As the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) works toward having effective safety regulations in place for the operation of positive train control prior to its 2015 congressionally mandated implementation, the agency is reaching out for feedback to its early proposals. In fact, many PTC operations likely will commence prior to 2015 mandatory date.

In response to specific questions asked by the FRA at a recent public hearing, the UTU and five other rail labor organizations jointly responded with regard to permissible use of certain locomotives, required enforcement of PTC’s ability to correct train overspeed, permissible use of non-PTC equipped or functional trains on PTC-required track, and use of unequipped trains and failed PTC trains.

  • The location of PTC-equipped locomotives in the engine consist: The FRA asked how a railroad is to handle a situation where an engine that is PTC-equipped is positioned with long hood forward or has a broken air conditioning unit. 

Responsible operating personnel recognize that operating a North American cab locomotive in the long hood forward position is patently unsafe and should only be permitted for short distances and then only in emergency situations, said the labor organizations.

Operating trains with the long hood forward presents safety concerns because the engineer has a limited view of the railroad with that configuration. 

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

We are a union on the move, growing stronger financially and adding new members through aggressive organizing.

In addition to organizing 300 pilots and flight attendants at Great Lakes Airlines recently, we have authorization cards from a majority of the 110 pilots at Lynx Aviation. We are talking with pilots and flight attendants at other airlines, as well as bus operators on unorganized properties and employees of short line railroads.

Indeed, we are a union on the move — in organizing, defending existing agreements, and having our voice heard in Washington and state capitols.

While the Rail Safety Improvement Act is not everything we sought, we were able to achieve conductor certification, a deadline for implementation of positive train control, and a provision for general chairpersons to negotiate a better balance between new hours-of-service limitations and earnings.

I have appointed a UTU team to work with the FRA, other labor organizations and carriers in drafting conductor certification standards.

I have created a UTU Rail Transportation Safety Team to deal directly with the FRA in the face of an unacceptable spike in on-duty employee fatalities and career-ending injuries. Jointly with the BLET, we filed a petition with the FRA seeking an emergency order prohibiting the use of one-person crews in conventional and remote-control operations.

We are working with others in transportation labor to gain legislation eliminating flight-crew fatigue and to bring flight attendants under protections of OSHA.

Through the AFL-CIO, we are pushing for changes in commercial driver’s license regulations that subject bus operators to loss of their jobs if they receive citations while operating personal automobiles. We also are working to gain legislation requiring improved crash-resistance buses, uniform driver-training standards, and required training in dealing with abusive and threatening passengers.

The UTU is growing financially stronger owing to new cost containment controls and conservative investment policies, with our general fund balance up 90 percent since January 2008. UTUIA earnings have been growing each quarter, and the UTUIA has a $23 million surplus. And our DIPP claims no longer exceed premiums.

Officers at every level are benefitting from iLink features, and the UTU University is providing members with online educational opportunities that will continue to be expanded.

This administration remains true to its pledge of two-way communication. We invite your comments and suggestions and we will continue to provide leadership messages posted at www.utu.org.

In a joint submission aimed at improving safety and the security of member paychecks, the UTU and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have asked the Federal Railroad Administration to clarify and simplify its interim policies relating to, and interpretations of, the Rail Safety Improvement Act’s changes to hours-of-service limitations that went into effect July 16.

The sought-after clarifications and simplifications fall into three categories:

  1. The Rail Safety Improvement Act’s (RSIA) prohibition of communication with employees during statutory off-duty periods;
  2. The RSIA’s provisions pertaining to mandatory off-duty time following the initiation of an on-duty period for a specified number of consecutive days; and,
  3. The maximum number of hours that may be worked in a calendar month.

The joint UTU/BLET comments observe that the hours-of-service provisions in the safety act “produced the most far-reaching effects on hours-of-service of safety-critical railroad workers since enactment of the original Hours-of-Service Act in 1908.” In fact, the FRA, itself, observes that the hours-of-service amendments “are extraordinarily complex and comprehensive.”

