DC Feedback: Constant vigilance required for unannounced efficiency tests

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If the BLE's National Legislative Office does not have the answer on hand (such as a federal interpretation), they'll get back to you as soon as possible. Select questions and answers will be published regularly in the pages of the Locomotive Engineer Newsletter.

This month's installment deals with the question of efficiency tests.

Questions regarding "efficiency tests" have been raised by several BLE members with comments regarding their necessity and the manner in which they are conducted.

"Efficiency testing" by the railroads has been conducted throughout history with the intent of maintaining the vigilance of operating personnel, determining their knowledge of the rules, and fulfilling requirements of federal law. In some cases, these tests are conducted to evaluate conformance to rules associated with serious failures or identified problems in the industry.

For example, on June 12, 2001, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), as a result of the fatal collision of Conrail freight trains on double main track near Bryan, Ohio, while operating in dense fog, issued the following recommendation to all Class I railroads:

"Include, in your operational (efficiency) testing program, specific signal tests designed to ensure that your train crews consistently follow uniform operating procedures when they encounter reduced-visibility conditions en route. (R-01-7)"

The NTSB also issued the following to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the United Transportation Union:

"Advise your members of the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the January 17, 1999, railroad accident in Bryan, Ohio, and of the criticality of complying with operating rules when operating under reduced-visibility conditions. (R-01-8 and R-01-9)"

In addition to the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proscribes requirements for efficiency testing in 49 CFR 217.9 (a). It states:

"Each railroad to which this part applies shall periodically conduct operational tests and inspections to determine the extent of compliance with its code of operating rules, timetables, and timetable special instructions in accordance with a written program retained at its system headquarters and at the division headquarters for each division where the tests are conducted."

The railroads' operational testing and inspection programs are to:

The railroad also must retain records of individual tests and inspections, which include the date, time, place, and result of each operational test and inspection. Also, the record must indentify the officer administering the test and inspection and each employee tested. These records are to be retained by the railroad for a specified period and are to be made available to representatives of the FRA for inspection and copying.

The Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR Part 240, Qualification and Certification of Locomotive Engineers) also includes requirements for "efficiency testing," under 240.129 (criteria for monitoring operational performance of certified engineers) and 240.303 (operational monitoring requirements).

According to these sections, each railroad shall have procedures for monitoring the operational performance of a locomotive engineer in either train or locomotive service and conducting unannounced operating rules compliance tests. The procedures shall be designed to determine that the person possesses and routinely employs the skills to safely operate locomotives and/or trains, including the proper application of the railroad's rules and practices.

The monitoring program is to be designed so that each engineer shall be annually monitored by a Designated Supervisor of Locomotive Engineers.

The program is to be designed so that the locomotive engineer either is accompanied by the designated supervisor for a reasonable length of time or has his or her train handling activities electronically recorded by a train operations event recorder.

The designated supervisor may ride with the locomotive engineer, or the test can be conducted while at the controls of a Type I or Type II simulator programmed to replicate the responsive behavior of the type of train normally operated on that railroad or segment of railroad.

The testing and examination procedures selected by the railroad for the conduct of a monitoring program shall be designed so that each locomotive engineer shall be given at least one unannounced test each calendar year. These tests are designed to test engineer compliance with provisions of the railroad's operating rules that require response to signals that display less than a "clear'' aspect, if the railroad operates with a signal system that must comply with 49 CFR Part 236 (most signal systems).

In addition, the monitoring is to be designed to test engineer compliance with provisions of the railroad's operating rules, timetable or other mandatory directives that require affirmative response by the locomotive engineer to less favorable conditions than that which existed prior to initiation of the test. They are designed to test engineer compliance with provisions of the railroad's operating rules, timetable or other mandatory directives, violation of which by engineers were cited by the railroad as the cause of train accidents or train incidents in accident reports filed as required by FRA that occurred in the preceding calendar year.

The administration of these tests is to be distributed throughout whatever portion of a 24-hour day that the railroad conducts its operations; and designed so that individual tests are administered without prior notice to the engineer being tested.

FRA considers the failure of an engineer to pass a properly conducted operational test as subject to 49 CFR 240.117 and may result in decertification. FRA does not consider improper operational tests (those that would be impossible to comply with) to be legitimate tests of operational skills or knowledge of the rules.

Efficiency tests, based on tradition or current legal requirements, are a part of our workplace. Locomotive engineers and other operating personnel must be vigilant to observe all rules and comply with each of them as if our lives and jobs depend on it -- because they do.


2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers