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NS: First Class I to Participate in FRA C3RS (UPDATED 2/16)

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
NS, SMART-TD and BLET on Feb. 15 signed an agreement to participate in FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS). Pictured: SMART-TD officers flank TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson (center), NS President and CEO Alan Shaw (left of Ferguson) and FRA Administrator Amit Bose (right of Ferguson) at the signing ceremony in Atlanta. (Photograph Courtesy of SMART-TD, NS)

NS, SMART-TD and BLET on Feb. 15 signed an agreement to participate in FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS). Pictured: SMART-TD officers flank TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson (center), NS President and CEO Alan Shaw (left of Ferguson) and FRA Administrator Amit Bose (right of Ferguson) at the signing ceremony in Atlanta. (Photograph Courtesy of SMART-TD, NS)

Norfolk Southern (NS) on Feb. 15 formally signed an agreement with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Transportation Division (SMART-TD), along with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), to join a pilot program of the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS). Their decision to participate, announced Jan. 29, means that approximately 1,000 workers represented by BLET and SMART-TD in Atlanta, Ga.; Elkhart, Ind.; and Roanoke, Va., will be able to “confidentially report unsafe events that they experience while being protected from NS discipline,” according to FRA, which sponsors C3RS.

Pictured at the Feb. 15 signing ceremony: BLET union leaders, NS President and CEO Alan Shaw, and FRA Administrator Amit Bose. (Photograph Courtesy of NS)

The signing ceremony was held at the Atlanta offices of the U.S. Department of Transportation. With attendees from NS, union and FRA leadership, the ceremony officially kicked off the partnership.

Key goals of the one-year C3RS pilot program include “collecting currently unreported unsafe practices, behaviors, or situations; identifying and implementing corrective actions; and sharing general trends and statistics to enhance railroad safety,” according to NS. NASA, which acts as an independent third party and maintains the C3RS data, “will deidentify data and provide it for review by a joint committee of NS and labor representatives, who, with FRA’s guidance, will identify and implement corrective actions to improve safety,” the Class I reported Jan. 29.

(NS Photograph)

All Class I railroads, through the Association of American Railroads (AAR), committed to joining C3RS last March but have been working with FRA to make program adjustments they feel are necessary. AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies explained the railroads’ commitment in a March 2, 2023, letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who in Feb. 27, 2023, letters to the individual railroads requested that they join C3RS, following the NS train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO also urged the Class I railroads to join.

According to FRA, the NS-BLET-SMART-TD agreement “comes after months of FRA-led meetings and collaboration with worker representatives and NS to secure the first group of Class I freight railroad employees to currently participate in C3RS.” The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and FRA continue to expect the remaining five Class I’s “to make good on their commitment” to joining, FRA said.

Enabling workers to report their experiences without fear of retribution “is an essential part of building a robust safety culture in the rail industry,” FRA said. C3RS is designed to enable employees to share their full experiences, “better informing the railroad, other workers, and the entire industry about close calls,” according to the agency, which noted that C3RS “informs corrective actions that mitigate hazards, and shares data and analyses conducted by NASA under C3RS with the entire railroad industry, which ultimately improves rail safety.” Lessons learned and best practices are also shared during briefings and at FRA-hosted workshops.

About 27 short line and passenger railroads covering 32,000 employees currently participate in C3RS—up from 15 such railroads covering 23,000 employees in 2019. To date, FRA said it has received nearly 31,000 reports through C3RS.

(NS Photograph)

“NS is proud to partner with our labor leaders and FRA to make another industry-leading advancement in safety,” NS President and CEO Alan H. Shaw said. “We are committed to setting the gold standard for rail safety, and we are proud to be the first Class I railroad to deliver on our promise to co-develop and launch a C3RS program.”

“It should be the goal of everyone who works in the railroad industry to continually improve safety,” BLET National President Eddie Hall said. “Providing a confidential platform to report unsafe practices allows us to harness the power of every worker’s voice. NS and its CEO, Alan Shaw, should be applauded for taking this step. I hope that this will become a model for other Class I freight railroads. I also would like to commend the leadership shown by General Chairmen Scott Bunten, Dewayne Dehart, and Jerry Sturdivant who helped make this happen by negotiating on behalf of our NS members.”

“This is huge step forward for the safety of our brothers and sisters at Norfolk Southern,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “SMART-TD has been a long-time champion of C3RS, and this new program will allow our members to speak up when they see unsafe conditions without fear of negative repercussions. I would like to thank General Chairmen James Ball, Joe Borders, Tommy Gholson, David Phillips, and Dan Weir for their unwavering commitment to bringing C3RS to their members.”

“FRA and the U.S. Department of Transportation have been using the full range of our authority to improve rail safety and push the industry to protect their employees, keep the public safe, and keep communities informed,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Norfolk Southern has taken a good first step, and it’s time for the other Class I railroads to back up their talk with action and make good on their promises to join this close call reporting system and keep America’s rail network safe.”

“C3RS is a commonsense program that empowers frontline railroad employees to play a critical role in ensuring their safety and that of their colleagues and the general public,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said. “We are greatly encouraged by Norfolk Southern Railway’s decision to enter the program with some of their employees represented by BLET and SMART-TD. However, it’s been nearly a year and no other Class I freight railroads have made good on their promise to join the program—it’s time for action. All Class I’s and their various craft employees stand to benefit from this program. The occurrence of any preventable accident, injury, or death is unacceptable, and FRA will continue to fight for the right of rail workers to help improve rail safety without fear of discipline or enforcement.”

FRA noted that in addition to C3RS, the USDOT has taken a number of actions over the past year “to improve rail safety, and better support workers and first responders,” including:

In a related development, NASA on Jan. 26 reported awarding a contract to Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., to support C3RS and the agency’s Aviation Safety Reporting System.

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