July 22, 2014

UTU, BLET seek cell-phone ban fixes

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen filed on Nov. 14 a joint petition for review by the Federal Railroad Administration of the FRA’s so-called emergency cell phone order, requesting that the FRA make additional exceptions to the order in the name of safety.

The ban, effective Oct. 27, applies to any electronic device that was not provided to the railroad operating employee by the employing railroad for business purposes. (For more detail, see www.utu.org and click on “FRA cell phone ban” at the bottom right corner.)

The UTU and the BLET are seeking exceptions to the order banning the use of personal electronic devices while deadheading; the use of cameras that can document safety hazards or safety law violations; and the use of electronic calculators and global positioning satellite (GPS) devices that can aid safe train operation.

“It is not our intention to unnecessarily complicate a fairly bright-line rule regarding the use of electronic and electrical devices,” UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET President Ed Rodzwicz jointly in the petition for review. “However, we do believe FRA should seriously consider those atypical situations in which [the emergency order] as currently written could inadvertently result in a diminution of safety, as compared to operating conditions and practices in effect prior to its promulgation.”

As for deadheading, the two unions argue that since deadheading crews have fulfilled their safety-related responsibilities — and in many cases are not on duty — their use of electronic devices should not be restricted to business purpose use only.

To that end, the unions ask the FRA to rewrite a portion of the emergency order to read: “A railroad operating employee who is deadheading may use a cell phone while within the body of a passenger train or railroad business car, or while inside the cab of a locomotive that is not the lead locomotive of the train on which the employee is deadheading.”

As for cameras, the UTU and the BLET argue that the emergency order appears to forbid photographic documentation by a train employee of safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws, regulations, orders or standards, which would actually diminish railroad safety.

The two unions ask for an exemption, which would read:

“An electronic still or video camera may be used to document a safety hazard or a violation of a rail safety law, regulation, order or standard; provided, that (1) the use of a camera in the cab of a moving train may only be by a crew member other than the locomotive engineer, and (2) the use of a camera by a train employee on the ground is permissible only when (a) the employee is not fouling a track, (b) no switching operation is underway, (c) no other safety duties are presently required, and (d) all members of the crew have been briefed that operations are suspended. The use of the photographic function of a cell phone is permitted under these same conditions.”

Third, the unions question a section of the emergency order that prohibits the use of electronic devices such (as calculators) to make computations. The UTU and the BLET point out that a number of safety-critical computational functions are required in numerous circumstances if on-board systems fail or are not provided. These include managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length for speed restrictions and clearing track authorities.

A new section regarding exceptions to this portion of the emergency order should be added as follows:

“When mathematical calculations are required for safe train movement (e.g., managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length), it is permissible to perform such calculations by using an electronic calculator, or by using the calculator function of a cell phone or electronic timepiece.”

Fourth, the two unions petition the FRA to allow the use of global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking devices in order to gauge the accuracy of locomotive speed indicators, particularly when the designated measured mile lies within a temporary speed restriction of less than 30 miles per hour.

One effect of the emergency order is to preclude the use of a GPS device to calculate the speed of a train that is not equipped with a speed indicator because the train will not exceed 20 mph. Another is that the accuracy of a speed indicator determined within a slow order of 30 mph or less cannot be correlated with its accuracy at speed above 30 mph. Maintaining proper train speed is both safety-critical and demanded of a locomotive engineer.

The UTU and BLET ask the FRA to consider an exception to the emergency order for GPS devices, requesting that GPS tracking devices be allowed to verify the accuracy of the speed indicator in a controlling locomotive.