Archive for the ‘Safety Alert’ Category

SMART-TD leadership warns of FRA’s new brake rule, urges caution

December 18, 2020
 
 
Brothers and Sisters:

As we find ourselves amid what is historically the most dangerous season of the year, I must unfortunately caution you of new additional intensified dangers borne from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) most recent Final Rulemaking. On Friday, December 11, 2020, the FRA granted an extensive and exhaustive list of regulation changes, the vast majority of which served to lower the bar of safety and increase the profit margin for this nation’s rail carriers. This is evidenced in the no less than two dozen references of cost savings to the carriers as a result of this rulemaking. Not only has the FRA once again vacated its role as the country’s chief safety regulator, but it has also failed in its own mission statement, vision, and purpose.

As you are aware, a known unsafe condition exists with the DB-10 brake valves in cold weather conditions. In fact your Union, on December 15, 2019, petitioned the FRA to issue an Emergency Order that would prioritize safety over productivity by requiring the replacement of the defective valves and disallow the railroads’ attempts to apply stopgap procedures that only camouflage and exacerbate the seriousness of the situation. That petition was unfortunately denied by the FRA muzzling our request for the safest course of action.

Due to the FRA’s reckless action, rolling stock is now permitted to be off-air for 24 hours before requiring a new brake inspection. This means that the only true method of identifying the faulty brake valves has been reduced immeasurably, if not eliminated altogether on certain properties. As a result, the regularity of brake inspections has now been reduced to a fraction of the previous standard, and, thus defective brake valves will be permitted to remain in service longer and be more apt to adversely affect a train’s braking capabilities. Given the consequence of these faulty valves remaining in place is that they render a train’s emergency brake feature inoperative, I am asking all to please remain diligent in your daily duties and to take nothing for granted. This includes railroad workarounds designed to mask flawed brake valves like drawing the brake pipe pressure down to zero before making a separation. Should a carrier official ask you to perform such a task, please notify my office as soon as it is safe and proper to do so, so that we may address it with the carrier and applicable government agencies.

The railroads have historically had trouble maintaining an accurate record of when a train or car(s) initiates its “off air” status (and that was with the four-hour limit). I highly anticipate major complications regarding the determination of actual time off air when going on-duty or making a pick-up. If you feel as though you are being instructed to move equipment that has been off air greater than twenty-four hours, please report it to your supervisor and to my office. Do not be insubordinate, but also do not allow the instance to go unreported or undocumented. We will progress the report accordingly.

In addition to the time off-air regulation, the FRA has also made changes to regulations regarding single-car air brake tests, end-of-train devices, helper service, brake maintenance, additional brake-related items, utility employee duties, and various other rules and/or processes.

It is clear the intent of these changes was not to improve safety, but rather to widen the avenue in which railroads can operate without oversight or guidance – a devastating scenario we just experienced with the Boeing 737 Max. As such, please rest assured that our legal department is currently in the process of filing a formal appeal and petition of reconsideration to overturn this extremely dangerous and egregious action. However, until a recourse can be achieved, it is on all of us to have our brothers’ and sisters’ backs. It is clear that the FRA and carriers do not.

Fraternally yours,
 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President – Transportation Division

 

Click here to view this letter as a PDF.

NTSB issues 6 safety recommendations following investigation of train derailment, hazardous materials release

NTSB investigators Ruben Payan (left) and Paul Stancil survey the scene of the Aug. 2, 2017, Hyndman, Pennsylvania, train derailment in this photo taken Aug. 4, 2017. © NTSB

WASHINGTON (Dec. 10, 2020) — The National Transportation Safety Board issued Rail Accident Report 20/04 Thursday for its investigation of the Aug. 2, 2017, CSX Transportation, Inc. freight train derailment and release of hazardous materials near Hyndman, Pennsylvania.

No injuries were reported in connection with the derailment of 33 of 178 rail cars but three homes were damaged and about 1,000 residents were within the 1-mile radius evacuation zone. CSX estimated damages at $1.8M.

The accident train consisted of five locomotives and 178 cars, 128 of which were loaded, and 50 rail cars were empty.

NTSB investigators determined the probable cause of the derailment was the inappropriate use of hand brakes on empty rail cars to control train speed, and the placement of blocks of empty rail cars at the front of the train consist. Investigators also determined CSX operating practices contributed to the derailment.

