In a blow to safety, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) repealed a 2015 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rule that required railroads to implement electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking technology on trains hauling hazardous flammable contents.
“Clearly the railroad industry’s overwhelming influence over the Trump administration is paying off in repealing the ECP brake rule,” said SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch. “ECP brakes are the safest, most advanced braking systems in the world and without some government requirement we will continue to use our current, outdated 150-year-old braking technology for the foreseeable future.”
The ECP brakes mandate was part of the 2015 rulemaking on DOT-117 tank cars. The rule stated that trains meeting the definition of a high-hazard flammable unit train (HHFUT) with at least one tank care with Packing Group I materials must be operated with ECP brakes by Jan. 1, 2021, or face reduced maximum speeds. All other HHFUT’s were required to have the system installed after 2023. DOT defines HHFUT as a single train with 70 or more tank cars loaded with Class 3 flammable liquids.
The Association of American Railroads has been lobbying for repeal of the rulemaking since its 2015 inception.
In Nov. 2017, Risch made comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in support of ECP braking technology. Click here to read those comments.
On Nov. 13, 2017, the Department of Transportation (DOT) published a final rule that, among other items, expands DOT’s current drug testing panel to include certain semi-synthetic opioids (i.e., hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone). Testing for methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDEA) has been removed while methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) has been added as an initial test analyte.
The final rule also clarifies existing drug testing program provisions and definitions, makes technical amendments and removes the requirement for employers and Consortium/Third Party Administrators to submit blind specimens. The final rule becomes effective Jan. 1, 2018.
“The opioid crisis is a threat to public safety when it involves safety-sensitive employees involved in the operation of any kind of vehicle or transport,” said DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao. “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives.”
It happens every three hours in the United States: a person or vehicle is struck by a train. When this tragedy occurs, lives are changed forever: for the people involved in the crash, their family, friends and community, and the train crewmembers.
To raise awareness of the dangers of being on or around railroad tracks, the first U.S. Rail Safety Week is happening this year on September 24-30. This event is being spearheaded by Operation Lifesaver, Inc. in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation and other safety organizations.
Activities are being planned each day during the week to share lifesaving messages throughout our communities, including “Operation Clear Track” on Tuesday, September 26, a three-hour exercise to raise awareness and enforce the railroad grade crossing and trespassing laws.
The Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program is pleased to announce the following HazMat/Chemical Emergency Response Training Programs. This training addresses OSHA and DOT required training in addition to procedures, different levels of response and worker protection in a hazardous materials emergency or release, weapons of mass destruction awareness and the incident command system. The training also provides completion of the OSHA 10-Hour General Industry Outreach requirements. The programs are delivered using interactive classroom instruction, small group activities, hands-on drills and a simulated hazmat response in full safety gear.
The Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program is funded to provide this training by a federal grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). This five-day hazmat training course will provide rail workers the essential knowledge, skills, and response actions in the case of an unintentional release. These tools will allow rail workers to protect themselves, their co-workers and their communities.
The funding provides the following student expenses: air travel, lodging and meals. In addition, an incentive of $175.00 per day is available to all training participants of these programs, except those who are able to secure regular pay through their employer, or are paid union officers.
The dates of the training class are as follows:
November 12-17, 2017
January 7-12, 2018
February 11-16, 2018
March 18-23, 2018
Training will be conducted at the Houston Fire Department’s Val Jahnke Training Facility, 8030 Braniff Street Houston, TX 77061.
Programs begin Sunday evenings* at 5:30 p.m. and conclude Fridays at 1:00 p.m. Students may be asked to travel on Saturdays to meet program start times or where substantial reductions in airfare warrant. When registering, please select dates in order of preference:
On July 10, the House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, which includes funding for the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other related agencies.
Although the bill will fund many important transportation projects and agencies, including Amtrak, at the same time it eliminates funding for DOT’s TIGER grant program and prohibits any funding for the ongoing California high-speed rail project.
Since the program’s inception, the TIGER grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Demand is high in the TIGER grant program and 2016 saw requests that far exceeded the available funds allotted to the program.
