CLEVELAND — The Brotherhood of Locomotive
Engineers and Trainmen and the UTU have filed a
petition for an emergency order with the Federal
Railroad Administration (FRA) seeking to prohibit
the use of one-person train crews — including
conventional and remote control yard switching
BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz and UTU International President Mike Futhey signed the petition for the emergency order, which was filed today.
One-person crew operations “have been nothing more than the industry’s attempt to reduce operating costs to increase profits, at the expense of worker safety,” says the BLET and UTU petition seeking the FRA emergency order.
“Remote control operations are a very serious hazard for a number of reasons,” the petition says. “Any person having safety concerns in mind should recognize that a single-person remote control assignment should never be allowed. It puts rail workers at great risk of injury or death.”
The FRA is told in the petition, “The evidence shows that no conditions exist where a lone engineer or remote control operations are safe.”
The need for such an emergency order, says the BLET and the UTU, is demonstrated by a May 10 accident on CSX in Selkirk, N.Y., which killed UTU-represented conductor Jerod Boehlke, who was working alone and using a remote control device.
“The workload associated with [remote control operations], while performing other safety critical tasks, demands too much of a single individual, including loss of situational awareness,” says the petition. “How many more incidents like the one at Selkirk need to occur before such operations are prohibited?”
There are numerous incidents of accidents, injuries and fatalities where railroads utilized one-person crews, and the injuries and deaths caused by remote and single-crew operations “have continued unabated since its inception in the early 1990s,” says the petition. “This has been caused in part by the inaction of the FRA to a number of petitions filed both by the BLET and the UTU for emergency orders to prevent such operations.
The petition says that while the FRA has reviewed the safety aspects of one-person crews, it “has really done nothing affirmatively to assure the safety of the employees in such operations.”
The BLET and the UTU also sharply criticized FRA conclusions that the safety records of remote control and conventional operations are “basically the same.”
The BLET and UTU petition says a 2006 FRA report titled “Safety of Remote Control Operations” contains major flaws. Most of FRA’s erroneous figures resulted from the formulas used for calculating the statistics. For example, the accident rates calculated for each railroad failed to normalize the data to account for different crew sizes in RCL and conventional operations, even though FRA had previously stated that normalization was required in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
After correcting for these errors, the data actually showed that the mean RCL accident rate was nearly 3.5 times the conventional switching rate.
Similarly, correcting mean injury rates reversed the findings of the 2006 report as to which operation was safer. The data actually show a RCL injury rate almost 80 percent higher than the conventional switching injury rate, and the normalized RCL fatality rate was over 3.5 times the normalized conventional switching fatality rate.
An emergency order prohibiting the use of one-person operating crews, including remote control operations, would take effect immediately upon issuance by the FRA.
“It is time for the FRA to take a proactive safety stance, and not merely a band-aid reactive approach to this issue,” the petition concludes.