FRA issues amended Emergency Order No. 24

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued revisions to Emergency Order No. 24 on November 18.

Generally, the revisions incorporate the information provided in Questions and Answers published by FRA on November 4th. However, FRA also addressed the three specific items contained in the Petition for Amendment that the BLET filed on November 7th, and tightened the original requirement with respect to switch point indicators. A copy of the revised emergency order is available on the BLET website at the link provided at the end of this article.

As for BLET's request for clarification concerning the significance of a locomotive engineer's initials appearing on the Switch Point Awareness Form (SPAF), FRA stated:

"BLET asked that FRA clarify that entry of the engineer's initials is an affirmation that the communication (representation) has been received and not that the engineer can personally vouch for the actions taken on the ground. FRA affirms that the engineer's responsibility is to acknowledge the information provided by the conductor or brakeman, not to act as a guarantor with respect to the actual position in which the switch was left."

With respect to our request that handing-off of switches between crews be prohibited, FRA stated:

"BLET asked that language in item (2) of the order be amended to delete 'except when the switch is left in the charge of a crewmember of another train or the train dispatcher directs otherwise,' following the requirement that switches be left in normal position when not in use. BLET suggested that this would heighten the sense of individual responsibility that the order seeks to promote. FRA appreciates the suggestion and recognizes that it is thematically consistent with the general thrust of the order. However, FRA is unable to act upon it for three reasons. First, this change does not appear to be necessary to abate the emergency. Recent accidents caused by misaligned switches have generally involved error on the part of the crew initially reversing the switch, rather than miscommunication or lapses associated with handing off responsibility for the switch. Second, such a change could expose employees to hazards unnecessarily, as when it might be necessary to cross live tracks, walk on uneven ballast, or traverse areas covered with snow or ice. Third, imposing this requirement would cause significant delay and inefficiency in railroad operations."

The BLET's Petition for Amendment also objected to FRA's retreat - in Q&A #22 - from the original requirement that all intra-crew confirmations concerning restoring a switch be made via radio, by accepting alternative means of communication. While FRA has decided to allow alternative means of communication, it limited the circumstances in which such alternatives were appropriate as a result of the BLET's petition:

"A concern shared by many commenters was that the EO was written in such a way as to indicate that unless radio communication was inoperable, no alternative method of communication among crewmembers would be acceptable to indicate a switch position. Some railroads requested an amendment because they preferred to use a method of communication other than radio as their primary method, such as hand or whistle signals. FRA has issued a clarifying amendment to indicate that it will accept alternate methods of intra-crew communication when they afford an equivalent level of communication integrity relevant to the prevailing operating conditions. FRA agrees with a comment from BLET that there will be situations where hand signals do not provide unambiguous information, as where a ground employee is expected to restore a switch behind a movement that will not be using the switch to exit the area. In those cases, radio communications or face-to-face communication will be required."

Lastly, FRA has narrowed automatic relief from compliance with the requirements of EO 24 by requiring that the use of switch point indicators must be approved by FRA:

"In this Notice, FRA has required specific acceptance of "switch point indicators" as alternative to the rule because the term does not apply to a closed set of technologies and in order to provide FRA an opportunity to evaluate whether the technology provides safety equivalent to that provided by compliance with this order by properly qualified employees;" and

"Relief from this EO is automatically granted when [h]and-operated main track switches in non-signaled territory are protected by switch point indicators accepted by the Associate Administrator as providing safety equivalent to that provided by positioning and securing of switches in compliance with this order."

While FRA does not require that each employee affected by EO 24 be provided a copy of Notice No. 2, it does mandate that all instructions given to such employees be consistent with the changes contained therein. The BLET will continue to keep members apprised of any further developments concerning this matter.

A copy of the revised Emergency Order is available at:


© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen