The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Railroad Safety issued the following bulletin on Feb. 13, 2024, in response to an industry fatality earlier this year. The text is reproduced below:

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is investigating an accident that resulted in fatal injuries to a locomotive engineer during yard switching operations.

At the time of the accident, the fatally injured engineer, who had approximately 30 years of experience, was operating a locomotive on the east side of the yard and working with a conductor and brakeman to switch cars. Another crew was switching cars on the west side of the yard and had set out 35 cars.

At some point, those 35 cars from the west side of the yard track rolled uncontrolled towards the east, colliding with the locomotive, occupied by the engineer, that was located on the east yard
track switching lead. The collision ejected the engineer from the locomotive cab and the engineer succumbed to his injuries.

Although FRA’s investigation into this accident is ongoing, FRA is issuing this bulletin to remind railroads and railroad employees of the importance of ensuring rolling equipment is properly secured at all times, including ensuring:

  1. Employees understand the importance of complying with railroad rules for securement of
    rolling equipment;
  2. Railroads provide employees adequate training on railroad operating rules and procedures
    for proper securement of rolling equipment;
  3. Railroads provide employees appropriate periodic oversight of compliance with railroad
    operating rules and procedures for proper securement of rolling equipment;
  4. Railroads empower employees to seek immediate clarification of any safety rule,
    including rules related to the securement of equipment; and
  5. Railroads remind employees of the dangers associated with improperly secured rolling

The purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to ensure the railroad industry, including railroad employees, are aware of this recent accident that resulted in a fatality of an employee. As FRA completes its investigation, it may take additional actions with respect to this accident.

For further information, please contact John Mayser, Operating Practices Specialist, at or (202) 493-8008.

Issued: February 13, 2024

This bulletin is available below as a printable PDF.

Remember to use the union’s Safety Condition Report either through the website or the SMART app to alert officers to concerns about your property. Railroad workers who experience difficulty with Positive Train Control are also encouraged to fill out a Technology Event Report.

“I’ve got two conductor trainees, both in the same state working for the same carrier whose lives have been cut short. The current condition of all railroad training programs is clearly in need of scrutiny. SMART-TD is not prepared to lose more of our men and women while we sit around and wait for a palatable solution. Our trainees are dying. I appreciate the FRA putting out a list of recommended fixes to this problem in their Safety Bulletin, but suggestions aren’t going to keep my people alive. It is time for actions and time for enforcement against these unsafe practices.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson

Phone: (216) 228-9400 x3300

Department Email:

August 23, 2023

On August 6th, in CSX’s Cumberland Yard, SMART-TD lost one of our newest brothers in a temporary close clearance-related accident. This accident is made all the more tragic by the fact that it was 100% preventable.

On Wednesday, August 16th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) put out a notice entitled, “Safety Bulletin 2023-05 in regard to the accident with the subject line of “Shoving Movement Close Clearance Fatality.” Though this is a decent summary of the raw facts of what happened, it doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of the untimely death of SMART-TD Local 600’s Travis Bradley, the newly hired conductor trainee out of CSX’s Cumberland, Maryland, crew base, which followed the death of another CSX trainee out of Maryland, Derek Scott “D.S.” Little, on July 1.

FRA’s Safety Bulletin 2023-05 emphasizes three central points. First, is that railroad companies have got to do a better job of identifying pinch points in their tracks where conductors are at risk of coming into contact with buildings, equipment, or rail cars/locomotives in adjacent tracks. Secondly, there is an obvious need for railroads to provide adequate training to the front-line employees as to how to properly and safely train newly hired employees. Finally, Safety Notice 2023-05 points out the need to establish a guideline for the level of work experience needed for a conductor to qualify as a proper instructor of trainees. In this case, the conductor working with the now-deceased trainee had less than one year experience on the railroad when he was trusted with the safety of a student conductor.

Close clearances in railroading are quite simply that. They are pinch points where the rail cars can fit without a problem but that a conductor or trainman riding the side of the car may not. In some rail customer industries, these close clearance points are clearly marked with signs that say “Close Clearance, Stop and Dismount.” Occasionally you can find one of these signs in a yard owned by the railroad itself, but for the most part, the railroads leave decisions on whether or not a close clearance is too close up to the muscle memory of the employee conducting the move.

What the FRA is saying in this bulletin, and that SMART-TD fully agrees with, is that time and effort needs to be put in on the part of these billion-dollar corporations to do studies of their rail yards to establish where these pinch points occur and make them known to employees. The railroads must properly identify and label these close clearances for the safety of all their employees, especially their newly hired conductors who are still learning the territory.

The second point made by FRA in Safety Bulletin 2023-05 is equally valid. Railroads are hiring new conductors as fast as they can get them screened and into hiring sessions. As new conductors are entering their workforce by the thousands, they do not have an infrastructure in place to teach their existing workforce how to safely and effectively act as On the Job Training (OJT) instructors for these new recruits. In a work environment as dangerous as our country’s railroads have proven to be historically, it is unthinkable that there is not a program in place to train the trainers. It is in most scenarios still the luck of the draw. If you are the trainee due to get called to work next, you are paired with the crew that is lined up to work that train. Not all railroad professionals have the natural ability or interest in teaching trainees. Many of these conductors and engineers show up to work and find out they have a trainee for the first time while they are walking to the locomotive having never been trained how to conduct themselves in this role with any semblance of keeping themselves or their trainee safe over the course of their work duties.

Finally, FRA also pointed out that there is no threshold for how much experience is required for a conductor to qualify as a trainer. With no exaggeration, there are many cases when on a conductor’s first call to work as a marked-up and qualified conductor on their own, they have a trainee assigned to them. This is neither productive nor safe for either conductor involved. The trainer has very little idea of how to keep him/herself safe and complete the tasks at hand, let alone do the same for the trainee. It is also problematic that this very green conductor has their reaction time slowed by the distraction of having a trainee shadowing them and asking questions.

SMART is calling for a threshold to be established by FRA to determine the amount of experience and level of instruction a conductor or trainmen must have before being tasked with training a new hire trainee.

SMART-TD has issued the following internal Safety Advisory to its members to begin a healthy dialogue between conductor trainees and their mentor conductors on these critical issues.


If you’re interested in speaking more about rail worker safety, and the changes SMART-TD is calling for, we’d be happy to connect you with:

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson

President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mich., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.

President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Fergusson headed the recent national rail negotiations for the union with the nation’s rail carriers.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes

Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019.

Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007 – 2014.

In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards.

Hynes was appointed the first chairperson of the UTU Rail Safety Task Force in 2009 and served in that capacity until being elected SMART Transportation Division alternate national legislative director at the Transportation Division’s 2014 convention.

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity

Jared Cassity, a member of Local 1377 (Russell, Ky.), was elected to the office of alternate national legislative director at the Second SMART Transportation Division Convention in August 2019 and became director of the TD National Safety Team in June 2021.

Cassity started his railroad career with CSX in September 2005 and was promoted to engineer in 2008.

In addition to his elected roles, he has been a member of the National Safety Team since 2014, where he was subsequently elected to the position of Alternate Director (East) for the NST in 2016. Likewise, he was elected by his fellow peers of state directors to serve as the directors’ representative on the CSX Safety Model Executive Board in 2013.


SUBJECT: Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Shove Movement Accident

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is investigating a recent switching accident that resulted in a crew member fatality.

Based on FRA’s preliminary investigation, a conductor with 18 years of service was fatally injured when the tank car he was riding to provide point protection for a switching move was struck by a dump truck. The incident occurred at a private grade crossing in a steel plant as the train consist traveled southward.

The dump truck, traveling west, stopped at the private highway-rail grade crossing, then proceeded and collided with the car the conductor was riding, killing the conductor. It was nighttime, the yard was lighted, and the conductor had his lantern turned on.

Prior to the incident, the conductor was in communication with the engineer via radio. The private highway-rail grade crossing was equipped with passive warning devices and stop signs.

The purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to ensure the railroad industry, including railroad employees, are aware of this recent accident that resulted in a fatality of an employee. As FRA completes its investigation, it may take additional actions with respect to this accident.

Although FRA’s investigation into this accident is ongoing, FRA notes the importance of ensuring pushing or shoving movements over highway-rail crossings are conducted safely, to include:

  • Proper training, periodic oversight, and application of appropriate railroad operating rules when determining whether the track is clear, and
  • Proper job briefings and communications between assigned crewmembers during pushing or shoving movements.

FRA requests that railroads review this Safety Bulletin with employees to increase awareness of the dangers of pushing and shoving movements at highway-rail grade crossings. FRA also
reminds railroads of the need to ensure all individuals involved in pushing or shoving movements are: (1) properly trained and qualified on how to conduct those operations safely;
and (2) understand what “track is clear” means related to a highway-rail grade crossing.

Additionally, FRA reminds railroads and train crew members of the work of the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group, a voluntary, non-regulatory, workplace safety partnership formed to identify commonalities among fatalities that occur during switching operations. SOFA findings are available on FRA’s website.

View this bulletin in PDF form.