Spread the 'limbo time' message

BLET members are encouraged to contact their members of Congress and urge them to include provisions to eliminate limbo time in any rail safety legislation that is introduced in the coming term.

The BLET and its allies in Rail Labor have been lobbying behind the scenes on this issue and believe that introduction of rail safety legislation is imminent.

BLET members should convey to their members of Congress that train crews are fatigued and waiting endless hours for transportation after working 12 hours on a train - a situation that contributes to fatigue.

The Hours of Service Act limits the number of hours that train crew employees can remain on duty (12 hours). At times a train cannot reach a crew change point within the allotted time, however, so the railroad must stop the train in order that a new crew can replace the first, or "outlawed," crew. Transportation of the new crew to the train and the outlawed crew back to the terminal is called "deadhead transportation." Under the Hours of Service Act [§21103(b)(4)], "[t]ime spent in deadhead transportation to a duty assignment is time on duty, but time spent in deadhead transportation from a duty assignment to the place of final release is neither time on duty nor time off duty." The latter time is commonly termed "limbo time." And even though "outlawed" crews are technically no longer on duty, they must still remain vigilant to safeguard their train.

The BLET has data from one Class I railroad showing that nearly 335,000 crews had work tours in excess of 14 hours during the years 2001 through 2006. This is an average of over 150 crews exceeding the Hours of Service by two hours every day for six years. However, during the past three years, the average is over 205 crews per day. During that same period, an average of 94 crews per day had work tours longer than 15 hours.

These excessive work tours contribute to worker fatigue, which compromises safety. The decade since the Supreme Court's decision has seen both the number of crews stranded waiting for transportation and the length of limbo time increase. The problem has become so prevalent in recent years that the 2003 BLE National Agreement included language committing that participating carriers would "make reasonable efforts to relieve and expeditiously transport [outlawed crews] to the tie-up point." Unfortunately, things have only deteriorated.

Due to this deterioration, Congress must act on the issue of limbo time. BLET members are encouraged call, write and/or e-mail their members of Congress about the "limbo time" issue. While there is currently no specific "limbo time" bill in the House or Senate, BLET members should make their members of Congress aware of the problem and should ask them to include it in any rail safety legislation introduced in the coming term.

BLET members should share the statistical information provided in this article when contacting their members of Congress, but can supplement these statistics with information from the BLET website (see below). More importantly, members should share their first-hand experiences with fatigue and limbo time with their Senators of Representatives. Citing statistics can only go so far - putting a face with a problem will better convey the message.

The BLET has twice given testimony on fatigue and limbo time before a Congressional hearings. Testimony was given on by National Legislative Representative John Tolman before the House Subcommittee on Railroads on July 25, 2006, and by BLET Director of Regulatory Affairs Tom Pontolillo before the same subcommittee, on Feb. 13, 2007.

For a copy of this testimony, go to the National Legislative Office website at: http://www.bletdc.org/legislation/testimony/.



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen