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FRA final rule on cell phones goes into effect March 28

CLEVELAND, March 23 — BLET members are advised that the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) new rule regarding restrictions on railroad operating employees’ use of cellular telephones and other electronic devices will become effective on March 28, 2011.

The new rule essentially enforces the same ban on personal electronic devices established in Emergency Order 26, which prohibits the use of a cell phone while engaged in any safety sensitive duty.

"The one sure fire way to stay out of trouble is to turn your phone off, store it in your grip, and don’t turn it on until your tour of duty is over," BLET National President Dennis Pierce said.


The first documented accident in which the use of cellular phones may have played a causal role occurred on May 28, 2002, near Clarendon, Texas, where two BNSF Railway trains collided, resulting in two fatalities.

On September 12, 2008, a collision between a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., killed 25 people and injured hundreds more. The NTSB speculated that the locomotive engineer was distracted by text messaging when he allegedly passed a stop signal and proceeded into the path of an oncoming Union Pacific freight train.

Just a short time later, the FRA proposed Emergency Order 26 regarding the use of cell phones and other forms of wireless communication.

Almost simultaneously, the U.S. Congress drafted and passed Public Law 110-432, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA). And on October 16, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the RSIA into law. Section 405 of the RSIA, in reaction to the Chatsworth accident, required the Secretary of Transportation to study the impact of the use of personal electronic devices by safety-critical railroad employees. In addition, it authorized FRA to prohibit the use of those personal electronic devices that may distract employees from safely performing their duties.


A locomotive engineer operating the controls of a train is prohibited from using any electronic device — other than the locomotive’s electronic control systems, such as radios, cab signals or PTC systems — even those that the railroad has supplied for authorized business purposes, while:

1. The train is moving;

2. A member of the crew is on the ground or riding rolling equipment during switching; or

3. Any railroad employee is assisting in the preparation of the train for movement.

Other employees may use a railroad supplied electronic devices for an authorized business purpose in the operating compartment of a train, only if:

1. It does not interfere with a railroad operating employee’s performance of safety related duties;

2. A safety briefing is conducted that includes all crew members; and

3. All crew members agree that is safe.

The new regulation allows the use of a personal cellular phones while deadheading, outside the controlling cab of the locomotive and it’s use does not interfere with any employees’ performance of safety related duties.


These rules are minimum standards rather than uniform rules. Therefore, the railroads’ have the right to implement their own, more stringent rules, which could further restrict our members’ ability to use electronic devices while they are on duty.

In comments filed when the rule was first published, we cited the railroads’ history of misusing their authority to exceed the minimum standards and implement novel ideas that exceed the necessary level of oversight, often resulting in unintended consequences and abuse. Unfortunately, FRA rejected BLET’s argument and did not modify the language in the final rule.


FRA did not include a revocation consequence in the final rule as a penalty for violation of the rule. However, railroads argued vehemently that violation of either FRA’s rule or the accompanying carrier rule should lead to decertification, and any such violations in the future will increase the pressure on FRA to impose revocation consequences.


Personal multi-functional electronic devices that include a camera feature (such as cellphones) are prohibited. Only stand-alone cameras are permitted at the authorized times as long as 1) they are not used by the locomotive engineer on a moving train, 2) they are used only to photograph a safety hazard or violation of safety law regulation/order, and 3) turned off immediately after use.


The rule allows deadheading crews to use personal electronic devices as long as they are not in the cab of the controlling locomotive and such use does not compromise the safety of any operating employee including their own, and does not interfere with the performance of the safety duties of any operating employee. Deadheading employees in the cab of the controlling locomotive are prohibited from using any electronic devices and they must have the devices turned off and the earpiece removed during the prohibited times.


Medical devices such as hearing aids and blood sugar monitors are not prohibited by this rule. The rule requires that the medical device is used consistent with the railroad’s standards for medical fitness for duty.


A one-page flyer from the Federal Railroad Administration summarizing the regulation is available from the by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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