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Rail News: Labor

BLET, Volpe Center help further safety study for commuter-rail engineers


Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Division 57 in Boston are working with John A. Volpe National Transportation Center researchers and others on a rail safety study focusing on distraction-related issues among commuter-rail engineers.

The study is the first to apply the science of cognitive performance to the railroad workplace, BLET officials said in a prepared statement. The goal: to identify causes and reasons for distractions, and develop strategies and countermeasures to prevent rail accidents and incidents.

Division 57 members are participating in the joint project with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), passenger-rail operator Veolia Transportation Services and the Volpe Center. The study is funded by a FRA grant.

The study also aims to further demonstrate the way people respond to situations that involve task overload and the influence of “mind wandering,” which can cause a worker to lose focus on the task at hand and inadvertently make mistakes that could result in rule violations or accidents, BLET officials said. Researchers hope the study will result in training that can benefit rail operators and employees involved in safety sensitive occupations, they said.

Preliminary portions of the study already have prompted the development of a training video for locomotive engineers about attention lapses and attention-related errors. Researchers also have developed a series of presentations aimed at further educating rail management about the limits of human attention, as well as several hands-on demonstrations of attention-related errors.

"This is a great example of railroad labor and management working together for the benefit of both our members and the railroads," said BLET National President Dennis Pierce. “Operating crews are threatened with what can only be called situational overload on a daily basis. By working together, it is my hope that we can identify human limitations and develop strategies to create a safer industry for our members and the traveling public.”

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More News from 3/22/2012