The Federal Railroad Administration has issued a new report on the status of fatigue among railroad industry employees.

In 2001, the FRA began examining the fatigue status of safety-critical railroad employees by using logbooks to collect work and sleep data over a period of two weeks from a representative sample of employees in each group.

The research in this report was conducted prior to implementation of the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which made significant changes to limitations on hours of work for railroad employees. Consequently, the information in this report can serve as a baseline for examining the adequacy of existing statutory or regulatory limitations on hours of work to prevent worker fatigue.

This report draws on the results of several prior studies, all conducted with similar methodology, to characterize the prevalence of employee fatigue in the U.S. railroad industry.

Data from logbook surveys of signalmen, maintenance of way workers, dispatchers, and train and engine service employees were combined to examine the relationship between work schedules and sleep patterns.

Railroaders make up for lack of sleep on workdays by sleeping longer on rest days. This strategy is used to a greater extent among by certain groups such as signalmen working four 10-hour days, first shift dispatchers, and train and engine service workers on jobs with a fixed start time.

T&E workers in passenger service with a split assignment have a shorter primary sleep period than those working straight through or working extra board assignments, but they have similar total daily sleep because they sleep during their interim release.

Overall, U.S. railroad workers are more likely than U.S. working adults to get less than seven hours of total sleep on workdays, but railroad workers average more total sleep when sleep on workdays and rest days are combined.

Logbook data for work and sleep indicates that T&E workers and third shift dispatchers have the most fatigue exposure and passenger T&E workers have the least. Railroad workers in all groups had less fatigue exposure than those involved in human factors accidents.

The key findings of this report are as follows:

•The risk of a human factors accident is elevated 11 to 65 percent above chance by exposure to fatigue.

•The economic cost of a human factors accident when an employee is very fatigued is approximately $1,600,000, compared to $400,000 in the absence of fatigue.

•Amount of sleep and the time of day when sleep occurs account for 85 to 96 percent of fatigue exposure. Work schedules determine the amount and time of day of sleep.

•Dispatchers and T&E workers have the highest exposure to fatigue. They are also the groups that have the longest work hours and work at night.

•T&E as a group has significant fatigue exposure, but passenger T&E is the group with the least fatigue exposure. The predictability of passenger T&E schedules and less nighttime work explains this difference.

•The fatigue exposure of all groups is less than that of employees involved in human factors accidents, which indicates a relationship between fatigue and accidents.

•Significant differences resulting from job type and schedule exist in the sleep patterns of railroad workers. Analysis of data collected through a logbook study allows for identification of the differences that are not otherwise apparent.

•The sleep pattern of railroad workers differs from that of U.S. working adults. Railroad workers are more likely to get less than seven hours of total sleep on workdays, which puts them at risk of fatigue. On average, however, they obtain more total sleep than U.S. working adults, when total sleep hours on workdays and rest days are combined.

•Railroad workers in all groups reported sleep disorders that exceed U.S. norms for working adults. Of these, all but 2.4 percent were receiving treatment.

•The FRA fatigue model (FAST) provides a valid method of assessing fatigue exposure as a function of work schedule and sleep pattern.

These findings suggest that strategies for reducing railroad worker fatigue include improving the predictability of schedules and educating workers about human fatigue and sleep disorders.

To view the complete report, click here.

Sleep, fatigue, workplace safety and quality of life are stitched together tighter than the seams on a major league baseball – and unpredictable work schedules can undo those stitches faster than a Stephen Strasburg 100-mph heater.

A new website, created by sleep scientists at Harvard Medical School, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the Federal Railroad Administration – following anonymous survey input from train and engine workers represented by the UTU and the BLET – provides train and engine workers an interactive guide to a better understanding of factors that contribute to and inhibit proper rest.

The Railroaders’ Guide to Healthy Sleep website provides articles, videos, a game, a quiz and illustrations intended to help understand your body clock, recognize sleep impediments, reduce fatigue, stay alert and safe, and improve your quality of life.

Consider it high-tech chicken soup for the overworked rail struggling to balance work and family life.

Included are practical steps to combat fatigue by adjusting nap times and consumption of caffeine and other beverages and foods, and practical ways to deal with individual variations in sleep needs and the daily ups and downs in human alertness and sleepiness.

A quiz helps you determine how well you sleep, while an interactive game permits you to test your reaction time.

There also is information on sleep apnea and other sleep problems, and how to find sleep specialists in your neck of the woods.

Give the website a thorough test drive by clicking on the following link:

For many rails, the website may ensure your returning home in one piece – and for all rails, the website will help you achieve a better balance between work and family life.

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:

A sleep disorder is a dangerous medical condition; but, in most cases, treatment can be effective.

For this reason, a labor-management joint task force has agreed, in writing, that an employee with a treatable sleep disorder who is receiving proper treatment and is otherwise complying with the safety and operating requirements of the job, should have no fear that he or she would become disqualified from work.

A sleep disorder statement to that effect has been issued by the rail industry’s Work/Rest Task Force, comprised of representatives of the United Transportation Union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Class I railroads, which include BNSF, Canadian National (U.S. lines), Canadian Pacific (U.S. lines), CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

The statement also has been approved by the industry’s Safety and Operations Management Committee (SOMC), comprised of the chief operating officers of the member railroads of the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The sleep disorder statement is as follows:

Sleep disorders, like any other medical condition potentially affecting the safe performance of essential job functions or the safety of co-workers or the general public, require an individual assessment of the employee diagnosed with the condition to determine medical fitness for service and the necessity of any appropriate reasonable accommodations. The carrier’s medical policy for assessment of sleep disorders is intended to neither diminish in any way the employee’s responsibility for failure to comply with operating and safety rules, nor infringe upon an employee’s rights under an existing collective bargaining provision.

There are more than 80 different types of sleep disorders, ranging from insomnia (the inability to sleep) to narcolepsy (uncontrolled sleeping). The most common form of sleep disorder is sleep apnea, affecting as many as 18 million Americans. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night, and often for a minute or longer.

A recent study found that 60 percent of American adults experience sleep problems, but few recognize the importance of adequate rest, or are aware that sleep problems can be prevented and managed.

The good news is that most sleep disorders can be treated and most health insurance plans cover the diagnoses and treatment costs. If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, please discuss your problem with your physician or see a sleep disorder specialist.

For more information about sleep disorders and other sleep-related issues, go to the National Sleep Foundation’s website at

Additionally, go to, look to the left blue margin and click on “Health care.” Toward the bottom of that page, click on “Health Columns by Dr. Norman K. Brown,” the UTU’s medical consultant. Then, click on Dr. Brown’s column, “New hope for the sleepless.”