BLE helps design engineer-friendly cabs at NJT

When BLE General Chairman Bob Vallochi negotiated to form an ergonomics committee at New Jersey Transit, management didn't take it seriously.

But no one is laughing now after BLE members helped design a more user-friendly and ergonomically sound locomotive cab that will soon be in use at New Jersey Transit.

"The real originator of the ergo committee was my Vice Chairman, Richard Darcy," Brother Vallochi said. "He insisted that ergonomic be made a part of the contract. In fact he held up the signing of the contract until the Carrier inserted ergonomics as a part of it. He then put the committee together and after it was up and running stepped back and delegated it to Bob Daniels."

Brother Bob Daniels of BLE Division 373 chaired the ergo committee, and with assistance from committee members Paul Tedeschi (vice chairman), Charles Donnarumma, Sandra Sheldon, Steve Kay (Div. 272), John Snogans (Div. 272), and William Guimes (Div. 171), worked jointly with management and a locomotive manufacturer to design New Jersey Transit's new ALP 46 locomotives.

The BLE had significant input into the final cab design. At first, Brother Daniels said there was a great deal of hostility and opposition from the railroad's mechanical department, who operated under the impression that BLE members had no business in its affairs. But after receiving support from locomotive manufacturer Ad Tranz, and after BLE ideas provided significant cost-saving to the carrier, the opposition waned.

"The GCA had to step in from time to time to move various initiatives forward," Vallochi said. "Once the Carrier realized the benefits of our input they came on board and helped move the process. Stephen Klejst and James Samuelson, both high ranking transportation officers, helped remove some of the road blocks and should be credited for their help."

From the start, the BLE ergo committee worked to improve the working environment of locomotive engineers.

"It was our goal to make the cab environment more user-friendly," Brother Daniels said. "We don't want engineers 30 to 35 years down the line to have claws for hands because of arthritis and we don't want them to have back problems."

The original plans for the ALP 46 locomotive called for heavy equipment to be placed in the center section behind the cab, with two narrow aisles on either side. The BLE proposed the opposite - placing the heavy equipment on the sides and making one, larger aisle down the center.

This idea proved beneficial. The center aisle was wider, and provided better lighting inside the cab. Also, placing the heavy equipment on the sides of the locomotive made it more readily accessible from the outside and easier to make repairs. In the old design, equipment was only accessible from a crane above the locomotive. The new design allowed repairs to be made using a less expensive and safer tow motor.

But more importantly, the BLE fought to standardize the control panel. BLE members argued that engineers could work better and would be safer if switches, radios and other controls were in the same place on every locomotive. Important switches were placed within easy reach of engineers, and in their line of sight. The BLE members also fought for better seats to provide better back support.

The air conditioning was moved from on top of the locomotive to below the control panel. This BLE idea provides better air circulation and prevents condensation from dripping onto the control stand.

In much the same way that a dome light illuminates the inside of an automobile when the door is opened, the new cabs have interior lights that illuminate when the engineer climbs on board.

"It's not new technology, but it was a major thing to us," Daniels said, noting that the increased illumination should help reduce personal injuries.

Brother Daniels says there have been no reported problems in the testing phase, which is 75 percent complete. He expects the new locomotives to be in revenue service this summer.

The new locomotives are capable of pulling larger trains, which will benefit NJT's North East Corridor and Mid Town Direct services.

"The carrier will save considerably with the new design," he said. "It should reduce injuries and will make engineers more comfortable in their work."

In the end, current and future engineers will benefit from the hard work of these dedicated BLE members.

"I am proud of the accomplishments of the Ergo Committee," Brother Vallochi concluded. "Long after we are retired, our work will remain.

"Today's union needs to become more involved in these types of initiatives. We can not afford to stand by and wait for the Carriers to take care of the needs and safety of Engineers."

Control panel of the ALP-46.

Well lighted center aisle of the ALP-46.


© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers