The Federal Railroad Administration’s ban on the use of cellphones and other electronic devices — personal and carrier-issued — becomes permanent Monday, March 28.

The ban applies to all on-duty train crew members.

Don’t let a railroad or federal safety inspector make an example of you in proving a dedication to enforcement of the ban.

Here are highlights of the permanent ban:

  • 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, click on the following link:

WASHINGTON — Federally mandated improvements to locomotive cab security and comfort, along with enforceable remote control operation (RCO) regulations, are being sought by the UTU and the BLET in joint comments filed with the Federal Railroad Administration.

Significantly, the FRA is being asked to ban remote control operation on mainline track.

The two organizations responded to an FRA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update, consolidate and clarify existing locomotive safety regulations.

Following are the requests made by the two organizations to the FRA:

Locomotive cab security

A fatal shooting of a conductor and wounding of the engineer, by a street thug in New Orleans in June 2010 highlight the imperative of enhancing crew member cab security. But sealing the locomotive cab also requires adequate air conditioning and improved window glazing (bullet resistant material).

Extreme heat in the cab can accelerate crew fatigue, slowing reaction time and compromising train safety.

Requested of the FRA is a requirement that all newly purchased and reconstructed locomotives — as well as locomotives already equipped with air conditioning — maintain an interior cab climate of between 60 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

As for window glazing, the two organizations said, “If a glazing is available that can protect operating employees from most of the firearms available to common criminals, then FRA should require the installation of such glazing on the locomotives.”

Remote control locomotives

The UTU and the BLET note that the FRA has yet to issue enforceable regulations for the operation of remote control locomotives. It is time to do so, they said, and the regulation should include a prohibition of RCO on mainline track.

“The manufacturers of the remote control locomotive technology in use today designed the software and equipment for switching operations, not mainline movements,” the organizations said.

Additionally, the organizations seek a regulation mandating remote control operator units “be as simple in design and uncluttered with any function not necessary for safe operations.”

The UTU and the BLET also asked the FRA to develop an improved electronic record-keeping system for employee on-duty hours in remote control service. Under the FRA’s current record-keeping, they said, it is difficult to compare accurately the number of employee hours worked in remote control switching versus conventional switching.

“Switching hours must be accurately recorded so that the number of accidents, incidents and fatalities can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis,” the UTU and the BLET said.

Improved locomotive seats also are requested. The organizations said railroads continue to scrimp on proper seating on new locomotives without regard for the safety or health of crew members — an effort to save a mere $220 on a $2.2 million locomotive. Such penny-pinching, said the organizations, is “shamefully inconsistent with providing a safe working environment.

“Improper and unsafe seats have caused many injuries and illnesses to operating crews in the past decades, and now is the time for FRA to accept the scientific facts and offer requirements for specifications of locomotive seats on occupied locomotives,” said the UTU and the BLET.

Said UTU International President Mike Futhey: “Safety regulations with real teeth in them are long overdue.”

Said BLET National President Dennis Pierce: “BLET and UTU remain united and unwavering in our commitment to the safety and security of our members.”

Click here to read the 21-page joint UTU-BLET submission to the FRA.

WILMINGTON, Del. — Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo and former BNSF top attorney Jeff Moreland, now an Amtrak board member, were enroute here from Washington Saturday morning for dedication of the new station renamed for Vice President Joe Biden.

They got as far as Baltimore on their first-class passes.

A power problem on the Northeast Corridor stopped all Amtrak trains dependent on the overhead catenary for power.

Fearful they would miss the dedication, they made a call and soon left the train, piling into an automobile quickly provided, and reached Wilmington only a bit late. Biden was patiently awaiting them.

“We would not have gotten off the train if we could have sequenced it faster, but the event would have been over … and that’s the evaluation we made,” Boardman told ABC News.

The news dispatch reported they “were escorted from the coach by security guards and a small entourage of assistants.” ABC News said rental cars were obtained for the entourage.

Biden understood. He said later he had taken more than 7,000 roundtrips between his home in Wilmington and Washington while a U.S. senator; and, yes, not all were on time.

The remaining passengers on the train endured a two-and-a-half hour delay, later attributed to a malfunctioning transformer in Philadelphia.

Boardman used the opportunity to make a pitch for more federal funds for the Northeast Corridor. “If we’re going to really grow the Corridor the way it needs to be grown, we have to substantially increase the amount of power that’s available so that we don’t trip these transformers,” he told ABC News.

WASHINGTON — The senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, introduced legislation Feb. 8 to reduce the rail route miles over which positive train control (PTC) must be implemented before January 2016.

Senate co-sponsors include John Thune (R-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated PTC be installed, and the Federal Railroad Administration followed with a regulation ordering PTC to be installed on some 73,000 miles of track — those carrying passengers and freight cars containing toxic inhalation hazard chemicals — by Dec. 31, 2015.

PTC is a collision-avoidance overlay system for locomotives, using global positioning satellites and computer software.

In a Jan. 8 press release, Hutchison said her legislation is not intended to roll back the congressional mandate, but rather reduce the number of track miles on which PTC must be installed.

“Traffic patterns for shipping toxic chemicals are changing,” Hutchison said. “This means that at least 10,000 route miles used to move chemicals in 2008 are no longer expected to transport these products in 2015.”

The proposed legislation follows a visit by railroad CEOs in late January to officials of the Obama administration, in which they reportedly said they are in the process of concentrating toxic inhalation hazards on fewer miles of track, and that the PTC mandate should affect traffic patterns expected in 2015 rather than traffic patterns in 2008.

Hutchison called the FRA’s PTC mandate “an example of regulatory excess that is costing America’s businesses billions of dollars with no obvious benefits. We must rein in the regulatory bureaucracy in order to unleash innovation and investment and spur job growth,” Hutchison said. “This commonsense bill would reduce compliance costs without impacting the safety or security of our country’s rail lines.

“By requiring the use of the 2015 traffic patterns, this bill will do much to address the mistakes made by the FRA in implementing this mandate,” Hutchison said.

If a congressionally ordered railroad risk reduction program is to be effective, the Federal Railroad Administration must include railroad employees and their labor unions in the process of evaluating and managing the program.

That is the message seven rail labor organizations sent to the FRA Feb. 8 in response to an earlier FRA notice of proposed rulemaking implementing a risk reduction program.

The program was ordered by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA). Its purpose is to reduce the consequences and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries and fatalities.

The UTU was joined by the American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and Transport Workers Union in commenting to the FRA.

Congress specifically concluded that having railroads “unilaterally decide issues of safety would not be in the public interest,” the UTU and the other labor organizations told the FRA. Yet, the notice of proposed rulemaking “undermines” that congressional intent.

To ensure an effective risk reduction program, the FRA must solicit rail labor input and participation, said the labor organizations. Specific to train and engine workers, such participation must include:

  • Technology implementation.
  • Fatigue management.
  • Risks posed by joint operations, including passenger and commuter trains.
  • Security risks.
  • National Transportation Safety Board recommendations.
  • Disclosure of all carrier bonus, incentive and compensation systems that reward management employees for meeting or exceeding safety related goals, targets, benchmarks or milestones.
  • Disclosure of policies and data related to waiver and discipline practices that in any way discourage accurate reporting of accidents, incidents, injuries or close calls.

The labor organizations also asked the FRA to develop historical data on the following:

  • Number of disciplinary charges filed for rule violations.
  • Number of whistle-blower cases filed by employees.
  • Number of employee dismissals.
  • Number of FRA reportable injuries.
  • Number of meet and confer sessions related to safety.
  • Safety records of regional and shortline railroads.
  • Retaliation, intimidation and overall culture, attitude and policy toward safety reporting by employees.
  • Safety incentive programs and policies that create peer pressure within work groups not to report injuries in order to preserve incentive prizes.
  • A carrier’s past response to risk, hazards, defects, near misses and safety complaints reported by employees.
  • The effectiveness of operating rules and practices in risk reduction.
  • The effectiveness of safety and training programs.

Additionally, the labor organizations asked the FRA to “pay particular attention to railroads that regularly intimidate employees to cut corners [and] hold formal hearings and discipline employees whenever accidents or injuries are reported.”

The process for evaluating and managing a risk reduction program must also include direct employee input, said the labor organizations. “There is no substitute for interviewing employees actually doing the work,” and such interviews should mask the identity of employees to ensure “they may speak freely.”

Of special importance to train and engine workers is the implementation of a fatigue management plan. “A human being cannot possibly be rested to work safely unless that human being knows when they must report for service,” said the labor organizations. “Often, safety critical employees are forced to report for service even when fatigued, or [they] face disciplinary hearings and loss of employment.

“We encourage the FRA to take immediate action to require 10 hours of advance notification for all operating employees not otherwise on assignments with defined start times,” said the labor organizations.

To read the comments of the seven labor organizations, click here.

To read the FRA’s earlier notice of proposed rulemaking, click on the following link:

It’s winter — the three months of the year during which a significant number of yard fatalities and career-ending injuries occur.

The FRA says risk is concentrated in cold-weather states, but those in warmer climates are not immune, because darkness is a factor along with cold weather and slippery ground conditions that contribute to falls.

An elevated risk during winter is the risk of being struck on mainline track by a passing train, says the FRA.

Of special concern this winter are new workers and experienced workers who have recently been brought back from furlough. “Productivity expectations should adjust to employee experience,” says the FRA, which urges that crew composition should pair an inexperienced employee with experienced employees when possible.

The UTU participates in the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group, which includes labor, management and the FRA — all collaborating to bring railroaders home to their families in one piece.

SOFA’s five lifesaving tips can save yours:

  • Secure all equipment before action is taken
  • Protect employees against moving equipment
  • Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes
  • Communicate before action is taken
  • Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely

 The SOFA working group also warns of special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

Going home to your family in one piece requires situational awareness. SOFA’s life-saving tips are proven to reduce your risk of a career-ending injury or death while on the job.

First it was Union Pacific wanting to have its trains inspected in Mexico.

Now BNSF is making the same plea to the FRA — and as the UTU and other rail unions did in the case of UP — the FRA is being advised to, “just say no.”

Putting safety first cannot co-exist with farming out crucial safety inspections to the lowest bidder, the UTU and the other labor organizations told the FRA in the case of both UP (in October) and BNSF (in December).

To begin with, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 established standards to be met when railroads seek safety waivers, such as wanting trains inspected south of the border.

The UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and the American Train Dispatchers Association contend that neither UP nor BNSF have demonstrated that the inspections in Mexico will meet minimum FRA standards.

In fact, neither UP nor BNSF has shown that the FRA will have the uninhibited authority to examine the Mexican facilities where the safety inspections would be made.

Furthermore, said the UTU and other labor organizations, moving the inspections south of the border would be in direct conflict with congressional policy — and eminent common sense — to preserve employment in the U.S. during this lengthy and stalled recession.

The labor organizations told the FRA that “it is common” for cars from Mexico to enter the U.S. “with handbrakes applied, retaining valves set, angle cocks closed and bad order cars located within the train.

“Not to be overlooked is the fact that these trains also frequently are transporting hazardous materials cars,” the UTU and other labor organizations told the FRA.

“Historically, the FRA has denied requests for waivers of air brake and mechanical safety inspections on trains entering the U.S. if the request involves movement of the trains past a point where the inspections can be performed,” said the labor organizations.

An educational website focusing on sleep, sleep disorders and fatigue management is being created in a collaborative effort among the UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Federal Railroad Administration, sleep medicine experts at Harvard Medical School, and Boston Public Radio station WGBH, which is Public Broadcasting’s largest producer of education  web and television content.

Input from UTU rail members, nationwide, is essential to the project.

UTU members are encouraged to complete an anonymous, online survey that should take no more than 15 minutes.

To respond to the question and complete the survey, click on the following link:

Additional information on the project and its website — Sleep Health for Railroaders — is available by clicking on the following link:

By International President Mike Futhey

What do the Nov. 2 congressional election results mean for UTU members and their families?

Consider these facts that are not always obvious:

  • While it is true that organized labor has more friends among Democrats, many of the Republicans elected Nov. 2 are friends of working families, and they received UTU PAC support and were on our voting recommendations list.
  • The UTU is a bipartisan union, historically and consistently looking beyond party labels to reward each and every friend of working families.
  • Among our Republican friends, for example, are Rep. Don Young of Alaska, and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Republican Sen. Hatch is one of the strongest congressional defenders of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), while Republican Rep. Young has been one of the UTU’s most ardent supporters in the House of Representatives.
  • One of the most important congressional committees to UTU members — airline, bus and rail — is the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, where most legislation affecting the transportation industries originates. Among Transportation & Infrastructure Committee members, more than 66 percent — Democrats and Republicans — who were endorsed by the UTU won re-election Nov. 2.
  • In all congressional races Nov. 2, more than 60 percent of UTU endorsed candidates won election or re-election. Imagine if you could win a poker hand more than 60 percent of the time, or hit safely six of 10 times at bat as a major league ballplayer.
  • Despite the change in party control in the House of Representatives, UTU recommended candidates are still a majority, meaning the UTU National Legislative Office can continue to work successfully on issues that matter to our members — job security, safety, health care and retirement benefits, as well as adequate public funding for Amtrak and public transit.
  • Key regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, National Mediation Board, and National Labor Relations Board, will continue to have labor-friendly majority control.
  • The UTU’s GOTV — “get out the vote” — effort this election year resulted in thousands of UTU members and families, who were not previously registered or hadn’t voted in the previous (2006) non-presidential election, registering to vote and casting ballots in congressional races.
  • In states where early voting is permitted, preliminary polling by GOTV shows that as many as 20 percent of UTU members and spouses who cast an early ballot had not voted in the 2006 non-presidential election. This proved important in close races.
  • On behalf of the UTU, GOTV — in partnership with UTU state legislative directors and the UTU Auxiliary — made more than 210,000 unique member contacts in 28 states via the postal service, e-mail and telephone calls, urging UTU members and their families to register to vote and to vote in this election.
  • By encouraging a higher percentage of UTU members to register to vote and to vote, we demonstrate to candidates the power of UTU endorsements — and, especially, that in close races, a UTU endorsement has great value to a candidate.
  • Candidates remember their friends in the same manner organized labor remembers its friends.
  • As the proverb says, “It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes a difference.” What the UTU PAC and GOTV demonstrate to candidates of all political stripes is that the UTU is a friend worth having.
  • The UTU has always had a great legislative program, but what we have accomplished this election through GOTV sets a new standard and benchmark to measure future advances.
  • When the new Congress is seated in 2011, we will be working closely with our old and new friends to continue advancing the UTU legislative agenda on behalf of our members.

Iowa Interstate Railroad and Amtrak are intending jointly to launch conventional-speed (79 mph) passenger service between Chicago and Iowa City over a previously abandoned rail line, reports

The proposed service, reported, has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, but is not expected to begin prior to 2013. quoted Iowa Interstate CEO Dennis Miller that the railroad has “spent many hours working with local community leaders, the states of Iowa and Illinois, and Amtrak to make sure that if this service was approved, we could handle it in conjunction with our existing and growing freight business.”

Perhaps contradicting many Class I freight CEOs — who are cool about expanding passenger service over freight railroad track — Iowa Interstate Chairman Henry Posner III, a former Conrail executive, was quoted by that, “The lesson here is that a healthy freight network is the single most important building block for passenger service.”