Hahs testiÞes at Senate hearing on rail safety, fatigue

BLE President Don M. Hahs told the Senate's Surface Transportation Subcommittee that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers has created a fatigue counter-measure plan that would greatly improve safety in the railroad industry.

Drawing a link between safety of employees and the economic health of railroad companies, President Hahs spoke at length about worker fatigue at a hearing on July 10. Citing unreliable work schedules, under-staffing, and Hours of Service loopholes, the BLE President noted that there are many causes of fatigue, but said that each employee has an individual threshold for tolerating it.

The three-pronged BLE approach to eliminating fatigue would focus on education, information and empowerment. It would empower rail operating employees with the right to call off work if they are fatigued after completing a set amount of work each month.

The BLE President asked that Congress serve as a mediator and facilitator to bring the essential parties together to address fatigue as a way of improving rail safety. He also noted that the Hours of Service Act covers rail workers but not workers employed by outside contractors, who often perform the same work as railroad employees. This loophole often compromises safety.

Speaking on behalf of the BLE as well as the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department, President Hahs discussed staffing issues related to the Signalmen and Maintenance of Way crafts, and the negative impact of inadequate staffing on rail safety. Staffing reductions in these crafts, as well as a cut in the number of track inspectors, has contributed to a significant increase in track-caused derailments nationwide.

President Hahs also testified regarding the need for Positive Train Control (PTC). While costly, PTC should be implemented as a way of saving lives. Hahs said that several recent accidents could have been prevented, and lives saved, if PTC had been in use.

Hahs noted that 27 BLE members have been killed in the line of duty since 1996. Many of these fatal accidents had fatigue-related causes, or could have been prevented by Positive Train Control technology.

President Hahs offered follow-up testimony to rebut the Association of American Railroads' allegation that data from Canada indicates an increase in safety in yards where Remote Control Locomotives (RCL) are used instead of conventional switching operations.

"In so far as RCL in yard service is concerned, we are not yet convinced at this time that accident statistics provided by salesmen are entirely accurate and we will provide additional written documentation on this subject for the record," the BLE President said.

President Hahs concluded by issuing a call for Congress to support short-term funding for Amtrak while endorsing its long-term survival. Congress should fund passenger rail to the same extent that it funds America's highways and airports, he said. Properly funded, Amtrak would make the promise of high-speed rail a reality.

"Make rail passenger service a viable alternative," he urged.

A copy of the BLE President's written testimony is available on the BLE website.


© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers