Have you every missed something so completely that you question your own connections to reality? Like maybe missing the year or more of notices and communications from the Federal Railroad Administration regarding its “Miscellaneous Amendments to Brake Systems Safety Standards and Codification of Waivers” (Docket FRA-2018-0093)?
Author: David Schanoes
There are many things that can’t be hurried in this life, and probably shouldn’t be, like wine and bread (let beaujolais nouveau and matzoh be a warning to us all). There are other things that could use a bit of hurrying, like medical fitness for duty standards and the National Transportation Safety Board, but those two have proven themselves so resistant to urgings, proddings, cris du coeur, that they’ve almost worn me down. Almost.
I don’t often feel the need to defend our industry’s regulator, the Federal Railroad Administration. Part of that is me. Like many who have stumbled into a career in this industry (and I literally stumbled my way into railroad employment, half-blinded and three-quarters frozen by a blizzard in Chicago), I’ve always had a problem with authority. Not that I begrudge anyone his or her authority, title, rate of pay—any of that stuff. I just don’t like other people telling me what to do, and I positively hate it when others think they need to tell me what to do.
I chuckle sometimes these days. Chuckling, in some circles is considered to be an indication of maturity, of wisdom. Those circles don’t include me, and they don’t mean me. Chuckling is that kind of half-wry, half-sad, half-surprised, half-jaded response—and that’s two many halves.
Nothing burnishes an image like death. Ask Richard Nixon, not that you can, and that’s part of the beauty of the whole process. Once he or she is effectively and permanently silenced, memory can go to work blurring those hard edges, air brushing away those unfortunate blemishes on what some call a soul. And we’re left with “the great contributions.”
It’s not often that I find myself in agreement with the National Transportation Safety Board. Not only is it infrequent, it’s downright uncomfortable. Truth be told, nothing worries me more than finding myself in agreement with a government agency, or a panel of experts, or the vice president operations of whatever railroad I happen(ed) to be working for at the time.
I confess to being a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to railroads. Not orthodox, not conservative and certainly not rigid, but a traditionalist. For example, I think a railroad line officer is a trainmaster and not a transportation manager, operations services supervisor or anything else. I’m a traditionalist, so I never thought I’d have to argue certain fundamentals. Silly, traditional me.
The news of the day the other day read “Train Engineer in Fatal 2016 Hoboken Train Crash Wins Back Job with NJT.” The locomotive engineer, Thomas Gallagher, had been dismissed after over-running the end of Track 5 in Hoboken Terminal. The resulting collision damaged the supports for the train shed roof. A woman not on the train but walking on a platform was killed as she was struck by the collapsing structure.
We’re celebrating a whole lot this year. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, recognizing the right of women to vote. I know a few of us are celebrating the 155th anniversary of Sherman’s March to the Sea, breaking the back of the Slaveholders’ Rebellion.
I have this friend, a railroad professional. I know I would never question his commitment to safety. I hope he wouldn’t question mine. This friend is concerned that railroad management will unfairly use medical information it obtains from employees, from employees’ medical care providers, and from the requirements of a medical fitness for duty regulation, to disqualify employees from service. He fears railroads will weaponize the information.