If the House Appropriations bill passes as is, this valuable and much sought after program will be eliminated.
SMART TD reaction to bill
“These levels of funding for Amtrak are significant compared to the White House’s disastrous plan to eliminate long distance trains,”said John Risch, SMART TD national legislative director.“There is still a long ways to go in the process. We will continue to work with the entire House and Senate to strike the awful language regarding California high speed rail and try to get increased funding for both transit and passenger rail.
“In North Dakota, there is a nasty big-truck provision in the bill that would increase allowable truck weights to 129,000 lbs. – that needs to be removed,” Risch continued. “North Dakota’s roads and bridges are already being pounded by oil industry trucks and this terrible idea makes it final that passage road conditions will get far worse.”
Transportation Funding Highlights
Department of Transportation (DOT) – The bill includes $17.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2018. This is $646 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $1.5 billion above the President’s request. In total budgetary resources, including offsetting collections, the bill provides $76.7 billion to improve and maintain our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
The bill targets funding to programs and projects that will increase efficiency, safety, reliability and quality of life for the traveling public, and that will help improve commerce and economic growth.
Air – Included in the legislation is $16.6 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – $153 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $435 million above the request. This will provide full funding for all air traffic control personnel, including 14,500 air traffic controllers, 7,400 safety inspectors and operational support personnel. The bill also builds on several years of increased funding by providing over $1 billion for the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen), and funds Contract Towers at $162 million. These investments will help ease future congestion and help reduce delays for travelers in U.S. airspace. In addition, the bill does not include new passenger facility and general aviation fees.
Highways – The bill allows $45 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal-aid Highways Program, which is $968 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. This funding mirrors the authorized levels and will provide much needed growth and improvements within America’s highway system.
Rail – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is funded at $2.2 billion, $360 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $1.1 billion above the request. The bill provides a total of $1.4 billion for Amtrak, of which $328 million is for the Northeast Corridor grants, and $1.1 billion is to support the national network. The bill also continues to require overtime limits for Amtrak employees to reduce unnecessary costs. Rail safety and research programs are funded at $258.3 million, equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This will fund inspectors and training, plus maintenance and safety investments to the physical rail infrastructure, to help ensure the safety of passengers and local communities. The bill also provides funding for two authorized grant programs. It funds the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants at $500 million, which will address some of the $38 billion backlog on the Northeast Corridor – needs that must be addressed simply to sustain current rail services. In addition, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants are funded at $25 million, a reduction of $43 million from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Eligible activities include capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work and research. The bill prohibits funding for high speed rail in California, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and for FRA to administer a grant agreement with the Authority that contains a tapered match. The bill prohibits the Surface Transportation Board from taking action regarding the construction of high-speed rail in California unless the Board has jurisdiction over the entire project.
Transit – The bill provides $11.75 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) – $662 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $526 million above the request. Transit formula grants total $9.7 billion – consistent with the authorization level – to help local communities build, maintain and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems. Within this amount, $1.75 billion is included for Capital Investment Grants, and $1 billion for “Full Funding Grant Agreement” (FFGA) transit projects. Core capacity projects receive $145 million in the bill, $182 million is included to fund all state and local “Small Starts” projects, and $400 million is included for new projects that provide both public transportation and inner-city passenger rail service. These programs provide competitive grant funding for major transit capital investments – including rapid rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and commuter rail – that are planned and operated by local communities. Bill language limits the federal match for New Starts projects to 50 percent.
Maritime – The legislation includes $490.6 million for the Maritime Administration, $31.9 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This funding level will continue to increase the productivity, efficiency and safety of the nation’s ports and intermodal water and land transportation. The Maritime Security Program is funded at the full authorized level of $300 million.
Safety – The legislation contains funding for the various transportation safety programs and agencies within the Department of Transportation. This includes $927 million in total budgetary resources for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – an increase of $15 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level – and $758 million is included for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), $113.6 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Also included is $268 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an increase of $3.7 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
Grants – The legislation eliminates National Infrastructure Investment grants (also known as TIGER grants), which were funded at $500 million in fiscal year 2017.
Click here to read the full press release from the House Appropriations Committee.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a final rule, Friday, Dec. 2, that establishes a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse for commercial truck and bus drivers. The clearinghouse database will serve as a central repository containing records of violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program by commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders.
“An overwhelming majority of the nation’s freight travels by truck, and millions of passengers reach their destinations by bus, so creating a central, comprehensive, and searchable database of commercial motor vehicle drivers who violate federal drug and alcohol testing requirements has been a departmental priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This system will be a new technological tool that will make our roads safer.”
Once the clearinghouse is established, motor carrier employers will be required to query the system for information concerning current or prospective employees who have unresolved violations of the federal drug and alcohol testing regulations that prohibit them from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). It also requires employers and medical review officers to report drug and alcohol testing program violations.
The drug and alcohol clearinghouse final rule annual net benefits are an estimated $42 million, with crash reductions resulting from annual and pre-employment queries by FMCSA-regulated motor carriers.
“This is a major safety win for the general public and the entire commercial motor vehicle industry,” said FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling. “The clearinghouse will allow carriers across the country to identify current and prospective drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol, and employ those who drive drug- and alcohol-free. Drivers who test positive for drugs or alcohol will no longer be able to conceal those test results from employers and continue to drive while posing a safety risk to the driving public.”
The final rule requires motor carriers, medical review officers, third-party administrators, and substance abuse professionals to report information about drivers who:
Test positive for drugs or alcohol;
Refuse drug and alcohol testing; and
Undergo the return-to-duty drug and alcohol rehabilitation process.
Additionally, motor carriers will be required to annually search the clearinghouse for current employees, and during the pre-employment process for prospective employees, to determine whether a driver violated drug or alcohol testing requirements with a different employer that would prohibit them from operating a CMV.
Federal safety regulations require employers to conduct pre-employment drug testing and random drug and alcohol testing. Motor carriers are prohibited from allowing employees to perform safety-sensitive functions, which include operating a CMV, if the employee tests positive on a DOT drug or alcohol test.
In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a), a driver must grant consent before an employer can request access to that driver’s clearinghouse record and before FMCSA can release the driver’s clearinghouse record to an employer. After registering with the clearinghouse a driver can review his or her information at no cost.
Congress directed FMCSA to establish a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse as mandated by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
The national drug and alcohol clearinghouse Final Rule goes into effect in January 2020, three years after its effective date.
Provides new path for passenger safety to be evaluated and achieved; Agency invites comments on proposal
WASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposed updates for the passenger train safety standards used in the United States as the country looks to add high-speed trains that can travel up to 220 miles per hour and replace its aging passenger fleet. The proposed updates represent nearly a decade of work by FRA’s passenger rail division.
“As several regions of the United States build faster passenger rail service, the trains on those tracks must keep passengers safe,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “To do that, we want to allow manufacturers to innovate and achieve all-new levels of safety. These proposed changes put us on track to do just that.”
The proposed updates would establish a new category of passenger equipment, Tier III, for trains traveling up to 220 mph. The updates would offer an alternative method for evaluating how well passengers and crews are protected in an accident, often called crashworthiness. The public, railroad industry, railroad labor, manufacturers and other stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide feedback and comment on the proposed rule during the next 60 days.
In addition to measuring a train’s crashworthiness based on whether it meets current prescriptive strength standards, the proposed changes would allow a train’s crashworthiness to be evaluated based on it meeting an equivalent level of safety achieved through crash energy management technology or other innovative engineering methods.
“We look forward to hearing from everyone on how this proposal can help our country build a stronger passenger rail network – one that is not only faster but allows for new technologies to make passenger trains even safer,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.
Although Tier III trains will be required to have exclusive track to operate at speeds above 125 mph, the new standards will allow Tier III trains to safely share track with current Tier I and Tier II commuter, intercity and Acela trains. Compatibility between equipment types is a key strategy to allow trains to share existing corridors to reach downtown stations.