Because of the complexity, said the UTU and the BLET, “the statute itself fails to adequately address a number of important issues that will almost certainly have a substantial effect on our members. Moreover, FRA has been forced to provide interpretations that must address goals that sometimes are in conflict. It is our sincere hope that these [joint UTU/BLET] comments will provide a basis for improvement of FRA’s policies and interpretations in a way that is faithful to the intent of Congress.”

The UTU and the BLET also asked the FRA “to further clarify their stated interpretations in plain language to the maximum extent possible, so there is no room for debate concerning the application of those interpretations.”

The UTU and the BLET noted also that they were not commenting on each policy and interpretation “because we do not want to unnecessarily burden the record. However, FRA should not conclude that we concur with each of the policies and interpretations with which we strongly disagree, but we are withholding comment concerning them because FRA’s position has been dictated by the statute itself, and FRA cannot depart from statutory requirements; therefore, comments concerning these subjects would be futile.

“The comments are intended to provide greater clarity to the sometimes confusing provisions of the law, and to assist UTU and BLET general committees in their efforts to negotiate a better balance between maintaining earnings and the new requirements,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz in a joint statement.

To read the joint UTU and BLET submission to the FRA, click here.

UTU Rail Safety Alert No. 1 (revised)

(Following is the first safety alert, revised June 22, issued by the UTU’s recently appointed Rail Safety Task Force.

UTU International President Mike Futhey appointed the task force in response to a sharp spike in railroad on-duty employee fatalities.

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen also have petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration for an emergency order to prohibit the use by railroads of one-person operating crews, including in remote control operations.)

SAFETY ALERT NO. 1 (revised)

While the UTU has consistently taken exception to single-person operations, in reality it exists today. Accordingly, our members should be aware of the safest course in an unsafe situation.

UTU members working in single-person operations are strongly encouraged to question any order by a railroad official to perform any activities that may result in an injury, loss of limb or life — short of insubordination.

If your request to be relieved of such a task is denied, please immediately contact your local chairperson, general chairperson, local legislative representative or state legislative director for further handling.

In doing so, document these actions as soon as you are able, providing as much information as possible, including witnesses, times, dates, locations and names of all involved.

Following is the proper procedure to handle any types of incidents you feel cannot be safely accomplished by a one-person operation:

1) Call for help, such as a utility employee and/or the mechanical department to assist with the function while the RCO operator maintains control of the RCL transmitter (belt pack) and provides three-step protection. All blue flag rules still apply.

Following are FRA regulations relating to the functions of a “utility employee.”

A utility employee properly attached to a train or yard crew, per the requirements of 49 CFR 218.22(c)(1), (2), (3) and (4), may go on, under or between rolling equipment that the crew is called to operate to perform any of the six functions permitted by 49 CFR 218.22(c)(5), without blue signal protection.

The following are the only six functions permitted:

  1. Set or release hand brakes.
  2. Couple or uncouple air hoses and other electrical or mechanical connections.
  3. Prepare rail cars for coupling. (This means opening knuckles, adjusting drawbars, arranging air hoses etc. It does not mean making repairs, such as changing a knuckle or replacing an air hose.)
  4. Set wheel blocks or wheel chains.
  5. Conduct air brake tests to include cutting air brake components in or out and position retaining valves.
  6. Inspect, test, install, remove or replace a rear-end marking device or end-of-train device.

Under all other circumstances, a utility employee working on, under, or between railroad rolling equipment must be provided with blue signal protection in accordance with §§ 218.23 through 218.30 of Subpart B to Part 218.

2) If help is not available, notify management that you are concerned the function you are being required to perform is unsafe, and that you would prefer not to perform the function.

3) If the carrier official (supervisor, manager) insists that you perform the unsafe function anyway, tell him/her you feel this would place your personal safety in jeopardy and ask that they reconsider your request.

4) If the carrier official denies your request, perform the function as instructed, taking every safety protection available, including:

  • Making sure everyone working on both ends of the yard knows where you are, and that you are about to be on your own under or between cars on the track and without blue-flag protection.
  • Make sure the belt pack is set to prevent the locomotive from moving.
  • Secure cars on a cut located on the oppose side of where the locomotive is attached (to prevent rollback).
  • Keep a constant eye and ear out for any movement whatsoever.
  • Keep the belt pack on, to ensure the man-down feature is operable (or as near as safely possible without creating a tripping hazard), just in case it’s needed.

5) After being required to perform the function, report these occurrences to you local legislative representative, safety chairpersons and local chairpersons.

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force and its mission, click here:

https://www.smart-union.org/safety/smart-rail-safety-task-force/ 

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen filed on Nov. 14 a joint petition for review by the Federal Railroad Administration of the FRA’s so-called emergency cell phone order, requesting that the FRA make additional exceptions to the order in the name of safety.

The ban, effective Oct. 27, applies to any electronic device that was not provided to the railroad operating employee by the employing railroad for business purposes. (For more detail, see www.utu.org and click on “FRA cell phone ban” at the bottom right corner.)

The UTU and the BLET are seeking exceptions to the order banning the use of personal electronic devices while deadheading; the use of cameras that can document safety hazards or safety law violations; and the use of electronic calculators and global positioning satellite (GPS) devices that can aid safe train operation.

“It is not our intention to unnecessarily complicate a fairly bright-line rule regarding the use of electronic and electrical devices,” UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET President Ed Rodzwicz jointly in the petition for review. “However, we do believe FRA should seriously consider those atypical situations in which [the emergency order] as currently written could inadvertently result in a diminution of safety, as compared to operating conditions and practices in effect prior to its promulgation.”

As for deadheading, the two unions argue that since deadheading crews have fulfilled their safety-related responsibilities — and in many cases are not on duty — their use of electronic devices should not be restricted to business purpose use only.

To that end, the unions ask the FRA to rewrite a portion of the emergency order to read: “A railroad operating employee who is deadheading may use a cell phone while within the body of a passenger train or railroad business car, or while inside the cab of a locomotive that is not the lead locomotive of the train on which the employee is deadheading.”

As for cameras, the UTU and the BLET argue that the emergency order appears to forbid photographic documentation by a train employee of safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws, regulations, orders or standards, which would actually diminish railroad safety.

The two unions ask for an exemption, which would read:

“An electronic still or video camera may be used to document a safety hazard or a violation of a rail safety law, regulation, order or standard; provided, that (1) the use of a camera in the cab of a moving train may only be by a crew member other than the locomotive engineer, and (2) the use of a camera by a train employee on the ground is permissible only when (a) the employee is not fouling a track, (b) no switching operation is underway, (c) no other safety duties are presently required, and (d) all members of the crew have been briefed that operations are suspended. The use of the photographic function of a cell phone is permitted under these same conditions.”

Third, the unions question a section of the emergency order that prohibits the use of electronic devices such (as calculators) to make computations. The UTU and the BLET point out that a number of safety-critical computational functions are required in numerous circumstances if on-board systems fail or are not provided. These include managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length for speed restrictions and clearing track authorities.

A new section regarding exceptions to this portion of the emergency order should be added as follows:

“When mathematical calculations are required for safe train movement (e.g., managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length), it is permissible to perform such calculations by using an electronic calculator, or by using the calculator function of a cell phone or electronic timepiece.”

Fourth, the two unions petition the FRA to allow the use of global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking devices in order to gauge the accuracy of locomotive speed indicators, particularly when the designated measured mile lies within a temporary speed restriction of less than 30 miles per hour.

One effect of the emergency order is to preclude the use of a GPS device to calculate the speed of a train that is not equipped with a speed indicator because the train will not exceed 20 mph. Another is that the accuracy of a speed indicator determined within a slow order of 30 mph or less cannot be correlated with its accuracy at speed above 30 mph. Maintaining proper train speed is both safety-critical and demanded of a locomotive engineer.

The UTU and BLET ask the FRA to consider an exception to the emergency order for GPS devices, requesting that GPS tracking devices be allowed to verify the accuracy of the speed indicator in a controlling locomotive.