Rail Safety Changes Besides Postive Train Control

The roll-out of positive train control (PTC) is a daunting task for many railroads.  Even without PTC we would still call this a very busy time in the realm of railroad safety.  The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which included the PTC mandate, was the most comprehensive rail safety legislation in several decades.  It would be easy in light of PTC to lose sight of all the other RSIA initiatives underway, but that would be a mistake.

In an effort to help our readers stay current, we will devote some space here to a series of posts on RSIA implementation issues other than PTC.  I will be speaking on this topic next week on a panel with an FRA representative and commuter rail CEO’s at the American Public Transportation Association’s Rail Conference in Boston.

To begin with, let’s review the status of passenger hours of service limits.  RSIA made major changes in the Hours of Service Act, but provided that the changes would not apply to Amtrak and commuter railroads if FRA finalized an alternative set of passenger rail requirements by October 16, 2011.  With that deadline in mind, FRA published a proposed rule in March.

For multiple tour limits, FRA proposes to treat all shifts in two categories.  A type 1 shift would be any shift within the window from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m.  Generally, the rule would allow a maximum of 14 consecutive type 1 shifts before a two-day off duty period.

A shift that involves any time outside of the 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. window would be a type 2 shift.  Here is where we get the big changes.  For type 2 shifts, generally the rule would allow a maximum of six consecutive shifts before a 24-hour off duty period.  All type 2 shifts would be analyzed against a defined fatigue threshold, the railroad would be required to mitigate fatigue above the threshold or show that mitigation is not possible.  Type 2 shifts that fall below the fatigue threshold could be treated as type 1 shifts.

Several commuter railroads, trade associations and unions filed comments on the proposed rule.  Passenger railroads and the American Public Transportation Association expressed concern with respect to implementation costs, including the significant costs for new hires, fatigue training costs and licensing fees for fatigue modeling software.   If the comments filed are indicative, rail labor is generally very satisfied with the proposed rule and considers the changes long overdue.

The final rule for passenger rail hours of service is scheduled for release in August 2011, in time to meet the statutory deadline for implementation of October 16, 2011.

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