On April 27, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose issued a safety advisory regarding carriers’ operation of longer trains.
The recommendations by FRA include that carriers review their operating rules and existing locomotive engineer certification programs to address operational complexities of train length, take appropriate action to prevent the loss of communications between end-of-train devices and mitigate the impacts of long trains on blocked crossings.
“it is known that the in-train forces longer trains experience are generally stronger and more complex than those in shorter train consists,” the advisory states. “FRA is issuing this Safety Advisory to ensure railroads and railroad employees are aware of the potential complexities associated with operating longer trains and to ensure they take appropriate measures.”
The submitted advisory appears below, with the final version to be published in the Federal Register.
SUBJECT: Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Shove Movement Accident
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is investigating a recent switching accident that resulted in a crew member fatality.
Based on FRA’s preliminary investigation, a conductor with 18 years of service was fatally injured when the tank car he was riding to provide point protection for a switching move was struck by a dump truck. The incident occurred at a private grade crossing in a steel plant as the train consist traveled southward.
The dump truck, traveling west, stopped at the private highway-rail grade crossing, then proceeded and collided with the car the conductor was riding, killing the conductor. It was nighttime, the yard was lighted, and the conductor had his lantern turned on.
Prior to the incident, the conductor was in communication with the engineer via radio. The private highway-rail grade crossing was equipped with passive warning devices and stop signs.
The purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to ensure the railroad industry, including railroad employees, are aware of this recent accident that resulted in a fatality of an employee. As FRA completes its investigation, it may take additional actions with respect to this accident.
Although FRA’s investigation into this accident is ongoing, FRA notes the importance of ensuring pushing or shoving movements over highway-rail crossings are conducted safely, to include:
Proper training, periodic oversight, and application of appropriate railroad operating rules when determining whether the track is clear, and
Proper job briefings and communications between assigned crewmembers during pushing or shoving movements.
FRA requests that railroads review this Safety Bulletin with employees to increase awareness of the dangers of pushing and shoving movements at highway-rail grade crossings. FRA also reminds railroads of the need to ensure all individuals involved in pushing or shoving movements are: (1) properly trained and qualified on how to conduct those operations safely; and (2) understand what “track is clear” means related to a highway-rail grade crossing.
It’s difficult to imagine trying to pass off reducing the braking power of a freight train as a safety precaution, but that is exactly what BNSF attempted to do recently in a request to the FRA for a variance to increase the allowable amount of flow from 90 CFM to 120 CFM.
In their request, BNSF states that in order to reduce the slip/trip/fall risk that goes along with conductors and carmen walking a consist looking for leaks in a brake line, that they think it’s safer to depart the train with up to 120 CFM of flow and assume it will be able to stop when it has to.
FRA put out a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) requesting public comments on BNSF’s request, and SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department was happy to oblige them. Below you can read SMART-TD’s response to FRA from Brother Greg Hynes, SMART-TD’s national legislative director.
In a letter sent Jan. 5, 2023, to the CEOs of the seven Class I railroads operating in the United States as well as to Association of American Railroads (AAR) President/CEO Ian Jeffries, Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose warned them that “incremental” changes to carriers’ training, qualification and certification programs have in some cases not solved numerous deficiencies identified by FRA audits over the past 18 months.
“Please be advised that FRA is committed to pursuing enforcement action if a railroad’s resubmitted certification program continues to fail to address the deficiencies identified by FRA,” Bose wrote. “Accordingly, whenever FRA conducts its audit of your railroad, FRA will take into account those opportunities FRA has already provided your railroad to correct or address previously identified deficiencies.
“I want to remind industry that the quality and adequacy of these certification programs are fundamental to ensuring that your operating crews are properly trained to safely perform their assigned duties,” Bose wrote. “This starts with certification programs that clearly meet the minimum training and qualification standards.”
The Federal Railroad Administration published a safety bulletin Dec. 29 regarding an unintended release of a train’s air brakes while stopped at a signal. The text of the advisory as published in the Federal Register is reproduced below.
FRA is issuing Safety Advisory 2022-02 to make the rail industry aware of a recent issue encountered by a train crew that experienced an unintended brake release of a train’s automatic air brakes while stopped at a signal, and to recommend steps addressing the unintended release of train air brakes.
On June 22, 2022, during a significant thunderstorm, a crew consisting of a locomotive engineer and conductor operated a conventionally powered, intermodal train with 3 head-end locomotives, 47 loaded cars, and 6 empty cars, totaling 9,204 feet in length and 7,392 tons in weight. The engineer stopped the train on a downhill grade of 0.9-1.18% near the signal governing the train’s movement, set the train’s air brakes at approximately 12 pounds, and fully set the locomotive consist’s independent brakes. After being stopped for approximately 3 hours, the engineer and conductor, located in the lead locomotive cab, observed the train roll towards the signal interlocking displaying a stop indication. This train experienced an unintended automatic brake release. The locomotive consist’s independent brakes remained fully applied but due to the grade, tonnage and wet rail could not solely hold the train without the automatic air brakes also being applied.
At that time, an opposing train on the same track was preparing to cross through the interlocking in front of the rolling train. The locomotive engineer of the rolling train applied full-service airbrakes and full dynamic braking but was not satisfied that the brakes were working effectively or fast enough. The conductor operated the emergency brake valve and stopped the train short of the signal and the train that was preparing to cross through the interlocking.
The crew then contacted the dispatcher and railroad management to report the unintended brake release and the conductor set a sufficient number of car handbrakes to hold the train on the grade.
FRA’s investigation of the rolling train’s event recorder, positive train control (PTC) system, and engine data logs, revealed: the PTC system had operated properly and would have initiated an emergency brake application upon reaching the signal; the Trip Optimizer was off; and the lead locomotive and consist did not cause the unintended brake release. Instead, FRA determined that, after approximately three hours with the air brakes set, the air pressure slowly bled down from some of the cars’ auxiliary reservoirs, likely causing localized brake releases. The initiation of the brake release would enable the accelerated release functionality by taking some air from the emergency brake reservoirs and directing it back into the brake pipe resulting in a substantial number of adjacent car brakes releasing. Potentially contributing factors causing the train’s unintended movement included the downhill grade, wet rail, and the train’s tonnage.
Due to the potential for air brake system leaks, FRA prohibits unattended trains from depending solely on air brakes to hold equipment. While the aforementioned rolling train was attended, it nevertheless engaged in an unintended movement.
Based on FRA’s review of this incident, and its awareness of other train incidents involving an unintended air brake release under similar circumstances, FRA believes operating guidance is warranted to help reduce the likelihood of similar unintended air brake releases, and therefore makes the following recommendations.
1. Train crews should not expect a service rate or emergency brake application to indefinitely maintain application of a train’s air brakes.
2. If a train is stopped with air brakes set, and the train begins moving, the crew should immediately apply the emergency brake. After the train is stopped, the crew should set a sufficient number of handbrakes to secure the train from further unintended movement before releasing the brakes and recharging the train’s air brake system.
3. Each railroad should adopt and implement an air brake procedure consistent with Recommendations 1 and 2 that addresses unintended brake releases.
4. Each railroad should have an operating supervisor conduct a face-to-face meeting with each locomotive engineer and conductor to explain and reinforce the contents of this advisory.
FRA may modify Safety Advisory 2022-02, issue additional safety advisories, or take other appropriate necessary action to ensure the highest level of safety on the Nation’s railroads.
Issued in Washington, DC.
John Karl Alexy,
Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety, Chief Safety Officer.
1. FRA notes this type of prolonged pressure release would likely not be identified during a periodic single car air brake test. Back to Citation
The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Railroad Safety issued the following bulletin on Dec. 20, 2022:
SUBJECT: Pre-Departure Inspections – Appendix D to 49 CFR Part 215
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is investigating a recent fatal accident when a train operating on the mainline struck a piece of angle iron protruding from a freight car on the adjacent main track. Based on FRA’s preliminary results from its ongoing investigation, the piece of angle iron appears to have been part of the freight car (not lading, but a repair to the carbody side top cord of a scrap metal gondola car) that was starting to dislodge from the carbody. It appears that the piece of angle iron was in this state when the car was pulled from the customer, moved to a yard, and then added to a different train on the main track. The angle iron, which was protruding into the foul of the adjacent track, pierced a locomotive cab window and fatally injured a member of the crew.
The purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to provide almost-immediate awareness to the industry that an accident or incident occurred resulting in a fatality or significant damage to property or the environment. Its purpose is to also provide the industry key information with which to brief or (re)train employees. As FRA completes its investigation, it may take additional actions with respect to this incident/accident.
Specifically, in this Safety Bulletin, FRA requests that railroads review this Safety Bulletin with its employees to increase awareness of this hazardous condition that led to a fatal injury. FRA also reminds train crew members that when at locations where a person designated under § 215.11 is not on duty for the purpose of inspecting freight cars (such as in customer facilities), prior to pulling any cars and only when it is safe to do so, to perform a proper visual inspection of freight cars for any protruding objects that may foul an adjacent track from a railcar, and if observing such a condition to immediately report it. See Appendix D to 49 CFR Part 215, Pre-Departure Inspection Procedure (excerpted below).
