BLE petitions FRA for remote control rulemaking

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers filed a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Railroad Administration on November 17, which seeks to safely regulate the operation of remote control locomotives.

"There should be no use of remote control locomotives without FRA regulations establishing the safest requirements possible, which the BLE believes should govern equipment specifications, inspection, repair, training and operating practices in the use of such devices," BLE International President Edward Dubroski said.

The BLE's petition outlines what it believes are the necessary elements of a regulation, and seeks to maintain a human-centered focus in any and all new technology operations, including remote control.

The petition for rulemaking was triggered, in part, by data indicating an unacceptable safety risk in the steel industry, which is where the technology is predominantly used in the United States.

The timing of BLE initiative stems from an ongoing aggressive campaign by the manufacturers of remote control locomotive equipment, who are enticing U.S. rail carriers to buy into the technology. Some carriers have already taken early steps to invest in remote control, which BLE views as a dangerous move without federal regulations in place to govern its use.

In addition, BLE is concerned that some carriers may use information gathered in the ongoing Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) field observations to generate a negative human factors database, in an attempt to justify the use of remote control locomotives in switching operations.

"The use of remote control locomotives must be regulated in an affirmative fashion and not regulated by exemption," said BLE President Dubroski, again pointing out that there are no current FRA regulations on the books to ensure employee safety in remote control operations.

The FRA held a first of its kind Technical Conference on Remote Control Locomotives on July 19. Since then, it has not addressed the situation to the satisfaction of the BLE, thus prompting the union to formally request a rulemaking process.

Working jointly at the July 19 hearing, representatives from the BLE, two other rail unions and the United Steel Workers of America raised numerous concerns over the use of remote control. Among the issues were the ergonomic risk factors associated with a locomotive controller carried around the waist while also performing dangerous work on railroad equipment. There are known physical problems caused by static loads on the body.

Safety concerns increase when a locomotive controller that is safety-critical in train movement is the object being carried. Concern also was expressed over exposure to the emission of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from the transmitter.

Using documented evidence from the rail and steel industries, the unions were able to rebut the sparse and highly selective presentation made by proponents of remote control technology at the Technical Conference.

2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers