Posts Tagged ‘FRA’

FRA roundup – several actions published in Federal Register

Over the past 1.5 weeks, the Federal Railroad Administration has published several notices in the Federal Register. Below are portions of those postings, including: Drug and alcohol testing: Determination of minimum random testing rates for 2021 (notification of determination); Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers – miscellaneous revisions (final rule); Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking); and Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking).


Drug and alcohol testing: Determination of minimum random testing rates for 2021 (notification of determination) – (published 12/15/2020)

Supplementary information:

FRA is announcing the 2021 minimum annual random drug and alcohol testing rates for covered service and MOW employees. For calendar year 2021, the minimum annual random testing rates for covered service employees will continue to be 25% for drugs and 10% for alcohol, while the minimum annual random testing rates for MOW employees will continue to be 50% for drugs and will be lowered to 10% for alcohol. Because these rates represent minimums, railroads and contractors may conduct FRA random testing at higher rates.

Discussion:

To set its minimum annual random testing rates for each year, FRA examines the last two complete calendar years of railroad industry drug and alcohol program data submitted to its Management Information System (MIS). FRA has also, however, reserved the right to consider factors other than MIS-reported data before deciding whether to lower annual minimum random testing rates. See 63 FR 71789 (Dec. 30, 1998).

Random testing rates for covered service employees

The rail industry’s random drug testing positive rate for covered service employees (employees subject to the Federal hours of service laws and regulations) remained below 1.0% for 2018 and 2019. The administrator has therefore determined the minimum annual random drug testing rate for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, will remain at 25% for covered service employees. The industry-wide random alcohol testing violation rate for covered service employees remained below 0.5% for 2018 and 2019. Therefore, the administrator has determined the minimum random alcohol testing rate will remain at 10% for covered service employees for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

Random testing rates for MOW employees

MOW employees became subject to FRA random drug and alcohol testing in June 2017. See 81 FR 37894 (June 10, 2016). FRA now has MIS data for two full consecutive years of the industry-wide performance rates for MOW employees, 2018 and 2019. While FRA may lower the minimum random drug testing rate to 25% whenever the industry-wide random drug positive rate is less than 1.0 percent for two consecutive calendar years while testing at the 50% rate, FRA has reserved the right to consider other factors before deciding whether to lower annual minimum random testing rates. See 63 FR 71789 (Dec. 30, 1998).

As illustrated in the figures in the appendix below, in contrast to the drug testing positive rate for covered service employees that remained substantially below 1.0% for 2018 and 2019, the random drug testing positive rate for MOW employees is not only trending upwards, but also approaching the 1.0% positive rate threshold at which point the administrator will raise the drug testing rate under 49 CFR 219.625(d)(2). Specifically, the industry-wide random drug testing violation rate for MOW employees increased from 0.69% in 2018 to 0.8% in 2019, and MOW employees continue to have a higher positive testing rate than covered service employees.[1The Administrator further notes that MOW employees who were performing duties for a railroad before June 12, 2017, were exempted from the pre-employment drug testing requirement. See 49 CFR 219.501(e). As such, some MOW employees may remain who have never been subject to FRA drug testing because they have not yet been randomly selected.

Taking these factors into consideration, the administrator finds it is currently not in the interest of railroad safety to lower the random drug testing rate for MOW employees. Therefore, for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, the administrator has determined that the minimum annual random drug testing rate will continue to be 50% for MOW employees.

Because the random alcohol testing violation rate for MOW employees remained substantially below 0.5% for 2018 and 2019, and has been trending downwards, the administrator has determined that the minimum annual random alcohol testing rate will be lowered to 10% for MOW employees for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

 Click here to read the full notice as published in the Federal Register.


Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers; miscellaneous revisions (final rule) – published 12/15/2020

Summary:

FRA is revising its regulation governing the qualification and certification of locomotive engineers to make it consistent with its regulation for the qualification and certification of conductors. The changes include: Amending the program submission process; handling engineer and conductor petitions for review with a single FRA review board (Operating Crew Review Board or OCRB); and revising the filing requirements for petitions to the OCRB. To ensure consistency throughout its regulations, FRA is also making conforming amendments to its regulations governing the control of alcohol and drug use, and the qualification and certification of conductors. The changes would reduce regulatory burdens on the railroad industry while maintaining the existing level of safety.

