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Rail News: Labor
BLET calls for FRA action, two-person crews in aftermath of Amtrak derailment
In light of the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) decision earlier this week on the probable cause of Amtrak's fatal derailment in May 2015, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) has renewed its request that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issue an emergency order to prohibit railroads' use of certain fuel management locomotive technologies.
On Tuesday, the NTSB determined the derailment's probable cause was the engineer's "loss of situational awareness" after his attention was diverted by radio communications about an emergency involving a commuter train on adjacent track a few miles ahead of the Amtrak train.
The BLET has been concerned with "task overload and distraction" that have been issues of "grave concern" for the past several years, said BLET National President Dennis Pierce in a prepared statement issued this morning.
"A key part of our concern is that terms like 'the loss of situational awareness' attempt to place blame on the locomotive engineer, without considering that any human being can be given too many tasks at any given time, resulting in task overload," Pierce said.
In an attempt to bring attention to the problem, the BLET last year petitioned the FRA for an emergency order that would require railroads to cease use of certain types of "non-vital" fuel management locomotive technologies that divert engineers' attention away from the road in order to monitor the systems.
"Evidence from the field continues to show that the mandated use of such technologies creates unsafe distractions for locomotive engineers and poses an unnecessary risk to train crews and the public," Pierce said. As a result of the NTSB ruling, the BLET is renewing its request to the FRA for that emergency order, union leaders added.
In addition, the BLET concurs with the NTSB's findings that the lack of a functioning positive train control (PTC) system on the track where the incident occurred was a "contributing factor" to the deadly derailment, Pierce said. Had a PTC system been in place it would have prevented the derailment from occurring, the NTSB determined.
"We would be remiss, however, if we did not also clearly state that Amtrak's decision-making in phasing in life-saving safety redundancy was constrained by decades of inadequate funding by Congress," he added. "Therefore, we also renew our long-standing call for full funding for the nation's passenger railroad."
Pierce also reiterated the labor organization's call for a two-person crew requirement.
"Positive train control will help mitigate accidents, but it should not be used to replace crew members who work inside the cab of America's locomotives," Pierce said. "Indeed, if a second engineer as necessitated in many areas of Amtrak had been present to assist the engineer of train 188 in managing the multiple tasks confronting him, there would have been no accident."
BLET also renews its request that railroads stop requiring the use of "non-vital and unproven technologies that could diminish rail safety by creating further task overload," said Pierce.
Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.