Over the past 1.5 weeks, the Federal Railroad Administration has published several notices in the Federal Register. Below are portions of those postings, including: Drug and alcohol testing: Determination of minimum random testing rates for 2021 (notification of determination); Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers – miscellaneous revisions (final rule); Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking); and Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking).

Drug and alcohol testing: Determination of minimum random testing rates for 2021 (notification of determination) – (published 12/15/2020)

Supplementary information:
FRA is announcing the 2021 minimum annual random drug and alcohol testing rates for covered service and MOW employees. For calendar year 2021, the minimum annual random testing rates for covered service employees will continue to be 25% for drugs and 10% for alcohol, while the minimum annual random testing rates for MOW employees will continue to be 50% for drugs and will be lowered to 10% for alcohol. Because these rates represent minimums, railroads and contractors may conduct FRA random testing at higher rates.
To set its minimum annual random testing rates for each year, FRA examines the last two complete calendar years of railroad industry drug and alcohol program data submitted to its Management Information System (MIS). FRA has also, however, reserved the right to consider factors other than MIS-reported data before deciding whether to lower annual minimum random testing rates. See 63 FR 71789 (Dec. 30, 1998).
Random testing rates for covered service employees
The rail industry’s random drug testing positive rate for covered service employees (employees subject to the Federal hours of service laws and regulations) remained below 1.0% for 2018 and 2019. The administrator has therefore determined the minimum annual random drug testing rate for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, will remain at 25% for covered service employees. The industry-wide random alcohol testing violation rate for covered service employees remained below 0.5% for 2018 and 2019. Therefore, the administrator has determined the minimum random alcohol testing rate will remain at 10% for covered service employees for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

Random testing rates for MOW employees

MOW employees became subject to FRA random drug and alcohol testing in June 2017. See 81 FR 37894 (June 10, 2016). FRA now has MIS data for two full consecutive years of the industry-wide performance rates for MOW employees, 2018 and 2019. While FRA may lower the minimum random drug testing rate to 25% whenever the industry-wide random drug positive rate is less than 1.0 percent for two consecutive calendar years while testing at the 50% rate, FRA has reserved the right to consider other factors before deciding whether to lower annual minimum random testing rates. See 63 FR 71789 (Dec. 30, 1998).

As illustrated in the figures in the appendix below, in contrast to the drug testing positive rate for covered service employees that remained substantially below 1.0% for 2018 and 2019, the random drug testing positive rate for MOW employees is not only trending upwards, but also approaching the 1.0% positive rate threshold at which point the administrator will raise the drug testing rate under 49 CFR 219.625(d)(2). Specifically, the industry-wide random drug testing violation rate for MOW employees increased from 0.69% in 2018 to 0.8% in 2019, and MOW employees continue to have a higher positive testing rate than covered service employees.[1The Administrator further notes that MOW employees who were performing duties for a railroad before June 12, 2017, were exempted from the pre-employment drug testing requirement. See 49 CFR 219.501(e). As such, some MOW employees may remain who have never been subject to FRA drug testing because they have not yet been randomly selected.

Taking these factors into consideration, the administrator finds it is currently not in the interest of railroad safety to lower the random drug testing rate for MOW employees. Therefore, for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, the administrator has determined that the minimum annual random drug testing rate will continue to be 50% for MOW employees.

Because the random alcohol testing violation rate for MOW employees remained substantially below 0.5% for 2018 and 2019, and has been trending downwards, the administrator has determined that the minimum annual random alcohol testing rate will be lowered to 10% for MOW employees for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

 Click here to read the full notice as published in the Federal Register.

Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers; miscellaneous revisions (final rule) – published 12/15/2020

FRA is revising its regulation governing the qualification and certification of locomotive engineers to make it consistent with its regulation for the qualification and certification of conductors. The changes include: Amending the program submission process; handling engineer and conductor petitions for review with a single FRA review board (Operating Crew Review Board or OCRB); and revising the filing requirements for petitions to the OCRB. To ensure consistency throughout its regulations, FRA is also making conforming amendments to its regulations governing the control of alcohol and drug use, and the qualification and certification of conductors. The changes would reduce regulatory burdens on the railroad industry while maintaining the existing level of safety.
This regulation is effective January 14, 2021.
Executive Summary

On May 9, 2019, FRA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 240, Qualification and Certification of Locomotive Engineers (part 240).[1In response to that NPRM, FRA received three written comments.

