Monday, November 23, 2009

FRA refuses to prohibit one-person train crews

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The Federal Railroad Administration has refused to issue an emergency order banning the use of one-person crews in conventional and remote control yard switching operations, but it pledged to monitor them "very closely." The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers-Teamsters and the United Transportation Union filed a petition in June seeking the prohibition.

“Because of the advances in technology, we are seeing significant changes in operations–many that never existed before. FRA will continue to look very closely at these changes," the agency said ina letter to the two unions.

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FRA said it has"no factual evidence" to support a ban on one-person crew operations. "Switchmen, trainmen, and RCOs routinely perform tasks alone, even when on a two-person or three-person crew," noted the agency.

FRA acknowledged that "since these particular one-person operations are new, we have no prior data with which to compare conventional operations and have little prior experience with these operations. Accordingly, we intend to monitor these operations very closely. While there may be operations where a one-person crew can function safely, there may be other operations that are unsuitable for such operations."

"As technology advances," said the letter, “FRA is also aware that the transfer of certain additional tasks and responsibilities to a single individual may result in 'information overload' and/or diminished 'situational awareness.' We believe these conditions should be considered when changing work assignments or adding new technology. Inthis vein, FRA recommends that safety impact studies be conducted prior to implementing such changes.

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"FRA understands that fatigue may play a role in human-factor caused accidents. As the duty tour unfolds, employees tire and may become less coherent. As a consequence, FRA has encouraged the development of fatigue mitigation programs."

UTU International President Mike Futhey said the fight against one-person crews “will remain the UTU's top priority–before the FRA and before Congress. We know, and the BLET agrees, having stated jointly with us in the petition for the emergency order, that no conditions exist where one-person operations are safe.”