The engineer of one of two ore trains that crashed head-on just outside of Two Harbors, Minn., in 2010 is taking issue with the National Transportation Safety Board report on the accident, disputing that cell phone use by the train crews was a relevant factor.

In an exclusive interview with the News-Chronicle Feb. 20, Dan Murphy, engineer of the northbound train, conceded that he had used his phone on the day of the Sept. 30, 2010, accident, but that the call was less than a minute and in no way interfered with his duties.

Read the complete story at Lake County News Chronicle.

UTU Bus Department logo WASHINGTON – A Final Rule has been issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) prohibiting bus (including school bus) drivers and truck drivers, operating in interstate commerce, from using hand-held cell phone while operating their vehicles.

Also inncluded in the ban are drivers of small passenger vehicles designed to transport between nine-and-15 passengers.

The final rule will become effective in late December, and violation subjects drivers to stiff fines and loss of their commercial driver’s license.

An exemption permits the use of a hand-held device for communicating with law enforcement or other emergency services while the vehicle is in operation.

The ban exempts the use of hands-free devices located in close proximity to the driver where the driver need only press a single button. The FMCSA said stops can be avoided “by using hands-free” devices with a speakerphone function or a wired or wireless earphone.

In 2010, the FMCSA banned text messaging by bus (including school bus) and truck drivers while operating their vehicles in interstate commerce.

“When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds, the outcome can be deadly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel.”

Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.

Additionally, states will suspend a commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations. Commercial bus and truck companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

The FMCSA said that “using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps beyond what is required for using a hands-free mobile phone, including searching and reaching for the phone. Commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event.

“Dialing a hand-held cell phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event,” said the agency.

In 2010, the FMCSA banned text messaging while operating a bus or truck in interstate commerce.

To read the Final Rule on the cell-phone ban, click here.

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen filed on Nov. 14 a joint petition for review by the Federal Railroad Administration of the FRA’s so-called emergency cell phone order, requesting that the FRA make additional exceptions to the order in the name of safety.

The ban, effective Oct. 27, applies to any electronic device that was not provided to the railroad operating employee by the employing railroad for business purposes. (For more detail, see www.utu.org and click on “FRA cell phone ban” at the bottom right corner.)

The UTU and the BLET are seeking exceptions to the order banning the use of personal electronic devices while deadheading; the use of cameras that can document safety hazards or safety law violations; and the use of electronic calculators and global positioning satellite (GPS) devices that can aid safe train operation.

“It is not our intention to unnecessarily complicate a fairly bright-line rule regarding the use of electronic and electrical devices,” UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET President Ed Rodzwicz jointly in the petition for review. “However, we do believe FRA should seriously consider those atypical situations in which [the emergency order] as currently written could inadvertently result in a diminution of safety, as compared to operating conditions and practices in effect prior to its promulgation.”

As for deadheading, the two unions argue that since deadheading crews have fulfilled their safety-related responsibilities — and in many cases are not on duty — their use of electronic devices should not be restricted to business purpose use only.

To that end, the unions ask the FRA to rewrite a portion of the emergency order to read: “A railroad operating employee who is deadheading may use a cell phone while within the body of a passenger train or railroad business car, or while inside the cab of a locomotive that is not the lead locomotive of the train on which the employee is deadheading.”

As for cameras, the UTU and the BLET argue that the emergency order appears to forbid photographic documentation by a train employee of safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws, regulations, orders or standards, which would actually diminish railroad safety.

The two unions ask for an exemption, which would read:

“An electronic still or video camera may be used to document a safety hazard or a violation of a rail safety law, regulation, order or standard; provided, that (1) the use of a camera in the cab of a moving train may only be by a crew member other than the locomotive engineer, and (2) the use of a camera by a train employee on the ground is permissible only when (a) the employee is not fouling a track, (b) no switching operation is underway, (c) no other safety duties are presently required, and (d) all members of the crew have been briefed that operations are suspended. The use of the photographic function of a cell phone is permitted under these same conditions.”

Third, the unions question a section of the emergency order that prohibits the use of electronic devices such (as calculators) to make computations. The UTU and the BLET point out that a number of safety-critical computational functions are required in numerous circumstances if on-board systems fail or are not provided. These include managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length for speed restrictions and clearing track authorities.

A new section regarding exceptions to this portion of the emergency order should be added as follows:

“When mathematical calculations are required for safe train movement (e.g., managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length), it is permissible to perform such calculations by using an electronic calculator, or by using the calculator function of a cell phone or electronic timepiece.”

Fourth, the two unions petition the FRA to allow the use of global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking devices in order to gauge the accuracy of locomotive speed indicators, particularly when the designated measured mile lies within a temporary speed restriction of less than 30 miles per hour.

One effect of the emergency order is to preclude the use of a GPS device to calculate the speed of a train that is not equipped with a speed indicator because the train will not exceed 20 mph. Another is that the accuracy of a speed indicator determined within a slow order of 30 mph or less cannot be correlated with its accuracy at speed above 30 mph. Maintaining proper train speed is both safety-critical and demanded of a locomotive engineer.

The UTU and BLET ask the FRA to consider an exception to the emergency order for GPS devices, requesting that GPS tracking devices be allowed to verify the accuracy of the speed indicator in a controlling locomotive.