Remote control claims another victim

CLEVELAND, April 13 -- A Union Pacific switchman was killed in a remote control switching accident in Riverdale, Utah, on April 11, underscoring the dangers of unregulated remote control train operations.

Early reports indicate that a lack of training may have contributed to the fatality, the latest in a string of serious remote control related accidents.

The victim in the accident -- a 38-year-old switchman named Anthony L. Petersen -- had eight months of total railroad experience at the time of the accident. It was only his second day on the job at Riverdale when he was killed.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has lobbied the Federal Railroad Administration for years to implement enforceable regulations to govern remote control train operations. Throughout its lobbying, the BLET has pushed the FRA to increase the amount of training that remote control operators receive.

“Right now remote control operators only get two weeks of training,” BLET National President Don Hahs said. “That’s not enough and sadly, Anthony L. Petersen paid the ultimate price for this lack of oversight.”

It is believed that the switchman, who was not wearing a beltpack device, was riding on the side of a rail car when he fell and was run over.

President Hahs said the lack of enforceable safety regulations may have contributed to the fatality.

"Had there been enforceable regulations on the books that required adequate training of remote control operators, then this accident may not have happened," President Hahs said. “It is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family.”

Remote control operators normally receive 80 hours of training before going to work -- 40 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of on the job training.

“These remote control operators are replacing engineers, who are the most experienced member of the train crew,” President Hahs said. “Basic training to become a federally certified locomotive engineer is anywhere from eight months to a full year. To replace certified engineers with employees who have just two weeks of training clearly lowers the bar when it comes to safety.”

The April 11 fatality is at least the third serious remote control accident in the United States this year.

On January 22, a remote control locomotive struck a CSX employee in the Waycross Hump Yard in Waycross, Ga., resulting in the amputation of his right leg just above the knee.

In their zeal to implement the new remote control technology, it appears rail carriers and the union representing remote control operators failed to make safety their top priority and did not take adequate steps to train new workers in handling heavy moving equipment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

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