This final rule responds to those comments and amends part 240 by: Making part 240 more consistent with the language in 49 CFR part 242, Qualification and Certification of Conductors (part 242); creating two provisions under which railroads may issue temporary locomotive engineer certifications; merging FRA’s locomotive engineer and conductor review boards; adopting aspects of part 242 for locomotive engineer certification; providing labor representatives with the ability to provide input on a railroad’s part 240 program; and allowing for and encouraging the use of electronic document submission of a railroad’s part 240 program. This final rule also makes technical amendments to part 242 to: (1) Make the requirement for calibration of audiometers used during hearing tests for conductors the same as the requirement in part 240 for locomotive engineers; and (2) conform the definition of “main track” in part 242 to the definition of “main track” in part 240.

Additionally, this final rule makes conforming amendments to title 49 CFR part 219, Control of Alcohol and Drug Use (part 219) to update two cross-references to part 240. Updating these references is necessary to ensure consistency between part 219 and part 240, as amended.

The final rule will create new costs. First, each locomotive engineer certification manager will need to review the amendments made to part 240 to ensure compliance is maintained. Second, amendments to part 240 will require each railroad to provide a copy of its part 240 plan to the president of each labor organization whenever the railroad files a submission, resubmission, or makes a material modification to its plan. Third, a railroad will need to maintain service records for certified locomotive engineers who are not performing service that requires locomotive engineer certification. For the 20-year period of analysis, the cost of the final rule will be $233,779 (undiscounted), $171,764 (PV 7%), and $200,775 (PV 3%).

The final rule will also create cost savings. First, adding clarity in part 240 and conforming language in part 240 to part 242 will reduce stakeholder burden related to review and compliance with part 240. Second, it will reduce the burden on a railroad when providing another railroad with information about a former employee’s prior service records. Third, it will update the program submission process to allow for electronic document submission, which will reduce stakeholder paperwork and submission costs related to part 240 program submissions and locomotive engineer certification petitions. Fourth, it will remove the requirement for railroads to obtain a waiver from the annual testing requirements for certified locomotive engineers who are not performing service that requires certification. For the 20-year period of analysis, the cost savings of the final rule will be $12.3 million (undiscounted), $6.9 million (PV 7%), and $9.4 million (PV 3%).

As shown in Table ES.1, the regulatory evaluation quantifies the economic impact of the final rule in terms of cost savings and new costs accruing to stakeholders. For the 20-year period of analysis, the final rule will result in a net cost savings of $12.0 million (undiscounted), $6.8 million (PV 7%), and $9.2 million (PV 3%). This final rule is an Executive Order (E.O.) 13771 deregulatory action. Details on the estimated costs of this final rule can be found in the rule’s economic analysis.

(Click here to view table).

The final rule will create benefits. First, the final rule will amend the part 240 program submission process to require railroads to solicit labor input, providing for fully informed decisions by railroads. Second, it affords railroads additional time and flexibility to comply with some regulatory requirements. Third, it creates certain provisions that allow for temporary locomotive engineer certificates. Fourth, electronic filing will make information more accessible to interested stakeholders and the public. Because FRA lacks sufficient information related to these four benefits, this analysis could not accurately quantify these benefits. Therefore, the rule’s economic analysis qualitatively explains benefits.

The final rule will also reduce Governmental administrative costs, including mailing, filing, and storing costs related to amendments to part 240, by allowing the Government and stakeholders to transmit and store documents electronically.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full final rule as published in the Federal Register.

Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/18/2020


FRA is proposing to revise its regulations governing changes to positive train control (PTC) systems and reporting on PTC system functioning. First, recognizing that the railroad industry intends to enhance further FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability, FRA proposes to modify the process by which a host railroad must submit a request for amendment (RFA) to FRA before making certain changes to its PTC Safety Plan (PTCSP) and FRA-certified PTC system. Second, to enable more effective FRA oversight, FRA proposes to: Expand an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual; broaden the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, not just failure-related information; and require host railroads to utilize a new, standardized Biannual Report of PTC System Performance (Form FRA F 6180.152). Overall, the proposed amendments would benefit the railroad industry, the public, and FRA, by reducing unnecessary costs, facilitating innovation, and improving FRA’s ability to oversee PTC system performance and reliability, while not negatively affecting rail safety.


Written comments must be received by February 16, 2021. FRA believes a 60-day comment period is appropriate to allow the public to comment on this proposed rule. FRA will consider comments received after that date to the extent practicable.


Comments: Comments related to Docket No. FRA-2019-0075 may be submitted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and following the online instructions for submitting comments.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket number (FRA-2019-0075), and Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) for this rulemaking (2130-AC75). All comments received will be posted without change to https://www.regulations.gov;​ this includes any personal information. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act information related to any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to https://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for accessing the docket.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full notice of proposed rulemaking as published in the Federal Register.

Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/22/2020

Pursuant to the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, FRA proposes to issue regulations requiring certain railroads to develop and implement a Fatigue Risk Management Program, as one component of the railroads’ larger railroad safety risk reduction programs.
Written comments must be received by February 22, 2021. Comments received after that date will be considered to the extent practicable without incurring additional expense or delay.

Comments related to Docket No. FRA-2015-0122 may be submitted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket name and docket number or Regulatory Identification Number (RIN) for this rulemaking (2130-AC54). Note that all comments received will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act information on any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov.

Introduction and Executive Summary:

Purpose of Rulemaking

This proposed rule is part of FRA’s efforts to improve rail safety continually and to satisfy the statutory mandate of Section 103 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA).[1That section, codified at 49 U.S.C. 20156, requires Class I railroads; railroad carriers with inadequate safety performance (ISP), as determined by the Secretary; and railroad carriers that provide intercity rail passenger or commuter rail passenger transportation to develop and implement a safety risk reduction program to improve the safety of their operations. The section further requires a railroad’s safety risk reduction program to include a “fatigue management plan” meeting certain requirements.

This proposed rule, if finalized, would fulfill RSIA’s mandate for railroads to include fatigue management plans in their safety risk reduction programs by requiring railroads to develop and implement Fatigue Risk Management Programs (FRMPs).[2As proposed, a railroad would implement its FRMP through an FRMP plan.

Under this proposed rule, consistent with the mandate of Section 20156, an FRMP is a comprehensive, system-oriented approach to safety in which a railroad determines its fatigue risk by identifying and analyzing applicable hazards and takes action to mitigate, if not eliminate, that fatigue risk.[3As proposed, a railroad would be required to prepare a written FRMP plan and submit it to FRA for review and approval. A railroad’s written FRMP plan would become part of its existing safety risk reduction program plan. A railroad would also be required to implement its FRA-approved FRMP plan, conduct an internal annual assessment of its FRMP, and consistent with Section 20156’s mandate, update its FRMP plan periodically. As part of a railroad safety risk reduction program, a railroad’s FRMP would also be subject to assessments by FRA.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full notice of proposed rulemaking as published in the Federal Register.


The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.
Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.
The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.
Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.
“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”
The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.
“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.
Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.
She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.
The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.
Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.
“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”
Both Campbell and Knutson told the story of the girl’s rescue to the Fox 9 television station in Minneapolis-St. Paul and brought a teddy bear to share with the girl.
“Let her know that we’re glad she’s doing good,” Campbell told reporter Christina Palladino.

For months now, your union has been collecting hundreds of reports from members of our and other rail unions that document instances when railroad technology doesn’t work as intended.
While carriers might see technology as a stepping-stone to more money and the eventual replacement of employees with full automation, we want to collect real-world data showing that sometimes these “improved” technologies are more of a stumbling block when not working as intended.
Data is being collected via a form on the SMART TD website directly linked at (smart-union.org/railroad-technology-event-report) or look for the red flashing button on right of the main page, then follow that link to report incidences involving Positive Train Control, Trip Optimizer/LEADER, DPU (distributed power), EOT/HTD’s or radio transmission failures among crew members when dealing with long trains.
The real-world data that members contribute helps our organization to formulate a plan to protect members and the general public and to ensure the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, and this information is being sought on a voluntary basis, said Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity, who helped to create the report form.
“The railroads like to tout there is no data to support that two-person crews are safer than a one-person crew. The irony, however, is that the counter-point to their argument is also true — there is no data to support that one-person crews are any safer than two-person crews either,” he said. “Over the years [they] have purposefully chosen to not collect the data, despite having the ability to do so, because they know the truth will hurt their position.”
The way to combat this is by gathering reports from the people who are dealing directly with the situations created when the technology does not function as intended, Cassity said.
“By members submitting this very important information we are able to provide the one thing the railroads cannot or will not — data,” Cassity said. “And that data proves these technological safety overlay systems are not capable of replacing the human element, specifically two-person crews.”
Reports submitted through this form go to union safety leadership for collection. The reports are not a substitute for filling out a report to a carrier or to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
“The railroads have fired the first shot in this round of the crew-consist war, and we need all hands on deck, everyone doing their part to complete these reports,” Cassity said. “This data may very well just be what makes the difference.”

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Aug. 24 that it has awarded $203,698,298 in grant funding for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for 28 projects in 15 states. FRA also released a status update of PTC for the second quarter.
The funds are part of the $250 million that the FRA has available specifically for the implementation of PTC appropriated from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.
A Notice Of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $250 million was published in May, and solicitations for the funds had to be received by July 2. The FRA expects to publish a second NOFO in the Federal Register for the remaining $46,301,702 available.
Click here to read the full press release from the FRA and to view a list of railroads receiving the grant money.
As for the state of PTC, 15 railroads have installed 100 percent of the PTC system hardware on their locomotives and their trackage, FRA said. BNSF and KCS are the only two Class I railroads listed as having 100 percent of their track segments installed with PTC while Union Pacific is listed as having 98 percent of installation completed. BNSF, Metrolink and Northstar Commuter Rail are all listed as having PTC in complete operation. FRA reports that 37,705 route miles or 65 percent of the approximately 58,000 route miles have sufficient revenue service demonstration or are in operation. (Revenue service demonstration is one of the criteria needed to qualify for an extension of the deadline.)
The second quarter has also seen a 25 percent drop in the number of “at-risk” railroads – FRA considers any railroad that installed less than 90 percent of its PTC system hardware as of June 30, 2018, to be at risk. There are currently nine at-risk railroads: New Mexico Rail Runner Express, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, Altamont Corridor Express, MARC, Trinity Railway Express, TriRail, Caltrain and Florida’s SunRail. Of the nine deemed at risk, all but three (Altamont Corridor Express, New Jersey Transit and TriRail) were awarded part of the $250 million grant.
“The railroads have achieved some significant improvements over the past year implementing this safety technology,” said FRA Administrator Ron Batory. “While we are seeing progress among a majority of railroads, we want to see everyone meet their requirements.”
All Class I railroads and commuter railroads are required to have PTC fully implemented by Dec. 31, 2018, unless the carrier qualifies for an alternative schedule under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act). Railroads approved for an alternate schedule must contain a deadline that is as soon as practicable, but no later than Dec. 31, 2020.
Click here to view a chart of carriers’ progress of implementing PTC. Click here to read FRA’s entire press release on the progress of PTC implementation.

Railroads’ progress on Positive Train Control remains uneven

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (US DOT’s) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today released a status update on its efforts to assist railroads in implementing positive train control systems (PTC), along with the railroads’ self-reported progress for the fourth quarter of 2017.

At the direction of Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the FRA is taking a proactive approach to ensure railroads acquire, install, test and fully implement certified PTC systems in time to meet the congressional interim deadline of December 31, 2018.

“It is the railroads’ responsibility to meet the congressionally mandated PTC requirements,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The FRA is committed to doing its part to ensure railroads and suppliers are working together to implement PTC systems.”

Between January 2 and February 14, 2018, FRA’s leadership hosted face-to-face meetings with executives from each of the 41 railroads subject to the statutory mandate. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate each railroad’s PTC status and learn what remaining steps each needs to take to have a PTC system fully implemented by the December deadline or, at a minimum, to meet the statutory criteria necessary to qualify for an alternative schedule.

As a result of the meetings with railroads, FRA is now meeting with PTC suppliers to learn more about their capacity to meet the high demands for railroads’ implementation of PTC systems in a timely manner.

PTC systems are designed to prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and trains going to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position.

All railroads subject to the statutory PTC implementation mandate must implement FRA-certified and interoperable PTC systems by the end of the year. Under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, however, Congress permits a railroad to request FRA’s approval of an “alternate schedule” with a deadline beyond December 31, 2018, but no later than December 31, 2020, for certain non-hardware, operational aspects of PTC system implementation. The congressional mandate requires FRA to approve a railroad’s alternative schedule with a deadline no later than December 31, 2020, if a railroad submits a written request to FRA that demonstrates the railroad has met the statutory criteria set forth under 49 U.S.C. § 20157(a)(3)(B).

The fourth quarter data, current as of December 31, 2017, shows PTC systems are in operation on approximately 56 percent of freight railroads’ route miles that are required to be governed by PTC systems—up from 45 percent last quarter and 16 percent on December 31, 2016. Passenger railroads have made less progress—with PTC systems in operation on only 24 percent of required route miles, unchanged from the previous quarter.

The latest data confirms that railroads continue to make progress in installing PTC system hardware, with 15 railroads reporting they have completed installation of all hardware necessary for PTC system implementation and another 11 railroads reporting they have installed over 80 percent of PTC system hardware. In addition, all but three railroads report having acquired sufficient spectrum for their PTC system needs.

For more key implementation data for the fourth quarter, see the infographics here: https://www.fra.dot.gov/ptc.

To view the public version of each railroad’s Quarterly PTC Progress Report (Form FRA F 6180.165, OMB Control No. 2130-0553) for Quarter 4 of 2017, please visit each railroad’s PTC docket on https://www.regulations.gov/. Railroads’ PTC docket numbers are available at https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0628.

On February 4, 2018, southbound Amtrak train 91, operating on a track warrant, diverted from the main track through a hand-thrown switch into a siding and collided head-on with stationary CSX Transportation local freight train F777 03 on the CSX Columbia Subdivision in Cayce, S.C.

The engineer and conductor of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision and at least 92 passengers and crewmembers on the Amtrak train were transported to medical facilities. The engineer of the stopped CSX train had exited the lead locomotive before the Amtrak train entered the siding, ran to safety, and was not injured. The conductor of the CSX lead locomotive saw the Amtrak train approaching in the siding and ran to the back of locomotive. The conductor was thrown off the locomotive and sustained minor injuries.

The normal method of train operation on the subdivision was a traffic control system with wayside signals. Signal indications authorize movement in either direction. On the day before the accident, CSX signal personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for implementing positive train control (PTC) on the subdivision. During the suspension, scheduled to last through February 4, 2018, dispatchers would use track warrants to move trains through absolute blocks in the work territory.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators inspected the track structure, signal system and mechanical equipment; collected and are examining records for operations, signal systems, mechanical equipment, and track and engineering; and interviewed train crewmembers, train dispatchers and other personnel from CSX and Amtrak. In addition, investigators are reviewing the emergency response to the accident. Members of the NTSB investigative team traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., to investigate the dispatching aspects of the accident, to test the CSX signal system and to conduct additional interviews.

While on-scene, NTSB investigators located and removed the undamaged event data recorder from the destroyed Amtrak locomotive. The event data recorder was successfully downloaded and an initial review of the data revealed the following information:

  • From the train’s last stop, the maximum speed reached 57 mph, which was below the 59 mph limit allowed under signal suspension rules.
  • About 7 seconds before the end of the recording, the train was moving at 56 mph and the train’s horn was activated for 3 seconds.
  • The brake pipe pressure began decreasing 2 seconds later.
  • The following second, the throttle transitioned from full throttle to idle, while the train was moving at 54 mph.
  • The engineer induced emergency braking one second later, while the train was moving at a speed of 53 mph.
  • The recording ended 2 seconds later, as the train’s air braking system was approaching maximum braking effort and the train’s speed was 50 mph.

The Amtrak locomotive’s forward-facing video recorder hard drive was recovered and downloaded. The initial review of the recording indicated that it ended prior to the collision. NTSB engineers are attempting additional forensic efforts to determine if additional information can be recovered. Other investigative efforts included the download of information from the forward-facing video recorder and the extraction of the event recorder from the CSX lead locomotive.

Parties to the investigation include the Federal Railroad Administration, CSX, Amtrak, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; International Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, and the State of South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff.

In response to this accident, the NTSB issued an urgent recommendation requesting that the Federal Railroad Administration issue an emergency order providing instructions for railroads to follow when signal suspensions are in effect and a switch has been reported relined for a main track.

These are the preliminary findings of the NTSB and will be either supplemented or corrected during the course of the investigation.

NTSB Figure – A view of the accident scene

A current SMART Transportation Division conductor and a former member were killed when Amtrak Train 91 traveling from New York to Miami collided early Feb. 4 with a stationary CSX freight train east of Columbia, S.C.
Brother Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Fla., was a conductor out of Local 30 in Jacksonville, Fla. He, along with the train’s engineer, Michael Kempf, a former SMART TD member out of Georgia, died in the accident, which injured more than 100 passengers, in Cayce, S.C.
Cella hired on with Amtrak as an assistant conductor in July 2008 and became a full member of SMART TD in September of that year.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the collision that happened about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 4 when the Amtrak locomotive hit the locomotive of the parked CSX train head-on.
Train 91 was carrying eight crew members and 139 passengers, Amtrak said on a posting on its website.
“We are cooperating fully with the NTSB, which is leading the investigation, as well as working with FRA and CSX. CSX owns and controls the Columbia Subdivision where the accident occurred,” Amtrak said in a statement on Twitter. “CSX maintains all of the tracks and signal systems. CSX controls the dispatching of all trains, including directing the signal systems which control the access to sidings and yards.”
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt also said during a news conference that CSX owns and operates the tracks that the Amtrak train was traveling. A switch that was “lined and locked” in the position to divert traffic onto the track where the CSX train was parked is being considered a cause of the accident.
“Key to this investigation is learning why the switch was lined that way,” Sumwalt said.
“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock,” he said when asked by a reporter if there was any physical indication that the switch was faulty.
A statement issued by CSX offered condolences to the families of Cella and Kempf and said that the carrier was focused on providing assistance and support to those affected by the accident.
Sumwalt said that the forward-facing video recorder from the Amtrak locomotive had been recovered and was already transported to the NTSB offices in Washington D.C. for investigation.
The event recorders from both trains were still being sought, he said.
“Fully operational positive train control could have avoided this accident,” Sumwalt said.
In a tweet, NTSB said it expected to release additional information at 4 p.m. Eastern Feb. 5.
The Cayce accident is the third fatal incident in three months involving Amtrak trains. A derailment off an overpass in Washington state in December killed three passengers, and an occupant of a garbage truck that was struck by an Amtrak train Jan. 31 near Charlottesville, Va., also died.
Follow this link for video of the NTSB investigation.

SMART TD’s John Risch, fourth from left.

WASHINGTON – John Risch, SMART TD National Legislative Director, participated in hearings as a member of the Roundtable on Emerging Railroad Technologies on March 21, 2017. Discussion focused on new and emerging trends in railroad safety including train crew size, recent advancements in train brake technology, and early warning systems.
“Thank you Chairman Schuster, Subcommittee Chair Denham, and Ranking Member Capuano for inviting me to the roundtable discussion on emerging railroad technologies. With nearly 40 years in the railroad industry, I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the importance of maintaining minimum crew sizes, implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), and most importantly investing in the installation of Electronic Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes, which are vital to safety of our railroads,” said John Risch, SMART-TD National Legislative Director.
“I look forward to working with the members of the committee to improve railroad safety as we discuss opportunities to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure,” Risch continued.
Click here to read Risch’s complete notes from the hearing.
Click here for information on participants and to view video.

Jan. 3 – SMART Transportation Division submitted comments protesting in-cab distractions to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA recently issued a public notice in docket FRA 2016-0002-N-22, allowing for comments to be made on in-cab distractions.

“We have been concerned about the increase of in-cab distractions for some time and have submitted letters and comments to the FRA with our concerns. Two examples are Trip Optimizer and Leader, which are computer-generated devices located in locomotive cabs that are allegedly being used to save fuel,” SMART TD’s National Legislative Director John Risch said in the comments.
“In addition, PTC implementation is causing greater cab distractions than we had hoped it would. Instead of the PTC system simply stopping trains when necessary, they are constantly messaging the engineer to take some minor corrective action and requiring the engineer to interact immediately, which takes the crews’ focus off the track ahead and on the cab electronic device.”

Click here to read the full comments made by SMART TD to the FRA.

In light of the deadly NJT September 29th transit crash in Hoboken, NJ, that killed one person and injured more than 100, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate subcommittee that oversees passenger rail safety, and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate mass transit subcommittee, submitted a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx , calling for DOT to investigate the long list of safety violations, accidents and apparent systemic failures that have plagued the  NJT in recent years. The NTSB is currently investigation the crash. Read the complete article posted in NJ.com, here.