WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) May 8 announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to update the regulation that governs locomotive engineer qualification and certification to make it consistent with the corresponding regulation for conductors.
“The proposed revisions would modernize locomotive engineer certification regulations to match those for train conductors, and provide regulatory efficiencies and cost savings without compromising safety,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “The proposal would streamline the engineer certification process, and reduce paperwork burdens for the responsible parties.”
The proposed rule would adopt the conductor certification regulation process established in 2012 by making conforming amendments to the engineer certification regulation, which was first issued in 1991 and last amended in 2000. Consistent with Executive Order 13771, the proposed rule would reduce overall regulatory reporting and cost burdens for railroads and locomotive engineers. Harmonization of the conductor and engineer regulations would also provide greater clarity to locomotive engineers.
The NPRM includes the following five proposed changes to Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 240:
Clarifies locomotive engineer certification requirements (Part 240) and aligns them with conductor certification requirements (Part 242) to make it easier for railroad certification managers to become familiar with and administer both regulations.
Reduces the reporting burden of a person’s former employer to clarify that only certain listed information in the individual’s railroad service record that directly relates to FRA’s requirements in the certification regulation needs to be shared.
Defers the requirement for railroads to seek a waiver from annual testing of certified locomotive engineers when individuals take an extended absence from performing service requiring certification.
Modernizes the dispute resolution process by reducing the paperwork burdens for both employees and railroads and allowing for web-based dockets.
Simplifies the submission process by which qualification and certification programs are modified by allowing electronic submissions.
The proposed revisions for locomotive engineer qualification and certification ensure that certain provisions are consistent, to the extent possible, with those for conductors. FRA is seeking comments on the proposed rule, and will address comments received when preparing a final rule. Comments may be submitted to the docket for the proceeding FRA-2018-0053, and are due by July 8, 2019. Read the full proposed rule here.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will have some major shoes to fill with the April 13, 2019, retirement of Robert “Bob” Lauby, the agency’s chief safety officer.
Lauby had served in that capacity for FRA since September 2013. He was a frequent presenter at SMART Transportation Division regional meetings and worked to provide regulatory oversight for rail safety in the United States while overseeing the development and enforcement of safety regulations and programs related to the rail industry.
“Serving as the associate administrator for Railroad Safety and FRA’s chief safety officer is one of the highlights of my career,” Lauby said. “The job has been both challenging and fulfilling.
“Over the years, we grappled with many important issues and have significantly changed the industry for the better.”
Lauby had a hand in several regulatory safety efforts at FRA such as Positive Train Control, conductor certification, training requirements, drug and alcohol testing for maintenance of way employees, roadway worker protection, passenger equipment standards, system safety and others.
Other safety oversight improvements happened as a result of major accidents. Some of the major ones included crude-oil accidents at Lac Megantic, Ontario, Canada; Mount Carbon, W.Va.; and other locations; commuter train accidents at Spuyten Duyvil and Valhalla, N.Y.; and Amtrak passenger train accidents in Philadelphia and Chester, Pa.; Dupont, Wash.; and Cayce, S.C.
“No matter the challenges swirling around him, Bob had safety in mind,” said National Legislative Director John Risch. “He’s been great to work with and one of the most committed, level-headed professionals in the rail industry.”
Lauby said that he treasured any interaction he could have with members of rail labor as these helped to broaden his perspective about whom he was working to protect.
“I always took time to talk to the SMART TD membership to get their complaints, opinions, and perspectives on the latest industry issues,” Lauby said. “I often left enlightened or with a new perspective.
“Railroad managers are experts on what is supposed to happen. SMART TD members are experts on what actually happens. They always know what works and what does not work.”
In his more-than-40-year career, Lauby’s railroad and transit experience included safety, security, accident investigation, project management, project engineering, manufacturing and vehicle maintenance.
He joined the FRA in August 2009 as staff director of its newly established Passenger Rail Division in the agency’s Office of Safety and was later promoted to deputy associate administrator for regulatory and legislative operations at FRA. One of his responsibilities in that role was to oversee the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC).
Prior to his time at FRA, Lauby was director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad Safety, overseeing hundreds of rail accident investigations for NTSB and coordinating with our union’s Transportation Safety Team in many investigations. He was NTSB’s representative on RSAC.
Lauby addressed SMART TD members in a workshop at the 2018 Seattle, Washington, regional meeting.
“At our regional meetings, I would introduce Bob and tell the troops that Bob was the big gun and can handle all the tough questions, which he always did,” Risch said at a party celebrating Lauby’s retirement in late March.
Lauby said he took his multiple presentations at TD regional meetings, including at the Seattle regional meeting last July, seriously — he felt he owed it to the attendees to give them useful information.
“I looked forward to the meetings each year and spent hours preparing my presentation and preparing for the questions I would get at the end – during the Q and A session,” he said. “I wanted the material I presented to be timely and useful to the membership, and I always tried to include the inside scoop – the stuff nobody else would talk about!”
But the benefits from his visits and interactions went both ways, he said, and showing up at the meetings gave him a fresh perspective on the industry.
“I always enjoyed speaking to the SMART TD membership – both at the Regional Meetings and when they were on their jobs,” Lauby said. “Whenever I traveled by train, I tried to spend time with the train crew or ride the head end to find out the issues of the day.
“I learned more about railroading from the working men and women of the railroad industry than from anyone else.”
Lauby’s departure is leaving a vacancy that FRA will have a difficult time filling, Risch said.
“No one will really fill your shoes because there is no one with the knowledge and experience to do that,” he told Lauby at his retirement party. “You committed your working life to rail safety, you have been a good friend of mine and a good friend to railroad workers everywhere.
“We wish you all the best as you enter this next stage of your life.”
Lauby said his career leaves him with a sense of gratitude.
“I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the industry I love, in a role where I felt I could make a difference,” Lauby said. “I will miss the thousands of people I interacted with each year. That includes the FRA employees and railroad industry labor and management … all the folks I dealt with at the various RSAC meetings. People are the most important part of any organization and the railroad industry is no different.”
An executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, April 10, tasks the Federal Department of Transportation with creating a new rule in a little more than three months’ time that permits super-cooled liquid natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail.
“The Secretary of Transportation shall propose for notice and comment a rule, no later than 100 days after the date of this order, that would treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids and permit LNG to be transported in approved rail tank cars,” the order states. “The Secretary shall finalize such rulemaking no later than 13 months after the date of this order.”
Natural gas trade and rail carrier groups have lobbied for years for the ability to supply LNG to the northeastern U.S. via rail. Current Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety rules do not allow the transport of LNG in rail tanker cars.
It is transported by truck and pipelines with one exception — Alaska Railroad was given a special authorization in 2015 to transport LNG by rail in portable containers transported on flatcars, Bloomberg News reports.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Tuesday, April 9, that the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) will meet later this month for the first time since its reinstatement last autumn.
According to a notice published in the Federal Register, RSAC is scheduled to meet 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 24 and 25, 2019, at the National Association of Home Builders, National Housing Center, 1201 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005.
RSAC is composed of 40 voting representatives from 29 member organizations, including SMART Transportation Division and other rail labor groups, representing various rail industry perspectives.
The meeting’s agenda is scheduled to include opening remarks from FRA Administrator Ron Batory, updates on the industry’s implementation of Positive Train Control and FRA presentations from its Passenger Safety and Tourist and Historic Railroads working groups, the Federal Register notice stated.
Planning and procedures of future RSAC activities also will be on the agenda, which is subject to change.
The meeting is open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, and is accessible to individuals with disabilities. Persons who wish to submit written comments for RSAC’s consideration during the meeting must submit them no later than Friday, April 19, to ensure transmission to RSAC members prior to the meeting. Comments received after that date and time will be distributed to the members but may not be reviewed prior to the meeting.
Those seeking additional information should contact Kenton Kilgore, RSAC designated federal officer/RSAC coordinator at the FRA Office of Railroad Safety at 202-493-6286; or Larry Woolverton, executive officer of the FRA Office of Railroad Safety at 202-493-6212.
RSAC was rechartered for two years in September 2018 after a period of dormancy. The committee, in existence since 1996, advises the FRA administrator and makes recommendations on matters relating to railroad safety, resulting in a process that allows stakeholders, including labor and industry representatives, to collaborate before proposed rules are submitted. It last met in May 2017.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s Switching Operations Fatality Analysis working group (SOFA) – which has three SMART TD representatives – has released its switching fatality and severe injury update for the fourth quarter of 2018.
SOFA reported a total of 17 severe injuries for the fourth quarter, bringing 2018’s annual total to 68. Of those severe injuries reported in the quarter, one resulted in amputation. None of the incidents were fatal.
For the year, there were eight amputations. When combined with the first three SOFA quarterly reports, the group counted three switching-related fatalities in 2018. SMART TD had seven member fatalities last year.
In 2017, SOFA reported 68 severe injuries and nine amputations.
According to an analysis done by northjersey.com, Metro-North, New Jersey Transit (NJT) and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2013.
Before the companies’ lawyers negotiated for lower fines, Metro-North had been assessed more than $1 million in penalties and NJT more than $700,000. After the fines had been negotiated down, Metro-North paid $859,375; NJT paid $576,175 and LIRR paid $131,725.
Fines were assessed for safety violations involving track, signals, locomotives, equipment and train crews; as well as for alcohol and drug testing, employee hours of service, and railroad operating practices.
Northjersey.com notes that alcohol and drug testing violations — of which Metro-North had the most infractions — does not necessarily mean that crew members are reporting to work under the influence.
In a victory for safety, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) denied a request by Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCSR) to outsource brake inspections to Mexico, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) reports.
“In its decision, the FRA correctly told KCSR that their request – which TTD and our rail unions strongly opposed – was ‘not in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety.’ We could not agree more,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis.
In 2008, the FRA granted KCSR conditional regulatory relief of 49 C.F.R. § 232.205 (a)(1) and 49 C.F.R. Part 215. In lieu of conducting the required inspections at the International Bridge interchange, the FRA allowed KCSR to move freight cars received in interchange from KCSR’s Mexican operations across the U.S./Mexico border to KCSR’s yard in Laredo without performing a full Class I brake test at the border. One of the conditions set by the FRA was that KCSR must perform Class III brake tests (set and release) at the International Bridge interchange. In their petition to the FRA, dated May 31, 2018, KCSR requested that the Class III brake tests be performed at their Mexican Nuevo Laredo and Sanchez Yards instead of at the interchange.
In their request, KCSR maintained that it would be safer to perform the tests at the Mexican yards due to vandalism while the trains are stopped and blocked Mexican crossings, however, KCSR offered no specific evidence demonstrating any safety or security risks of performing the Class III tests at the interchange.
“FRA cannot approve KCSR’s request to move the test to its affiliate KCSM’s (Kansas City Southern de México Railway) yards 9 miles across the border within Mexico. …The Board is denying KCSR’s May 31, 2018, request to modify the existing relief in this docket because KCSR has not demonstrated that a modification is in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety,” the FRA’s Robert C. Lauby, associate administrator for railroad safety, said in his response letter to KCSR, dated March 8, 2019.
“The FRA’s decision is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Willis said. “Last year, the FRA granted KCSR permission to operate trains with crews from Mexico to Laredo, nine miles across the border. This decision was made without input from the public or any guarantee U.S. safety standards are being met.”
SMART TD and BLET sent a joint letter to U.S. DOT opposing the decision to allow KCSR to operate Mexican train crews within the United States.
WASHINGTON – The U.S Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued to Congress the first National Strategy to Prevent Trespassing on Railroad Property. The report examines the causal factors that contribute to trespassing incidents on railroad property, and responds to a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations request.
“Almost every trespasser death or injury is preventable and FRA is working to intensify our efforts,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “Now that we have examined current data on contributing factors of the problem, we are seeking to energize our state and local partners to implement solutions and save lives.”
In the report, the FRA examined trespasser casualties over a four-year period (Nov. 2013 to Oct. 2017) and identified the top 10 counties in the United States where the most pedestrian trespasser casualties occurred (Los Angeles, Calif.; Cook (Chicago), Ill.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Harris (Houston), Texas; Broward, Fla.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Fresno, Calif.; Riverside, Calif.; Contra Costa, Calif.; San Diego, Calif.). The report shows that, excluding suicides, 4,242 pedestrians were killed or injured while trespassing on railroad property nationwide during this time period.
Preventing trespasser casualties and injuries is a high priority for FRA as part of the Department’s safety mission. In October 2018, FRA convened a Trespasser & Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit at its headquarters in Washington, DC. Secretary Chao, Administrator Batory, representatives from other DOT modal administrations, and key stakeholders from the rail industry, law enforcement, and the navigation industry attended the meeting to discuss strategies to reduce grade crossing and trespasser fatalities, as well as to solicit ideas to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan and strategy. FRA looks forward to coordinating and working with all stakeholders to prevent trespassing incidents, and this report is an important step forward in the continued effort to improve rail safety.
FRA’s national strategy to prevent trespassing on railroad property includes four strategic focus areas: data gathering and analysis, community site visits, funding and partnerships with stakeholders.
Data gathering and analysis of trespass incidents and close-calls will enable FRA to target its resources to trespassing “hot spots.” Conducting community site visits will help FRA to learn more about the specific local circumstances that contribute to trespassing and work with partners to help implement and evaluate targeted mitigation strategies. Requesting and providing funding will support community-based efforts to deter trespassing. Finally, building strong and enduring partnerships with communities, law enforcement, railroads and other organizations with a shared interest in saving lives will enable FRA to leverage and concentrate available resources, expertise and local knowledge to combat trespassing.
Short term targets for success include stakeholder engagement and implementation of strategies that save lives at trespassing “hot spots.” Over the long term, FRA will measure the success of this national strategy by how much trespassing incidents and casualties are reduced nationwide.
Tom Cahill, local chairperson of LCA-049 (CSXT – B&O) and vice president of SMART Transportation Division Local 631 (Brunswick, Md.), was among the presenters at the first Trespasser and Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit hosted by the Federal Railroad Administration in late October.
Cahill, a TD member since January 1997, started working on the railroad out of high school and described to the audience his experience during grade crossing collisions and trespasser incidents.
“None of the job interviews or job descriptions in the transportation sector ever covered what we’re talking about today,” Cahill said. “Nobody talked about the first time that you hit a car at a grade crossing or strike a trespasser that’s on the tracks.”
Those incidents, Cahill said, always have dual victims — the person or people who were struck and the train’s operating crew.
“I’ve been pretty lucky – some people have a trespasser injury or fatality every year,” Cahill said.
Tom Cahill speaks at the first Trespasser and Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit in October.
Factors such as the location of the operator’s route and the time of day play roles in the frequency of trespasser and grade crossing incidents, but the biggest factor is a distracted public, Cahill said.
The usage of personal electronics has decreased situational awareness of trains by pedestrians to “dangerous levels,” he said. If a pedestrian is on or near tracks and distracted, the risk of an accident increases, especially if they’re wearing headphones or earbuds or looking at their smartphone.
“You’d be surprised by the number of incidents where a survivor would say they never saw or heard the approaching train,” Cahill said.
Trauma for crew
Cahill described to attendees two typical types of incidents that train crews experience – a person is struck and killed instantly or a person or people are struck and then are in need of immediate medical attention.
“In either case, after the train stops, it’s the conductor who is required to walk back to the carnage and do what he can to assist the injured and separate the train to open the road crossing for emergency responders’ vehicles,” he said.
It’s a 50-50 proposition whether the responders arrive on the side where the victim is, if they don’t, then treatment could end up being delayed and a life could be lost.
Separating a train to accommodate the emergency vehicles is always a two-person operation, Cahill said, because handbrakes must be applied to multiple cars by the conductor while the engineer remains in the cab to move the locomotive forward to make room for emergency vehicles.
Cahill made special mention that any reduction of a train’s crew to fewer than two people would likely reduce the survival rate of victims of trespasser-grade crossing incidents.
It also falls to the conductor, who usually sees the incident, to give first aid and to direct first responders.
After the incident, Cahill said, the engineer often will second guess whether the brakes were applied in a timely manner and whether the whistle was sounded in time or for a long enough period. While critical incident programs are offered by carriers to give people time off to recover and get counseling, the post-traumatic stress is difficult to overcome.
“It’s not always that easy,” Cahill said. “We take this home to our wives, to our mothers, to our children. Sometimes it’s hard for them to understand why we can’t just shake it off.”
He told the audience that he’s seen situations where over-the-road workers have been traumatized to the point where they will change to yard service to avoid going out on the road.
Cahill said that there tends to be an uptick of incidences in the fall and the holiday seasons.
The days getting shorter reduces visibility, depression may be setting in with some people with the approach of the holidays and winter.
“The suicides are the absolute worst for us because it’s generally not someone who sprints out at the last second and decides to take their life that way,” Cahill said.
He said often the person is already on the track, perhaps around a bend, awaiting the train.
“I’ve heard it too many times where the last thing the train crew sees or remembers is that person either looking up as the train approaches them or looking back as the train overtakes them,” Cahill said. “It’s very difficult for the train crew. There’s little you can do in those situations.
“It can take up to a mile for us to stop, and even if it doesn’t take that long, the damage is done as soon as we strike the person. It’s traumatic.
“We get back up and we go on and we continue out there. We just hope that we never have another one.”
What can be done?
Cahill presented a list of solutions endorsed by SMART TD to reduce the number of grade crossing and trespasser fatalities.
“We’re front line on this issue. SMART Transportation Division is committed to working with all the stakeholders to reduce crossing and trespassing fatalities,” Cahill said. “We want to be a part of identifying these areas and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to address and fix these incidents one by one to make things safer for the public and the train crews.”
More supplemental safety measures such as four quadrant gates that close the entire crossing so cars cannot bypass the gates, even in poorly constructed intersections.
Use more channelization devices, such as concrete medians, to keep vehicles from crossing over to drive around gates.
Install stationary horns at crossings that are pointed at motorists, an option that is louder and more focused in getting a driver’s attention.
Grade separations so that roads and tracks do not intersect are the best way to prevent crossing accidents, Cahill said. “It’s a money issue, but there’s nothing better than putting the motoring public above or below the railroad tracks,” he said.
Install more fencing, especially around rail yards and stations.
Permanently close as many grade crossings as possible.
The major factor is increasing public awareness, Cahill said. All grade crossing and trespasser fatalities are preventable, but he said that often the last thing that people are thinking about when they approach a railroad track is that there is a 20,000-ton freight train bearing down on them.
“It is critically important to educate the public on their obligations and how to stay safe when they’re around train tracks, rail yards and other places where they may be tempted to trespass on the railroad,” he said.
The Associated Press reported Dec. 20 that an analysis by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) did not take into account up to $117 million in damage reductions when considering the repeal of a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rule requiring the installation of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on tanker cars.
The DOT repealed the 2015 rule requiring the installation of the advanced braking system on DOT-117 tank cars that carry explosive fuels in late 2017.
AP reviewed federal documents and found that the damage estimates used by the DOT varied widely between the Obama administration, which enacted the ECP rule, and the Trump administration, which repealed the rule.
“Under Obama, the Transportation Department determined the brakes would cost up to $664 million over 20 years and save between $470 million and $1.1 billion from accidents that would be avoided,” the AP’s Matthew Brown wrote. “The Trump administration reduced the range of benefits to between $131 million and $374 million. Transportation department economists said in their analysis that the change was prompted in part by a reduction in oil train traffic in recent years, which meant there would be fewer derailments. But in making their calculations, they left out the most common type of derailments in which spilled and burning fuel causes property damage but no mass casualties …
“Department of Transportation officials acknowledged the mistake after it was discovered by the AP during a review of federal documents, but said it doesn’t change their decision not to install the brakes,” Brown wrote.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a final rule establishing modern, performance-based safety standards for railroad passenger equipment. The rule reinforces FRA’s commitment to safety while representing one of the most significant enhancements to the nation’s passenger rail design standards in a century. The rule paves the way for U.S. high-speed passenger trains to safely travel as fast as 220 miles per hour (mph).
“These new regulations were made possible by a wealth of FRA research, reinforcing our unwavering commitment to safety,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “FRA’s safety experts solicited input from industry stakeholders at numerous levels and took those ideas to develop standards supporting a new era in public transportation.”
The final rule defines a new category of high-speed rail operations and makes it possible for high-speed rail to utilize existing infrastructure, saving the expense of building new rail lines. These new ‘Tier III’ passenger trains can operate over this shared track at conventional speeds, and as fast as 220 mph in areas with exclusive rights-of-way and without grade crossings.
The final rule also establishes minimum safety standards for these trains, focusing on core, structural and critical system design criteria. FRA estimates that the rule will improve safety because of expected improvements made by the railroads to accommodate the operation of high-speed rail equipment in shared rights-of-way.
The final rule will be a deregulatory action under Executive Order (EO) 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The rule is expected to save more than $475 million in net regulatory costs.
Passenger train manufacturers across the globe have utilized innovative design and testing techniques for years, incorporating features such as crash energy management. Under FRA’s previous passenger equipment regulations, U.S. rail companies have had limited procurement options or have needed to petition FRA for waivers to use these newer technologies.
The final rule continues to define Tier I as trains operating in shared rights-of-way at speeds up to 125 mph, and it also allows state-of-the-art, alternative designs for equipment operating at these conventional speeds. Tier II trains are defined as those traveling between 125-160 mph, an increase from the previous 150 mph limit. This supports a competitive operating environment for U.S. companies seeking to offer travelers more passenger rail options. By enabling the use of advanced equipment-safety technologies, this final rule helps eliminate the need for waivers.
The final rule was developed with the assistance of the Engineering Task Force (ETF), under the auspices of FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). The ETF membership included FRA technical staff and representatives from railroads, rail labor organizations, manufacturers and others. The ETF evaluated production trends against the U.S. operating environment. The ETF recommended that FRA expand its traditional speed-and-safety rating system to three categories of passenger trains.
A notice published in the Federal Register in late September announced that the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) would be rechartered for two years after a period of dormancy.
RSAC advises the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and makes recommendations on matters relating to railroad safety, resulting in a process that allows stakeholders, including labor and industry representatives, to collaborate before proposed rules are submitted.
The committee consists of 40 representatives from 29 member organizations, including SMART Transportation Division. It last met in May 2017, according to the RSAC website, and has been in existence since 1996.
A notice providing details about the committee’s next meeting has yet to be posted the RSAC site.