be less restrictive than the FRA final rule on the ban, the FRA does permit carriers to have a more restrictive rule.

The UTU Transportation Safety Task Force cautions that the safest course of action for our members working in train service is to turn off your cellphone at the beginning of a shift and keep it off.

Many of our members are taking a leadership role in reminding fellow crew members to turn off cellphones and other electronic devices.

We understand many conductors and engineers are starting their shift by showing other crew members that they have turned off their phone.

This is an outstanding way to promote safety through leadership, and we encourage each UTU member to be a leader in this effort.

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU Arizona state legislative director

Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director

Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director

Highlights of the permanent ban on electronic devices and cellphones:

  • The ban prohibits 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. This means while the train is moving, a member of the crew is on the ground or riding rolling equipment during switching, or any railroad employee is assisting in the preparation of the train for movement.
  • While railroad-supplied electronic devices may not be used by the engineer while the train is moving, they may be used by the conductor for authorized business purposes in the cab if use does not interfere with performance of safety-related duties, a safety briefing is conducted that includes all crew members, and all crew members agree that it is safe to use the railroad-supplied electronic device.
  • There is no exception for personal or medical emergencies, such as to check on an ill or injured family member.
  • The ban includes use of personal global positioning service (GPS) devices.
  • The use of calculators is permitted for determining formulas such as train stopping calculations or tons per operative brake.
  • Stand-alone cameras (not part of a cellphone or other electronic device) are permitted to document a safety hazard or a violation of a rail safety law, regulation order, or standard. The camera must be turned off immediately after use. Stand-alone cameras may not be used by the engineer for the above purposes when the train is in motion.
  • Crew members may use railroad-supplied multi-functional devices that include a camera for authorized business purposes as specified by the railroad in writing, and only after being approved by the FRA. An engineer is banned from using such a device when the train is in motion. The railroad-supplied device must be turned off immediately after use.
  • Deadheading crews may use personal electronic devices when not in the cab of the controlling locomotive and such use does not compromise the safety of any operating employee or the safety duties of another operating employee. But when in the cab of the controlling locomotive, deadheading employees are prohibited from using any electronic devices; and they must be turned off and the earpiece must be removed.
  • Personal medical devices such as hearing aids and blood sugar monitors may be used, but must be consistent with the railroad’s standards for medical fitness for duty.
  • A passenger train conductor or assistant conductor may use a railroad-supplied electronic or electrical device for an approved business purpose while on duty within the body of a passenger train or railroad business car. Use of the device shall not interfere with the responsibility to call or acknowledge any signal, inspect any passing train, or perform any other safety-sensitive duty assigned under the railroad’s operating rules and special instructions.
  • A passenger-train conductor or assistant conductor located inside the cab may use a GPS application or a railroad-supplied camera if the crew has held a safety briefing and all crewmembers have unanimously agreed that it is safe to use the device.
  • A passenger-train crewmember outside the cab of a locomotive may use a railroad-supplied camera to photograph a safety hazard if it is for an authorized business purpose and does not interfere with safety-related duties.
  • Railroads have the right to implement their own more stringent rules on the use of electronic devices; but railroads may not liberalize any provisions of the FRA permanent ban.
  • The ban does not subject engineers or conductors (when conductor certification is implemented) to revocation of their certification for a violation of the ban.
  • The FRA has authority under the law to subpoena cellphone records from a cellphone provider.

To read the FRA’s final 40-page rule imposing the permanent ban on electronic devices, including cellphones, click on the following link:

April 4, 2011

WASHINGTON — A doubling in the number of damaged or leaking hazardous materials containers shipped by rail has prompted the UTU and six other rail labor organizations to petition the Federal Railroad Administration for enhanced safety standards to protect rail workers and the public.

Rail labor is concerned that the FRA routinely grants special permission for railroads to transport damaged hazardous materials containers on mainline tracks to repair facilities.

In fact, the number of such requests has more than doubled since 2007, subjecting rail workers and the public to an unacceptable risk of exposure, the labor organizations told the FRA.

“Railroads and shippers must do more to reduce the incidence of non-conformance,” the organizations told the FRA.

Among changes sought by rail labor is advance notification to rail workers and necessary protection when workers are in the vicinity of damaged containers transporting hazmat.

Current federal regulations provide no requirement that safety devices be provided to protect rail workers from exposure to hazmat.

The labor organizations told the FRA that operating crews should be provided emergency escape breathing apparatus when involved in the movement of hazmat containers.

Although there have been no injuries or known exposures, the risk of employee exposure will only increase if the current rate of movement approvals continues, the FRA was told.

“Railroads and shippers have a business interest in timely review and approval of movement requests,” the labor unions told the FRA.

“As soon as the backlog impacts their bottom line, railroads and shippers will pressure FRA to accelerate the approval process. Such acceleration will undoubtedly diminish the level of detail and due diligence now afforded each request, resulting in an increased probability of unintended consequences such as fire, explosion or chemical exposure,” rail labor said.

In addition to the UTU, rail labor organizations jointly providing the comments to the FRA include the American Train Dispatchers Association, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Transport Workers Union, and the Transportation Communications Union.

Click here to read rail labor’s submission to the FRA.