Safety issues addressed in the investigation include:

  • CSX operational practices for building train consists that allowed for excessive longitudinal and lateral forces to be exerted on empty cars
  • Use of hand brakes to control train movement
  • Assessment and response to fires involving jacketed rail tank cars

Based on its investigation the NTSB issued a total of six safety recommendations, including one to the Federal Railroad Administration, three to CSX, one to the Association of American Railroads and one to the Security and Emergency Response Training Center. The recommendations seek:

  • Guidance for railroads to use in developing required risk reduction programs
  • Revision of rules for building train consists
  • Prohibiting use of hand brakes on empty rails cars for controlling train movement in grade territory
  • Incorporation of the lessons learned from this derailment about fire-exposed jacketed pressure tank cars in first responder training programs

Rail Accident Report 20/04 is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xA3Bb and the docket for the investigation is available at https://go.usa.gov/xA3ZE.

FRA issues final rule modernizing brake safety standards

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today issued a final rule, extending the amount of time freight rail equipment can be left off-air (meaning parked with its air brake system depressurized) before requiring a new brake inspection, which is expected to reduce the number of idling locomotives. The final rule incorporates longstanding waivers for brake inspections, tests and equipment, while clarifying existing regulations and removing outdated provisions.

These revisions contemporize Brake System Safety requirements by incorporating safer, newer technologies, reduce unnecessary costs and increase consistency between U.S. and Canadian regulations.

“Incorporating technologies and safety practices, this final rule improves freight rail efficiency and will make our freight rail system competitive for the future,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “Issuing waivers permitting railroads to test these practices gave us an opportunity to verify the safety benefits. Modernization no longer has to happen by waiver; it’s permanent, and the economic impact to freight rail couldn’t come at a more pressing time.”

Canada has allowed trains to be off air for 24 hours since 2008, and Canada’s operational safety data supports FRA’s action. FRA’s final rule permits trains to be off air for as long as 24 hours, bringing the U.S. in line with our neighbors to the north.

The regulatory cost savings is estimated to be over $500 million over the next decade, adding to the over $93 billion in regulatory savings accomplished under the leadership of Secretary Elaine L. Chao and the current administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

With this change, FRA estimates the industry will perform 110,000 fewer Class I brake inspections annually. The change reduces the cost and time needed for inspections while permitting more flexibility to turn off locomotives, which is expected to result in fewer locomotives idling in rail yards. FRA will continue to require a Class III brake inspection when adding freight cars to trains.

The final rule incorporates new technology to test brakes on each freight car, permitting two types of automated tests for individual freight cars. “In the more than four years since FRA began issuing waivers for this procedure, we’ve seen it used on more than 800,000 rail cars and have observed remarkable safety improvements,” Batory added.

Cars tested with an automated single car test device showed an 18% reduction in repeat freight car brake failures. Cars tested with the four pressure method showed a 58% reduction in repeat freight car brake failures. These demonstrated improvements permit FRA to increase the testing intervals for freight cars from one year to 24- or 48-month intervals, depending on the automated test method a railroad uses.

FRA is also changing the required height for end-of-train (EOT) marking device displays, reducing it from 48 inches to 40 inches above the top of the rail. This change will permit the manufacture and use of smaller and lighter EOT devices, making them easier and safer for rail workers to carry.

“Issuing test waivers allows our teams to set conditions for railroads to try new technologies,” Batory said. “We only approve waiver requests when we’re certain the changes maintain or improve safety. We’re confident that the changes outlined in this final rule will meet or exceed current safety standards while saving the industry money.”

This final rule addresses several technical issues. To learn more, click here to read the final rule on FRA’s website.

FRA’s SOFA issues safety alert

The FRA’s Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) working group recently released two new documents — one on the importance of job briefings and the other a safety alert following three switching accidents that have occurred since August.

In the safety alert, SOFA warned, “the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the 159 injuries that occurred this year through August 31, 2020, and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting the shove movement, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearance hazards. Last, but not least, remember to always hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes.”

Click here to read the full safety alert. 

In their “SOFA Lifesavers – Why Job Brief?” notice, SOFA details the importance to perform job briefings and points out that one in five switching operations fatalities lacked an adequate job briefing.

Click here to read SOFA Lifesavers – Why Job Brief?

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis working group was formed by the Federal Railroad Administration in the early 1990s in an effort to analyze switching accidents and prevent future accidents and fatalities. The group consists of representatives from the FRA, labor and management.

Click here to visit SMART-TD’s SOFA page where these and other SOFA documents are available.