Appendix D to Part 215 – Pre-departure Inspection Procedure
At each location where a freight car is placed in a train and a person designated under § 215.11 is not on duty for the purpose of inspecting freight cars, the freight car shall, as a minimum, be inspected for the imminently hazardous conditions listed below that are likely to cause an accident or casualty before the train arrives at its destination. These conditions are readily discoverable by a train crew member in the course of a customary inspection.
1. Car body:
(a) Leaning or listing to side.
(b) Sagging downward.
(c) Positioned improperly on truck.
(d) Object dragging below.
(e) Object extending from side.
(f) Door insecurely attached.
(g) Broken or missing safety appliance.
(h) Lading leaking from a placarded hazardous material car.
2. Insecure coupling.
3. Overheated wheel or journal.
4. Broken or extensively cracked wheel.
5. Brake that fails to release.
6. Any other apparent safety hazard likely to cause an accident or casualty before the train arrives at its destination.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) held its much-anticipated hearing Dec. 14 to receive public testimony on its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) regarding a minimum train crew size.
As it was set up, representatives from just two Class I carriers — Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern — the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and representatives of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) spoke first, followed by labor representatives.
On its face, this setup seemed to work to the benefit of the testimony of labor — the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD).
With the viability of the conductor profession on the line before regulators — a position that the carriers continually attempted to stress in testimony that from their perspective was “outmoded” or “obsolete,” carriers put forth their argument that single-person crews and nomadic conductors would in no way worsen the already frail condition of the freight rail industry.
The Precision Scheduled Railroading playbook would call the conductor position “the largest impediment to reduced Operating Ratios on the line” that the stakes were too high not to anticipate political theater.
To that end, economists and second-tier carrier executives alike offered flimsy, speculative and hard-to-follow arguments that were highlighted by the premise that UP and NS want to take conductors off of trains in order to improve the quality of life for their conductors. They peppered in the fact that short line operators are going to have difficulty petitioning FRA for variance on these rules based on “nominal” details such as the percentage of their trackage that is on grades, the tonnage of hazardous materials they haul, and the fact that their engines aren’t equipped with alerters.
Among other arguments made by carriers were that:
A roving conductor dispatched in a truck from the crew room can get to and change a knuckle in two-thirds the time a conductor on the train could.
Company-provided cell phones would be used to fill the safety gap created by removing the conductor. (A major shift from them being biggest safety concern for operating crew distraction for the last decade and ignoring the fact that FRA law states cell phones are to be off and store out of reach.)
Having a single employee is simpler, and simpler is safer.
A second employee creates a distraction for the engineer.
The negative effects of cognitive demand placed on engineers by rail technology is speculative in nature.
And of course, Positive Train Control is the answer to all things conducting.
All of the carrier presentations neglected that FRA’s chief duty is to apply regulations when necessary in matters of safe and efficient transport of goods and passengers across the United States. Nowhere does it say that the FRA’s job is to align itself so that carriers have the easiest course to make money.
Following lunch, FRA’s board received a steady diet of facts upon hearing labor’s side of the argument. Simple to follow, devoid of the pretzel logic used by the carriers and buoyed by the reality of working on the railroad in the 21st century was given by BLET Vice President Vincent Verna, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan and SMART TD’s own President Jeremy Ferguson.
“There is no greater risk to the safety of railroad workers and the communities they serve than the consideration of a reduction in crew size in the cab of a locomotive,” Ferguson testified. “Having conductors on trains saves lives and prevents disasters in ways technology cannot. Artificial intelligence absolutely has a role to play, but it cannot replace authentic human intelligence in railroading.”
Everyone who has worked on a railroad has had a close call, one of the reasons why the bigger carriers don’t want to participate in the voluntary C3RS system. The likely outcome being that a huge flood of data would come in showing just how important the conductor is to avoiding accidents, like an engineer’s experience President Ferguson mentioned in which a conductor got a three-year-old boy off the tracks before he was struck by the locomotive.
Labor also discussed:
How “Menu Diving” in display screens keeps an engineer’s eyes off the rails.
How PTC is a safety overlay not intended to be a replacement of manpower and is inoperable at yard speeds.
How artificial Intelligence is not a substitute for authentic human intelligence when something goes wrong.
How the Railroad Technology graveyard is full of gizmos that were supposed to be “the answer”
How removing the conductor from the cab will increase blocked crossings — “the public’s No. 1 complaint”
How removing the conductor from the cab eliminates all ability of a train crew to fulfill its role as first responders in emergencies.
How advocating for conductors to remain on locomotives is advocating for avoiding unnecessary safety risks.
Single-person operations and the nomadic “expediter” model carriers are looking to pilot already have flaws that make the concept impractical on its face, Ferguson also said.
“God forbid an equipment failure occurs on the line of road without a conductor readily available to act in a moment’s notice, but especially if the train has an entire community blocked off. There is little a lone engineer can do in that situation,” Ferguson said. “I want to be realistic here. The only way that we can assure the safest course is protected during train operations is by maintaining two crewmembers in the cab of the locomotive.”
Counter to the double-talk carriers make about safety being their top priority, their business practices, ruthless cuts and a continued deterioration of service, as well as an express desire of wanting to cut even more employees, shows that the fight over crew size isn’t about better service or running a safer, more efficient railroad — it’s about the bottom line.
“The railroads have proven their willingness to make decisions that are not in the interests of safety, but rather are in the interests of profit and shareholder wealth,” Ferguson said. “Railroad safety isn’t just for the men and women working on the rails. It’s for everyday citizens that take for granted that the railroad is safe. Without a doubt, I can attest that the removal of the conductor, should it be permitted, from the cab of the locomotive will not just be catastrophic to all rail workers, it will be inimical to the American public.”
Following the testimony of Verna, Ferguson and Regan, three conductors and one BLET Auxiliary member, the spouse of an engineer, did an excellent job reinforcing the vital role conductors play in our nation’s safety and commercial viability.
The battle for two-person crews capped an important week for rail labor. Labor rallies occurred Dec. 13 in nine locations around the country, including at Capitol Hill, in conjunction with the STB hearing regarding UP embargoes and the FRA hearing to bring attention to the negative effects PSR has had on the rail labor workforce and the dangerous territory carriers have pushed the industry into.
There should be a word of caution attached to this positive attention. First, we are dealing with the federal government and Railroad Corporations, so we should absolutely be aware that just because logic is on our side, that absolutely does not ensure that we will win the day. On Dec. 14, your union leadership took the fight to the carriers and outclassed them. Now it is your turn to do the same.
The SMART Transportation Division would like to thank Johnny Walker, (Local 610, Baltimore, Md.) , Nick Jochim, (Local 904, Evansville, Ind.), Jessica Martin (Local 594, Mineola, Texas), Natalie Miller of BLET Auxiliary’s Nebraska chapter, and SMART-TD Utah State Legislative Director Dan Brewer (Local 1554, Ogden, Utah) for providing additional testimony reinforcing why two should stay on the crew.
Due to the importance of the issue and the record response, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has extended the comment period for the Noticed of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on a two-person minimum freight crew size rule, the SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Department reports.
The new deadline for SMART-TD members, rail labor and the public to let their voices be heard in this pivotal conversation about the safety of U.S. railroad operations is now Dec. 21st, 2022.
“Please keep the pressure on and the pedal down as we fight together for our safety and our jobs,” said National Legislative Director Greg Hynes. “We’ve blown well past the level of comments that the prior NPRM received after it was introduced in 2016, getting almost 10 times the number of comments it received.
“There are a lot of things going on, but we need to keep spreading the word about the Rule of 2 and how it is essential to rail safety. If you have not commented on how important it is to maintain rail staffing at the current safe level, you still have time to do so!”
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Sept. 22 that the public comment period for the two-person crew size Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) has been extended.
Stakeholders now have an additional 60 days to show their support for the minimum crew size of two in the cab of trains nationwide. The previous deadline was Sept. 26.
“This extension was requested by congressional Republicans on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was granted by the FRA,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said.
He also pointed out that extensions are normal under rules of this magnitude: “It allows concerned members of the public and railroad workers alike to continue to support the truth — that safe train operations in this country are best maintained by following the Rule of Two.”
Most topics divide our organization to varying degrees. It’s a healthy debate that assists SMART to formulate majority-based positions on the many issues for which they advocate on our membership’s behalf.
The belief that there should be a minimum of two persons on a train crew is not one of those topics. Overwhelmingly, the most-common topic that my fellow Transportation Division brothers and sisters ask about is the status of a two-person crew legislation/regulation. A consensus of our membership strongly believes in the necessity of legislative or regulatory action requiring rail carriers to crew trains with a minimum of two people in the locomotive cab.
Here is some great news: The FRA has announced its intent to make a formal federal regulation mandating the minimum crew size on most trains to be no less than a crew of two in locomotive cab. SMART TD paved the way to get the process to this point by ensuring elected and appointed officials were both educated and aware of our position on the topic.
The next step in the process is the public comment period that expires on Sept. 26.
Who can and should comment? All rail employees, regardless of craft and labor organization. All our allies and stakeholders, including legislators, community leaders, first responders, neighbors and business leaders should comment. Our family members and friends are also persons of interest whose comments the FRA wants to hear.
Please don’t be intimidated by the process. I assure you it’s quick, easy and painless. I completed my comments and the entire process in less than five minutes.