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.
Separate rules increase protections, add Maintenance of Way workers to drug and alcohol testing policy
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced it has issued two final rules to better protect railroad employees working on or near railroad tracks. One rule amends the existing Roadway Worker Protection regulation. The second rule, Control of Alcohol and Drug Use, revises FRA’s existing alcohol and drug testing regulations and expands the requirements to now cover maintenance of way (MOW) employees. The second rule fulfills a requirement of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
“Clear communication, multiple layers of safety and a rigorous alcohol and drug testing policy are critical to keep workers along and near tracks—and ultimately passengers and train crews—out of harm’s way,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These are common sense rules that will help make our railroads safer.”
The Roadway Worker Protection final rule amendments will: (1) resolve different interpretations that have emerged since the rule went into effect nearly 20 years ago; (2) implement FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee’s (RSAC) consensus recommendations; (3) codify certain FRA Technical Bulletins; (4) codify a FAST Act mandate by adopting new requirements governing redundant signal protections; (5) address the safe movement of roadway maintenance machinery over signalized non-controlled track (not under a dispatcher’s control); and (6) amend certain qualification requirements for roadway workers.
The latest amendments require that job briefings include information for roadway worker groups on the accessibility of the roadway worker in charge; set standards for how “occupancy behind” train authorities (when the authority for a work crew does not begin until the train has passed the area) can be used; and require annual training for any individual serving as a roadway worker in charge.
In addition to the existing requirement to have a primary means of protection by establishing working limits and a requirement that all affected roadway workers be notified before working limits are released, FRA’s rule changes will now require another level of redundant signal protection.
“These new rules add another layer of protection for workers who work along and near railroad tracks and will help us reduce preventable worker injuries and fatalities,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.
In response to both a congressional mandate and a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation, FRA is broadening the scope of its existing drug and alcohol testing regulation to cover MOW employees. Currently, a MOW employee is only drug and alcohol tested when he or she has died as a result of an accident or incident. MOW employees will now be fully subject to FRA’s drug and alcohol testing that includes random testing, post-accident testing, reasonable suspicion testing, reasonable cause testing, pre-employment testing, return-to-duty testing and follow-up testing.
“Whether you are an engineer, conductor or someone working alongside the tracks, safety requires alertness. Any reduction in awareness caused by drugs or alcohol use can often be the difference between life and death,” Feinberg added.
The Control of Alcohol and Drug Use rule, which also clarifies interpretations since the testing rule went into effect in 1986, includes other substantive changes. In response to another NTSB recommendation, the rule changes will now allow drug testing of railroad and MOW employees that are believed to have caused an incident at a railroad crossing.
The final Roadway Worker Protection rule is effective April 1, 2017. The Control of Alcohol and Drug Use goes into effect one year after publication.
USA Today reports that U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx threatened to shut down the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or D.C. Metro) if the company does not improve safety.
Foxx’s announcement comes after Metro employees refused DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) access to a tunnel following an explosion of a third-rail insulator last week.
As a result, the FTA issued a safety directive May 7 to WMATA requiring the agency to:
“take immediate action to reduce the risk of smoke and fire events, to enhance the exercise of its emergency preparedness program, to conduct an organization-wide safety stand-down to focus all departments on core safety protocols and procedures, and to make decisions based on safety rather than on operational demands.”
Click here to read FTA’s safety directive in its entirety.
Ed Wytkind, President of TTD, AFL-CIO, John Previsich, President of SMART Transportation Division and other union leaders have released a joint letter to Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), urging the DOT to issue a rule “to protect bus drivers and other transit operators from the physical assaults that are plaguing this industry.”
A week after railroads lost an appeal against the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new brake requirements, CSX Corp. (NYSE: CSX) has reinforced its stance against the new program.
The new brake rules were issued by the DOT in May, and included phasing in tougher tank car standards and new electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems on any trains carrying more than 70 cars of crude oil by 2021. On November 11, the agency’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration denied appeals against the rules.