A victory for safety was achieved in June when the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Board denied a request by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to lengthen the “off-air” restriction from four to 24 hours for required brake tests and inspections.
AAR had written to FRA in December 2017 seeking a petition for waiver, arguing that safety would not be affected and that lengthening the off-air restriction would bring U.S. requirements in line with Canada’s 24-hour off-air restriction.
However, SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and union leaders from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) and Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (TCU/IAM)’s letter in February urged FRA officials to deny the request.
The waiver would be unenforceable and too far-reaching, the unions argued.
“Despite the carriers’ safety assurances, the labor organizations have concerns with this far sweeping request for waiver given the fact that it will cover AAR’s entire membership,” the unions said. “To allow such a sweeping waiver request to go forward, each railroad would have to demonstrate that the cars on their railroad had state of the art brake valves, dryers and automatic moisture drainage. It is hard to imagine FRA granting such a ‘one size fits all’ waiver to each of AAR’s member railroads.”
The FRA board agreed with SMART TD and the other rail unions, with Robert Lauby, FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety, saying in the agency’s June 19 denial letter that the petition was better considered as part of the rulemaking process.
The board also said that AAR failed to prove that the changes would not have an adverse effect on safety.
“Based on its review and analysis, the board concluded that granting the requested relief would not be in the public interest or consistent with rail safety,” Lauby wrote.
Lauby also said in the letter that the data provided by AAR to support its petition did not cover the variety of real-world conditions encountered while running trains.
“Absent more detailed data demonstrating that safety would not be compromised, the Board concluded that the waiver request was not justified,” Lauby said.