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Rail News: Safety

Final FRA report finds reduced shift start-time variability can boost safety


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently released a final report on start time variability for freight train and engine (T&E) workers and passenger-rail service employees, which found a high variance in shift start times contributes to worker fatigue — a factor known to increase the risk of rail accidents.

Unpredictable start times prevent employees from planning sleep and personal activities. T&E employees who work in yards or local freight service and passenger-rail operations workers typically have regular and predictable start times, but employees who receive additional compensation for volunteering to work additional hours within the statutory limit have schedules that might vary from day to day because they fill in for workers with regular assignments, the report states.

In addition, passenger service jobs often involve a split assignment in which the employee works the morning rush, has four hours or more off in the middle of the day and then returns to work for the evening rush. The jobs often have high start time predictability. For T&E employees who work in road service, regular work schedules as far as the days or the time their shift starts are not common, meaning a low start-time predictability, the report states.

The FRA report examines start time differences from three different databases that were previously published by the agency: a fatigue accident validation database, T&E employee work schedule and sleep pattern database, and passenger service work schedule and sleep pattern database. The report concludes that a potential way to boost safety is by reducing shift start-time variability.

Fatigue, as measured by a Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool, was significantly correlated with start time difference unpredictability, the report states. The tool can be used to make model-free fatigue comparisons between work locations, types of jobs, and changes in policies and procedures.


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