Dates:

This regulation is effective January 14, 2021.

Executive Summary

On May 9, 2019, FRA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 240, Qualification and Certification of Locomotive Engineers (part 240).[1In response to that NPRM, FRA received three written comments.

This final rule responds to those comments and amends part 240 by: Making part 240 more consistent with the language in 49 CFR part 242, Qualification and Certification of Conductors (part 242); creating two provisions under which railroads may issue temporary locomotive engineer certifications; merging FRA’s locomotive engineer and conductor review boards; adopting aspects of part 242 for locomotive engineer certification; providing labor representatives with the ability to provide input on a railroad’s part 240 program; and allowing for and encouraging the use of electronic document submission of a railroad’s part 240 program. This final rule also makes technical amendments to part 242 to: (1) Make the requirement for calibration of audiometers used during hearing tests for conductors the same as the requirement in part 240 for locomotive engineers; and (2) conform the definition of “main track” in part 242 to the definition of “main track” in part 240.

Additionally, this final rule makes conforming amendments to title 49 CFR part 219, Control of Alcohol and Drug Use (part 219) to update two cross-references to part 240. Updating these references is necessary to ensure consistency between part 219 and part 240, as amended.

The final rule will create new costs. First, each locomotive engineer certification manager will need to review the amendments made to part 240 to ensure compliance is maintained. Second, amendments to part 240 will require each railroad to provide a copy of its part 240 plan to the president of each labor organization whenever the railroad files a submission, resubmission, or makes a material modification to its plan. Third, a railroad will need to maintain service records for certified locomotive engineers who are not performing service that requires locomotive engineer certification. For the 20-year period of analysis, the cost of the final rule will be $233,779 (undiscounted), $171,764 (PV 7%), and $200,775 (PV 3%).

The final rule will also create cost savings. First, adding clarity in part 240 and conforming language in part 240 to part 242 will reduce stakeholder burden related to review and compliance with part 240. Second, it will reduce the burden on a railroad when providing another railroad with information about a former employee’s prior service records. Third, it will update the program submission process to allow for electronic document submission, which will reduce stakeholder paperwork and submission costs related to part 240 program submissions and locomotive engineer certification petitions. Fourth, it will remove the requirement for railroads to obtain a waiver from the annual testing requirements for certified locomotive engineers who are not performing service that requires certification. For the 20-year period of analysis, the cost savings of the final rule will be $12.3 million (undiscounted), $6.9 million (PV 7%), and $9.4 million (PV 3%).

As shown in Table ES.1, the regulatory evaluation quantifies the economic impact of the final rule in terms of cost savings and new costs accruing to stakeholders. For the 20-year period of analysis, the final rule will result in a net cost savings of $12.0 million (undiscounted), $6.8 million (PV 7%), and $9.2 million (PV 3%). This final rule is an Executive Order (E.O.) 13771 deregulatory action. Details on the estimated costs of this final rule can be found in the rule’s economic analysis.

(Click here to view table).

The final rule will create benefits. First, the final rule will amend the part 240 program submission process to require railroads to solicit labor input, providing for fully informed decisions by railroads. Second, it affords railroads additional time and flexibility to comply with some regulatory requirements. Third, it creates certain provisions that allow for temporary locomotive engineer certificates. Fourth, electronic filing will make information more accessible to interested stakeholders and the public. Because FRA lacks sufficient information related to these four benefits, this analysis could not accurately quantify these benefits. Therefore, the rule’s economic analysis qualitatively explains benefits.

The final rule will also reduce Governmental administrative costs, including mailing, filing, and storing costs related to amendments to part 240, by allowing the Government and stakeholders to transmit and store documents electronically.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full final rule as published in the Federal Register.


Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/18/2020

Summary:

FRA is proposing to revise its regulations governing changes to positive train control (PTC) systems and reporting on PTC system functioning. First, recognizing that the railroad industry intends to enhance further FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability, FRA proposes to modify the process by which a host railroad must submit a request for amendment (RFA) to FRA before making certain changes to its PTC Safety Plan (PTCSP) and FRA-certified PTC system. Second, to enable more effective FRA oversight, FRA proposes to: Expand an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual; broaden the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, not just failure-related information; and require host railroads to utilize a new, standardized Biannual Report of PTC System Performance (Form FRA F 6180.152). Overall, the proposed amendments would benefit the railroad industry, the public, and FRA, by reducing unnecessary costs, facilitating innovation, and improving FRA’s ability to oversee PTC system performance and reliability, while not negatively affecting rail safety.

Dates:

Written comments must be received by February 16, 2021. FRA believes a 60-day comment period is appropriate to allow the public to comment on this proposed rule. FRA will consider comments received after that date to the extent practicable.

Addresses:

Comments: Comments related to Docket No. FRA-2019-0075 may be submitted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and following the online instructions for submitting comments.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket number (FRA-2019-0075), and Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) for this rulemaking (2130-AC75). All comments received will be posted without change to https://www.regulations.gov;​ this includes any personal information. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act information related to any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to https://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for accessing the docket.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full notice of proposed rulemaking as published in the Federal Register.


Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/22/2020

Summary:

Pursuant to the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, FRA proposes to issue regulations requiring certain railroads to develop and implement a Fatigue Risk Management Program, as one component of the railroads’ larger railroad safety risk reduction programs.

Dates:

Written comments must be received by February 22, 2021. Comments received after that date will be considered to the extent practicable without incurring additional expense or delay.

Addresses:

Comments related to Docket No. FRA-2015-0122 may be submitted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket name and docket number or Regulatory Identification Number (RIN) for this rulemaking (2130-AC54). Note that all comments received will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act information on any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov.

Introduction and Executive Summary:

Purpose of Rulemaking

This proposed rule is part of FRA’s efforts to improve rail safety continually and to satisfy the statutory mandate of Section 103 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA).[1That section, codified at 49 U.S.C. 20156, requires Class I railroads; railroad carriers with inadequate safety performance (ISP), as determined by the Secretary; and railroad carriers that provide intercity rail passenger or commuter rail passenger transportation to develop and implement a safety risk reduction program to improve the safety of their operations. The section further requires a railroad’s safety risk reduction program to include a “fatigue management plan” meeting certain requirements.

This proposed rule, if finalized, would fulfill RSIA’s mandate for railroads to include fatigue management plans in their safety risk reduction programs by requiring railroads to develop and implement Fatigue Risk Management Programs (FRMPs).[2As proposed, a railroad would implement its FRMP through an FRMP plan.

Under this proposed rule, consistent with the mandate of Section 20156, an FRMP is a comprehensive, system-oriented approach to safety in which a railroad determines its fatigue risk by identifying and analyzing applicable hazards and takes action to mitigate, if not eliminate, that fatigue risk.[3As proposed, a railroad would be required to prepare a written FRMP plan and submit it to FRA for review and approval. A railroad’s written FRMP plan would become part of its existing safety risk reduction program plan. A railroad would also be required to implement its FRA-approved FRMP plan, conduct an internal annual assessment of its FRMP, and consistent with Section 20156’s mandate, update its FRMP plan periodically. As part of a railroad safety risk reduction program, a railroad’s FRMP would also be subject to assessments by FRA.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full notice of proposed rulemaking as published in the Federal Register.

 

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.

FRA publishes final rule for state highway-rail grade crossing action plans

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a final rule requiring 40 states and the District of Columbia to develop and implement highway-rail grade crossing action plans to improve public safety. In addition, the rule requires 10 states that have already developed grade crossing action plans, as required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) and FRA’s implementing regulation, to update their plans and submit reports describing the actions they have taken to implement them.

“Grade crossing accidents and incidents are the second-leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The action plans give states a tool to engage with federal and local partners, railroads, and rail safety advocates to identify high-risk crossings and develop strategies to save lives.”

“Safety is imperative to FHWA, especially where roads and rails meet,” said Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Nicole R. Nason. “These action plans can help states make highway-rail grade crossings safer for the traveling public.”

The final rule responds to a Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act mandate requiring states to develop and implement (or update, if applicable) action plans. Each plan must identify crossings that have experienced at least one accident or incident in the previous three years, multiple accidents or incidents in the previous five years, or that are determined by the state to be at high-risk for accidents or incidents. Furthermore, each action plan must identify specific strategies for improving safety at crossings, including crossing closures or re-aligning roadways over or under railways.

Under RSIA, FRA identified 10 states as having the most highway-rail grade crossing collisions, on average, over the three-year period from 2006 through 2008. In June 2010, FRA issued a final rule requiring these states to develop action plans and submit them to FRA for approval. The states are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas. The FAST Act now requires each of them to submit an updated action plan and a report to FRA describing what it did to implement its previous action plan and how it will continue to reduce crossing safety risks.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia are required to submit individual highway-rail grade crossing action plans to FRA for review and approval no later than 14 months after the final rule’s publication date of December 14, 2020. FRA will provide technical assistance to help them develop (or update) their action plans. The states may also use federal funds allocated through FHWA’s Railway-Highway Crossing (Section 130) Program to develop and update their action plans.

Further information on the final rule for State Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Action Plans is published in the Federal Register here.

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.

Federal agencies announce random testing rates for 2020

Federal agencies have announced their random drug testing rates for the new calendar year.

In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a test rate increase from 25 percent to 50 percent of the average number of driver positions because of an increased number of positive test results in 2018.

In January, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that the minimum random drug testing rate will remain unchanged at 50 percent.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s minimum drug test rate remains at 25 percent for workers, excluding maintenance-of-way employees.

The random alcohol testing rate has been set for all three agencies at 10 percent.

Railroad maintenance-of-way employees are tested at a higher rate: 50 percent for drugs and 25 percent for alcohol.

Click here for a chart from DOT detailing the 2020 random testing rates. 

Carrier sues Illinois to stop two-person crew law

Indiana Rail Road, with the backing of the major rail carrier organizations, has filed suit challenging a law requiring two people on freight crews in Illinois, the Courthouse News Service reported.

“The recent history of railroads confirms the wisdom of FRA’s expert determination that minimum-crew-size laws are neither necessary nor appropriate,” the carriers said in their filing. “In recent decades, technological breakthroughs have allowed railroads to gradually decrease average crew sizes—from about five in the 1960s to just two today—while compiling an ever-improving record of safety. Now, the nation’s railroads are poised to deliver even safer and more efficient service.”

The filing repeatedly referenced the Federal Railroad Administration’s withdrawal of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that occurred in late May. In the NPRM, FRA Administrator Ron Batory announced that his agency was acting with the intention to pre-empt any state laws regarding rail crew size. Indiana Rail Road, a regional railroad that operates over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, began using one-person crews in 1997.

The FRA’s NPRM withdrawal is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Nevada by SMART TD, Illinois and a number of other states. Illinois on Aug. 9 became the seventh state overall and third this year to enact two-person crew legislation. The Illinois law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The lawsuit, which also lists the Association of American Railroads and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association as plaintiffs, was filed Sept. 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

NCTD joins with SMART TD, NASA & FRA to participate in C3RS program

The North County Transit District (NCTD) has teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to add an extra level of safety for its staff, contractors and the public. On August 1, 2019, NCTD entered into a partnership with NASA, the FRA, Bombardier Transportation USA, Inc., and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) to participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) program.

C3RS is designed to improve railroad safety by collecting and analyzing reports that describe unsafe conditions or events in the railroad industry. Staff and contractors can report safety issues or “close calls” voluntarily and confidentially. A close call is any condition or event that may have the potential for more serious safety consequences such as a blue flag not removed after releasing railway construction equipment or failing to provide proper track protection during track maintenance. By analyzing these events, potential life-saving information can be obtained to help prevent more serious incidents in the future.

NASA took the lead on this program after developing and managing the highly successful Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) which began in 1976. ASRS has received over 1.2 million confidential reports from the aviation community resulting in numerous contributions to aviation safety. As an independent and respected research organization that does not have regulatory or enforcement interests, NASA serves as an objective and trustworthy recipient of reports submitted by railroad professionals.

By identifying close calls on or around the railroad tracks, participating agencies can identify why close calls may occur, recommend and implement corrective actions, and evaluate the effectiveness of any such action that was implemented.

C3RS is in addition and complementary to the many existing safety programs that NCTD currently has in place such as Positive Train Control, which is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed, train movements through misaligned track switches and unauthorized train entry into work zones.

“Safety at NCTD is our top priority,” explains Matthew Tucker, NCTD Executive Director. “Having the opportunity to partner with a highly successful organization such as NASA to enhance our safety protocols was an easy decision for NCTD.”

Confidentiality is a key element of the C3RS program. Railroad personnel can submit reports when they are involved in or observe an incident or situation in which railroad safety might be compromised. All report submissions are voluntary. Reports sent to C3RS are held in strict confidence, and individuals who report are provided waivers from carrier discipline and FRA enforcement of qualifying events.

“Because of NASA’s strict confidentiality policy for these reports, it’s more likely that we’ll get accurate details about the incident,” says NCTD’s Chief Operations Officer-Rail Eric Roe. “Those details can lead to new safety measures that make the tracks safer for everyone on and around the rails.”

C3RS includes partners Bombardier Transportation and SMART. Bombardier Transportation is NCTD’s rail operations and maintenance contractor. SMART is the union that represents the conductors and engineers on NCTD’s San Diego Subdivision.

NCTD has become the ninth railroad carrier to participate in the C3RS program since its 2007 inception. Other participants include Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, MBTA/Keolis, Metra, Metro-North, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, Strasburg Rail Road, Denton County Transportation Authority, North Shore Railroad Group, Belt Railway of Chicago – Operations and Belt Railway of Chicago Non-Ops. FRA is currently accepting new carriers into the program.

Click here for more information about the C3RS program.

States join in fight to overturn FRA decision on two-person crews

In May, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrew its proposed rulemaking to require two-person crews on freight trains. The agency then went further and stated that all state laws concerning the subject were preempted by the ruling.

In response, SMART TD President John Previsich testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials in June at a hearing to address the FRA’s decision. In his statement, Previsich described the decision by the FRA as an abdication of its safety oversight duties.

In July, SMART Transportation Division further responded to the FRA by filing a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Court, asking the court to overturn FRA’s ruling. According to Freightwaves.com, the states of Nevada, Illinois, Washington and California have joined in the fight for two-person crews as well. Nevada, Washington and the California Public Utilities Commission filed petitions with the Ninth Circuit court asking them to review FRA’s decision. Illinois joined the fight for two-person crews August 9, when the state’s governor signed a two-person crew bill into law.

At the SMART TD Regional Meeting in July in San Diego, President Previsich reiterated to members that the union would not take this decision lying down.

“There is going to be a big push coming. We are going to reach out to you when the proper time comes and ask for your assistance,” Previsich told attendees.

Click here to read more from FreightWaves.com.

SMART TD submits comments to PHMSA regarding rail transportation of LNG

On August 8, SMART Transportation Division submitted comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regarding the proposal of transporting liquid natural gas (LNG) by rail.

In our comments, National Legislative Director John Risch recognizes the potential safety hazards associated with the transportation of LNG by rail, but also points out that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has established safety protocols and procedures to transport it safely.

“Recognizing the safety hazards involved and the work FRA safety experts have already done on this issue, we support the transport of LNG by rail provided the conditions imposed by FRA in their November 2, 2015, letter of authority to the Alaska Railroad, and the restrictions contained in the March 3, 2016, letter to the Florida East Coast Railway are imposed,” Risch wrote.

Click here to read our full comments as well as the FRA letters mentioned above.

Alexy named FRA’s chief safety officer; FRA announces two vacant positions

Alexy

Since Robert “Bob” Lauby retired from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in April, Karl Alexy has been acting associate administrator for the FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety (RRS). Recently, Alexy has been named as the full-time associate administrator for railroad safety and the chief safety officer within the RRS.

Prior to his recent appointment, Alexy was the deputy associate administrator (DAA) of the RRS and provided leadership to RRS’s three major sections: the Office of Safety Analysis, the Office of Technical Oversight and the Office of Regional Operations.

Alexy came on board the FRA in 2009 as a general engineer in the FRA’s Hazardous Materials Division, collaborating with other DOT agencies and all segments of the rail industry in enforcement and outreach activity in his role. He also developed and executed research programs and rulemakings. In 2012, he was appointed to the position of staff director of the Hazardous Materials Division and led the FRA’s efforts, in coordination with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, in developing the Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains rule. Alexy has also attended many SMART TD regional meetings where he has presented in the FRA Hours of Service workshops.

Click here to read more about Mr. Alexy.

FRA vacancies

FRA also has announced that there are two high-level positions open: Director, Office of Safety Analysis and Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety.

The director, Office of Safety Analysis serves as primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and assists the Associate Administrator and the Deputy Associate Administrator within the Office of Railroad Safety in formulating program and technical policies, monitoring integrated programs, establishing goals for organizational components and tracking the progress of projects and programs. The incumbent serves as the primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and works closely with executives in the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office and in various other executive agencies to ensure effective and consistent coordination on rail-safety regulatory development and evaluation efforts.

This position is located in Washington, D.C. The vacancy announcement details and instructions on how to apply can be found at the following USAJOBS link: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/538902000.

The deputy associate administrator for railroad safety supports the Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer in advancing the mission of FRA with regard to railroad safety. As a senior member of the FRA leadership team, the Deputy Associate Administrator is a primary source of executive advice and leadership for Office of Railroad Safety operations and safety standards as well as policy development. The Deputy Associate Administrator is responsible for planning and ensuring the execution of FRA safety policies, programs and activities and advancing overall organizational excellence within the Office of Railroad Safety.

This position is located in Washington, D.C. The vacancy announcement details and instructions on how to apply to this position can be found at the following USAJOBS link: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/538901700.

To be considered for either position, interested parties must apply by no later than August 12.

John Risch: FRA, Trump administration halt all crew safety efforts

Dear SMART TD,

Today the Trump administration did everything it could to stop all railroad crew safety issues.

In a Federal Register posting published at 4 p.m. today, the FRA formally withdrew the pending proposed rulemaking dating from 2016 that would have set a mandatory crew size on freight and passenger trains.

Withdrawal of Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Train Crew Staffing | Federal Railroad Administration

But the notice went much further than that. It announced that not only will FRA turn a blind eye to the unsafe practices of single-person or no-person trains, the agency claims that its notice also nullifies all state laws and regulations that establish minimum crew standards.

President Donald Trump, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and FRA Administrator Ron Batory have taken sides, and it’s with the railroads that want to eliminate operating crew members to the detriment of rail safety and to the detriment of the communities through which our members operate trains. We are considering legal action and other avenues to protect our members and the American public from the prospects of driverless trains.

The action today flies in the face of so-called conservative values and state’s rights. The federal government is refusing to protect the public and at the same time is prohibiting states from doing so by posting this federal notice.

This action undermines my faith in the FRA in being a fair and impartial overseer of safety in the railroad industry. Clearly, the railroad CEOs have their folks in power with President Trump and his administration. This action should put an end to any thoughts that this president and this administration is supportive of railroad workers.

It is now more important than ever that we pass a federal law requiring that every train in America have a minimum of two crew members. Those two crew members must be a federally certified conductor and a federally certified locomotive engineer.

It’s time to not only send an email message to your member of Congress, but it is time for every operating railroad worker to contact their member of Congress personally. Call their offices and ask to meet with them today.

We will not be stopped by today’s terrible decision. It makes us more committed than ever to pass a federal two-person crew law.

In solidarity,

John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division