As the rail industry continues to evolve, the BR&CF
is looking forward to the future and serving our members.
CTY LTD Update
The purpose of this Information Bulletin is to bring everyone up to date
on what has happened since the CTY LTD Ratification.
Railroad workers have been fighting fatigue in the
rail industry for decades but the problem persists. We are now asking
you to help us document the problem.
US Congress hustling to
pass rail reform after crash
Source: The Associated Press
Published: September 23rd 2008
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LOS ANGELES — After a fatal commuter train collision, Congress is
hurrying to pass new laws that would limit hours engineers work, mandate
technology to stop trains on a collision course and enact the rail
industry's first other major reforms in 14 years.
The train oversight and safety agency, the Federal Railroad
Administration, has operated under an expired 1994 law, and until the
Sept. 12 crash, it looked like Congress would end another legislative
session without changes.
Twenty-five people were killed when the Metrolink commuter train
collided with a freight train, the nation's deadliest train accident
Now lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a final deal by the end of
the week on sweeping reforms pushed for years by the National
Transportation Safety Board. The House and Senate have passed versions
of the bill, but hope to resolve differences before the election recess
Friday, according to Senate aides.
"We regulate in this country by counting tombstones," said Barry M.
Sweedler, the former director of the NTSB's office of safety
recommendations. "If you don't have enough people dead, not much gets
done. The pressure isn't there to do it."
In 1993, Amtrak's Sunset Limited jumped the rails on a weakened bridge
and plunged into a bayou near Mobile, Ala., killing 47 people.
The following year, Congress passed the Federal Railroad Safety
Authorization Act of 1994, but it expired four years later and the FRA
has operated without new congressional guidance.
Critics say serious safety issues have gotten short shrift in that time.
Among the most pressing are train operator fatigue — which the FRA
estimates is at least a contributing factor in 25 percent of serious
train accidents — and installation of technology that can engage the
brakes if a train misses a signal or gets off-track.
"A 21st century rail system cannot run safely on laws, technology and
infrastructure from decades ago," complained Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.,
author of the Senate version of legislation that would reauthorize the
FRA, give it hundreds of new safety inspectors and add a host of new
The FRA, which critics view as too compliant with the railroad industry,
is lukewarm toward some of the proposed changes, and the railroad
industry says heavy regulation isn't the solution. The FRA says it can
do its job without new safety inspectors, and while both the FRA and the
railroad industry claim they support so-called positive train control
technology, neither wants Congress to impose a timeline.
The FRA also wants to set work hours for rail employees, something
Congress does under a 1907 law. Train crews are now allowed to work 432
hours per month, compared to 100 hours per month for commercial airline
pilots; Lautenberg's bill would cap work at 276 hours per month.
Part of the tension between the FRA, Congress and the industry is an
artifact of the long history of railroads in this country, which existed
for decades before the FRA was created. Railroads still are responsible
for overseeing their own locomotive engineers and have primary
responsibility for safety inspections on their own property.
George Gavalla, a railroad safety consultant and former head of the
Federal Railroad Administration's safety office, said there are large
areas of railroad activity that are not subject to federal regulation.
"Over the years, on a piecemeal basis the FRA would issue regulations to
specific problems," Gavalla said. "Every time there's an accident ... or
if there were recurring accidents of a certain severity, there's a new
regulation to address it."
Because of the incremental approach, railroads have developed their own
operational rules and safety procedures.
For example, the operator of the Metrolink train that ran a red light in
Los Angeles was using his cell phone on duty, the NTSB said. While that
was a violation of Metrolink's rules, the FRA has yet to take action on
the cell phone issue. Critics say the process is painstakingly slow
because an advisory committee that discussed the subject is made up of
industry and labor representatives who rarely agree on safety policies.
After the crash, the California Public Utilities Commission seized on
what it saw as a lack of federal jurisdiction and voted last week to
prohibit train operators from using cell phones while on duty in the
The FRA is a relatively small agency compared to the size of the
railroad industry. It has about 430 inspectors to oversee an industry
with over 235,000 employees and over 1.3 million freight cars running on
220,000 miles of rail track, according to the nonpartisan Congressional