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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

UTU forms task force to help FRA reduce worker fatalities


Last year, employee on-duty fatalities reached 19, making 2008 one of the worst years for worker fatalities, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

“If we do not turn back this trend, we will shatter that record [this year],” said FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer Jo Strang in a letter sent to rail labor unions. “The industry has already witnessed seven fatalities in both the operating and non-operating crafts.”

Strang called on the unions to provide help in reversing the troubling safety trend. To that end, the United Transportation Union (UTU) has appointed a four-person task force charged with crafting an action plan in conjunction with the FRA aimed at reducing workers’ safety risks on the job. The task force will coordinate efforts with UTU National Legislative Director James Stem.

"I expect the task force to seek partnerships with the railroads on a national basis, and for the carriers and UTU task force to work closely with the FRA to investigate the root causes of these tragedies,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey in a prepared statement. “I expect the effort to produce an effective solution that includes best practices and techniques to improve situational awareness and keep situational awareness it at its highest level.”

The task force will build on efforts of the FRA’s Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group, which includes railroad and union representatives.

"The SOFA working group has achieved notable success in identifying risk reduction strategies in rail yards,” said Futhey.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) has reported that 12 major accidents involving track workers in the first quarter caused five track worker fatalities, four serious injuries and three near misses.

Last year, seven roadway workers were struck and killed by trains or MOW equipment — the highest death toll since 1997, the BMWED said.

“Sadly, 2009 has begun where 2008 left off, with two additional roadway worker fatalities occurring in January in New York and Arizona,” said BMWED National President Freddie Simpson. “This unacceptable toll has to stop and I am calling upon every single member to help us end this tragic cycle of death and sorrow.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/3/2009