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BLET releases remote control hazard study

CLEVELAND July 27 -- Major U.S. railroad corporations should no longer be permitted to operate remote control locomotives free from regulatory oversight by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

That is one of several key findings in a report released today by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which presented the results of a study sponsored by the National Division to investigate hazards created by remote control locomotive operations in the United States.

The study was conducted by renowned railroad work organization expert Dr. Frederick C. Gamst and former FRA Associate Administrator for Safety George A. Gavalla. Their work included a review of general information and comments, as well as details concerning remote control incidents, gathered over a three-year period from remote control operators (RCOs) and from others who work or supervise in areas where RCO operations have been introduced.

Among the study’s most significant findings are the following:

  • Because remote control locomotives ultimately are controlled by on-board computers, RCO introduces a level of mechanical hazard into switching operations that does not exist in conventional switching operations.

  • Certain design features of the “black box” actually may increase the likelihood that an unintended movement will occur.

  • Blind shoves -- because of the lack of a requirement to provide human protection at the leading point of a movement -- undermines, if not defeats, the purpose of designated “remote control zones.”

  • Training provided RCOs was routinely criticized as lacking in sufficient time and detail.

The authors recommended that FRA audit accident and injury reports submitted by the railroads, so that reliable baseline data can be amassed for remote control accident and casualty rates. Further, that FRA refine existing accident investigation procedures to include studying technological or systemic factors that may cause or contribute to accidents. Finally, that the industry should no longer be permitted to regulate itself concerning remote control operations.

BLET National President Don M. Hahs said of the study, “This is the latest piece of evidence that the industry’s hasty and ill-planned implementation of remote control technology -- and the FRA’s decision not to grant our 2000 Petition for Rulemaking -- have combined to diminish both safety and productivity in switching operations, which is precisely the result we have long predicted. The study also should have a sobering effect on those who continue to advocate a headlong rush to implement new and untested technologies.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

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