Don Hahs reelected National President

BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman testified before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Railroads on July 25 regarding human factors incidents in the railroad industry.

In his testimony, Vice President Tolman cited three key areas of concern to the BLET regarding human factors incidents.

First, he underscored prior BLET testimony concerning fatigue, and the ways in which the industry's rampant manipulation of the Hours of Service Act and governing FRA regulations contribute to this growing problem.

Second, he addressed the nexus between inadequate training and human factor accidents.

Third, he informed the Subcommittee of potential hazards inherent in some of the technologies that rail carriers say will eliminate human factor accidents.

NTSB report cites fatigue in fatal collision, hazmat release

In July, the National Transportation Safety Board adopted a report determining that the 2004 Macdona, Texas, collision and toxic chlorine release, which killed three people, was caused by a fatigued crew's failure to respond to wayside signals. In the NTSB report, the crew was criticized for failing to effectively use off-duty time, thereby not obtaining sufficient restorative rest prior to reporting for duty. Union Pacific was criticized for train crew scheduling practices that created inverted crew members' work/rest patterns.

"For many decades, then-prevailing industry practices worked to minimize or camouflage potential fatigue problems," Tolman testified. "Much larger crew sizes greatly reduced the likelihood that an entire crew would be working while fatigued. Moreover, collective bargaining agreements contained maximum mileage regulations - that were strictly enforced - under which a worker would be marked off for the remainder of the month when the maximum was exceeded.

"Over the past 60 years, technology has reduced crew size from five or six to two or three. Notwithstanding this fact, the supply of locomotive engineers, conductors and brakeman has not kept up with demand, creating enormous pressure on the industry to work crews above agreement-based mileage levels. The desire of railroad workers to improve, and not just maintain, their standards of living created similar pressure on unions to permit crews to continue working when those mileage levels were exceeded. As a result of these factors, smaller crews are working far more trips and miles than their historical predecessors."

Limbo time regularly abused

According to Vice President Tolman, the changes in the rail industry have been compounded by "limbo time," a system that is being abused by rail carriers and creating intolerable working conditions for train crews.

"The Hours of Service Act prohibits operating employees from working more than 12 consecutive hours in any 24-hour period, with limited exceptions," Vice President Tolman said. "If a train cannot reach its destination within the 12 hours, the crew must stop in time to cease all work by the 12th hour, at which point they are considered 'outlawed.' A railroad that requires an operating employee to perform service covered by the Act beyond the 12th hour, unless the circumstances are exempted by statute, is subject to a civil penalty.

"Under current law, 'time 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.' Thus, a crew who stops their train short of the destination terminal because they have 'outlawed' are in 'limbo' status with respect to the Hours of Service Act while deadheading from where they stop to their off-duty point.

"The history of the Act shows a pattern of abuse by carriers that continues to this very day."

BLET compiling Hours of Service violations

Vice President Tolman told Congress that the BLET National Legislative Office is in the process of compiling examples of these abuses.

"Over the past nine months, we have received many thousands of reports of excessively long tours of duty," Vice President Tolman said. "Our staff presently is assembling these data into a usable form, which we expect will be completed later this year. However, I can tell you that the preliminary information we have is shocking."

According to data prepared by one of the four largest Class I railroads for the first six months of this year, on average, work tours for over 224 crews exceeded 14 hours every day. An average of nearly 103 crews a day work tours in excess of 15 hours, and over 46 and a half work tours in excess of 16 hours. Almost 20 crews every week for the first six months of this year had a work tour more than 20 hours long; that's 12 hours of work followed by more than 8 hours of deadhead/limbo time.

In addition to Vice President Tolman, the following individuals testified before the subcommittee: The Honorable Joseph Boardman, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; Robert Chipkevich, Director, NTSB: Office of Rail, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations; Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Circadian Technologies, Inc.; Edward Hamberger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads; W. Dan Pickett, International President, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Richard F. Timmons, President, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association; and James Stem, Alternate National Legislative Director, United Transportation Union.

In his questioning, Representative John D. Barrow (D-GA) noted that employees are spread too thin to get effective amounts of rest.

"If staffing levels are inadequate, people are going to try to work too long and get too tired," Representative Barrow said.

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked whether the Hours of Service regulations are designed to protect workers and the general public. He also noted that the hours locomotive engineers spend on call is disruptive to their lives and puts them in danger. Representative Cummings compared the hours worked per month by locomotive engineers to those of truckers and airline pilots. Locomotive engineers can work a maximum of 432 hours per month, truckers can work a maximum of 260 hours per month and airline pilots can work a maximum of 100 hours.

In his testimony, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman stated that 38 percent of all railroad accidents are caused by human factors, and acknowledged that fatigue was the cause of many of these incidents. He also noted that the Hours of Service Act was last amended 30 years ago, and since its last amendment, research has been done into the issue of that should help improve the regulations. He stated, however, that the FRA was powerless to help without assistance from Congress, the railroads and rail labor.

UTU Assistant Legislative Director Stem testified that he believed the FRA understands the problem, but said that action by Congress is now necessary to make changes in the industry.



© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen