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Rail safety bill would empower FRA to regulate rail workers' service hours


At Tuesday’s House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials hearing on rail worker fatigue, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker called on Congress to provide the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) the statutory authority to revise workers’ hours of service.

A day later, the FRA announced a new bill that proposes to do just that. The administration has submitted to Congress the Federal Railroad Safety Accountability and Improvement Act, which for the first time would authorize the FRA to regulate railroad workers’ service hours.

The legislation proposes to replace railroad hours of service laws, which were enacted in 1907, with comprehensive and scientifically based regulations that address fatigue, the FRA said. Similar to hours of service standards set for airline pilots and truck drivers, the administration would set the maximum on-duty or minimum off-duty hours for train crews, dispatchers, and signal maintainers.

A FRA Railroad Safety Advisory Committee comprising railroad managers, labor representatives and other key stakeholders would review fatigue issues and develop recommendations on new hours of service limits based on scientific evidence.

“We must embrace new methods and strategies to further reduce the number of accidents in the rail industry,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman in a prepared statement. “Rail employees need work schedules that reduce fatigue and promote safety.”

The bill also calls for reauthorizing the federal rail safety program through 2011; establishing risk reduction programs; and developing methods to systematically evaluate safety risks to hold railroads more accountable, including risk management strategies and ways to eliminate or minimize worker error.

In addition, the legislation would require states and railroads to update the National Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Inventory on a regular basis, and expand the FRA’s authority to disqualify any individual as unfit for safety-sensitive service, such as transporting hazardous materials.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/15/2007