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Entries in Rail Safety (2)


U.S. Transportation Secretary Announces Proposed Regulations to Prevent Railroad Crew Distractions While Operating Trains

In an age when more and more devices are becoming available and adopted for daily use in this “connected” world, the DOT takes a harder line on rail safety by proposing a rule “to prohibit the improper use of distracting electronic devices by on-duty railroad operating employees.”

I can appreciate the reason and the intent of the new federal proposal, but keep in mind that there was already a company policy against texting and still the Metrolink engineer chose to disregard it and text away.

Is this a case of over reacting? Shouldn’t we be focusing on in-cab controls and line safety devices to protect rail travelers and the public? Next time, God forbid, it might not be a cellphone but some other distraction that we failed to rule against.

Let me know your opinions.

From a United States Department of Transportation press release:

Monday, May 17, 2010          
Contact:  Mark Paustenbach                                       
Tel:  (202) 493-6024

U.S. Transportation Secretary Announces Proposed Regulations to
Prevent Railroad Crew Distractions While Operating Trains

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today continued his campaign to stop distracted driving by announcing a proposed rule to prohibit the improper use of distracting electronic devices by on-duty railroad operating employees.  If adopted, the rules would explicitly restrict and in some cases prohibit the use of cell phones and other hand held devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) by safety critical employees, including locomotive engineers, conductors, switchmen, and other train employees. 

“Operating a passenger or freight train demands the full and undivided attention of crewmembers at all times.  Lives depend on it,” said Secretary LaHood.  “We want to make sure that railroad employees know not to use hand held devices on the job because doing so jeopardizes safety.”

The proposed rule announced today is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Department to combat distracted driving.  During a seminal September 2009 Distracted Driving Summit, Secretary LaHood announced the Department’s plans to vigorously pursue regulatory and other steps to reduce the risks posed by distracted driving. 

The rule would prohibit the use of an electronic device—whether personal or railroad-supplied— if it interferes with that employee’s or another employee’s performance of safety-related duties.  Railroad operating employees would be permitted to use cell phones or similar electronic devices under highly limited circumstances.

The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) provides certain exceptions for watches, calculator use, medical devices, railroad radios, cameras used to document bona fide safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws and various emergency situations.  The regulations would also authorize the Federal Railroad Administration to review a railroad’s training program on the use of electronic devices and require that records be kept documenting employees receiving recurrent training at specified intervals.  The NPRM seeks comment on whether violations of the rule should be used as a basis for revoking a locomotive engineer’s certification to operate a locomotive under other FRA regulations.
“There should be no confusion about when and where cell phones, video games or PDAs may be used by train crews,” said FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae.

FRA is proposing to codify a modified version of its 2008 Emergency Order No. 26 (EO 26), which sets forth stringent restrictions on the use of electronic devices by railroad operating employees.  FRA issued EO 26 less than three weeks after a September 12, 2008 collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific Railroad freight train in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people. 

Preliminary investigative findings revealed that the engineer operating the Metrolink train was text messaging at the time of the collision.  While longstanding railroad operating rules and EO 26 have restricted the use of electronic devices, FRA has determined that Federal regulations are necessary to more effectively prevent the inappropriate and unauthorized use of these devices on the job.  A final rule would supplant EO 26.
The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, may 18.  Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted throughwww.regulations.gov (Docket# No. FRA-2009-0118).  The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal is June 17.  Click here to view the NPRM.



Looking for Solutions to Prevent Frequent and Avoidable Tragedies

Yet another senseless and tragic incident involving individuals being struck and killed by a passing train occurred Saturday morning in the city of Rosemead, California.

According to news reports, two young adults were, according to claims of those involved, apparently “sleeping” on the tracks when they were run over by a 71-car westbound Union Pacific train doing reportedly 50 miles per hour.

The men were identified by coroner officials as Aaron Gallardo and Richard Haro, both whom are 19 and live in Rosemead.

My deepest sympathies go out to all affected by this tragic event, including the families and friends of the two men, and to the crew of the Union Pacific train.

However, I am frustrated and angered that this incident occurred at all.  This type of event seems real frequent, especially in southern California. Something has to be done to educate and inform the public of the risks of trespassing onto railroad property.

I found two videos from local news stations that show coverage of the incident in question.  This first one is from ABC 7:


This next video is from CBS 2 in Los Angeles and looks like it was filmed the next day:


Based on the reports it appears that the men might have been drinking prior to the incident and subsequently passed out on the tracks. My question is what were they thinking?  I am not sure that they were, clearly.

All railroads tracks and right-of-ways are private property and for good reason. The safety of the public can not be guaranteed when individuals chose to break laws by trespassing and putting themselves in harm’s way.

I know that people use the right-of-ways as a means to traverse the area but that doesn’t make it right - or safe.  Had the two men not been on the right-of-way at all then, perhaps, that might have passed out, in that in fact is what happened, on a sidewalk or yard instead. But they didn’t…

As you can see in the second video, the obviously grief-stricken friends of the victims are also trespassing by sitting on the rails and placing a memorial near the scene. Seriously, is this the best thing to do? Perhaps there were officials nearby and the tracks were closed, but nonetheless it is more of the same careless behaviors.

I don’t know if the public is aware of the toll that an incident like this has on the train crew involved. Who among us was to cause the death of another individual while we are doing our jobs? It can end some careers of engineers and conductors alike due to the physiological trauma sustained in any collision-based event. There is nothing the train crew can do to prevent the tragedy that fell before them.

What can we do as a society to educate all that the right-of-ways are not a place to gather and/or use as a thoroughfare?  I am at a loss. This doesn’t seem to help:



Here is a excerpt from Wikipedia.org on railroad trespassing:

It is usually illegal to arrest a trespasser and hold them on the property until law enforcement arrives as this defeats the purpose of allowing them to cure the trespass by leaving. This is excepted by US states that have citizen arrest laws; CA being one. A large exception to this rule is railroads in the United States and Canada, who employ their own police forces to enforce state or provincial trespassing laws. Railroad police have the ability to independently arrest and prosecute trespassers without the approval or assistance of local law enforcement. Furthermore, in many jurisdictions, trespassing on railroad tracks is considered a very severe offense comparable to drunk driving, with severe fines imposed on the trespassers. Some jurisdictions even go so far as to impose fines higher than that of a drunk driving or marijuana possession conviction. 


If you have any ideas please post them as a comment.