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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Needless radio communications are too distracting, union leader says


The SMART Transportation Division has expressed concern to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that some railroads are requiring "needless radio broadcasts" that are distracting to locomotive engineers, which was a factor cited in the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia last year.

In a letter sent to the FRA last week, SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said his organization has reports from some union members who say "they have lost situational awareness because of the constant blaring of the locomotive radio." He also noted that he has experienced the same thing personally.

Places where there is too much radio traffic impairs train crews' ability to communicate with maintenance-of-way workers, dispatchers and other train crews, which causes safety issues, Risch wrote.

The radio broadcast issue was raised by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which determined last month that the probable cause of the Amtrak derailment in May 2015 was the train engineer's loss of "situational awareness" after his attention was distracted by radio communications of an emergency involving another train. Eight passengers were killed and more than 180 others were sent to local hospitals, according to the NTSB.

"I'm bringing this to your attention now because, clearly, there is a problem out there and the NTSB has it on its radar," said Risch in his letter to the FRA. "I believe there should be some modest changes to railroad operating rules that would greatly reduce radio congestion, and we have asked railroads many times to do so, but unfortunately we have made no progress."

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