FRA issues questionable remote control safety audit
Editor's Note: BLET National President Don M. Hahs issued the following statement on May 14 in response to the Federal Railroad Administration's preliminary report on the safety of remote control locomotives.
On March 7 -- nearly two months before the Federal Railroad Administration issued its preliminary report on remote control trains -- the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department adopted a resolution calling for an end to the practice of operating trains by remote control.
As part of the resolution, the TTD predicted that the FRA's upcoming report would be positive and upbeat because of its dependence on railroad companies to report their own accident data.
Sure enough, on May 13, the FRA issued its glowing report about remote control safety in the United States.
It is well known that self-reporting of accident/incident data by railroads has been problematic. And in the case of the FRA's "Preliminary Findings and Initial Accident/Injury Statistics," all data is based on self-reporting by railroads.
The problems with the FRA report, according to the TTD, are as follows:
1. The $6,700 damage threshold for reporting of rail equipment accidents is determined solely by the railroads.
2. Triggering events for reportable injuries are determined solely by the railroads (ever heard of light-duty?).
3. The FRA's "Accident Reporting Guide" was revised in May of 2003, for among other reasons, to accommodate remote control accident/incident reporting and has created ambiguous reporting especially with respect to employee injuries.
4. Specific accident and incident reports can be modified by the railroads even after the audit is conducted by FRA and the initial report is given to Congress.
5. The railroads' use of codes such as "undetermined" or "under investigation" allows further ambiguity and will not permit conclusive findings.
6. The initial report will cover selected months and circumstances that may lower the risk for remote control operations. Specifically, the initial report only includes the months of May through November, and not the harsh winter months when the number of accidents/incidents may be higher. As all railroaders know, the potential for slips, trips and falls is much greater when there's snow on the ground.
7. The exposure levels for determining the rate of accidents/incidents in remote control operations versus conventional operations are very problematic because of railroad record keeping and modification of assignments throughout the course of operations.
The FRA report did affirm many of the continuing concerns the BLET has expressed over the past two years.
As long as railroad companies continue to operate remote control trains in an unregulated environment, and as employees continue to be injured and accidents continue to happen because of this safety oversight, the BLET will continue in its efforts to closely monitor the situation and press for enforceable federal safety regulations.
© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen