April 20, 2014

UTU Rail Safety Alert No. 1 (revised)

UTU Rail Safety Alert No. 1 (revised)

(Following is the first safety alert, revised June 22, issued by the UTU’s recently appointed Rail Safety Task Force.

UTU International President Mike Futhey appointed the task force in response to a sharp spike in railroad on-duty employee fatalities.

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen also have petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration for an emergency order to prohibit the use by railroads of one-person operating crews, including in remote control operations.)

SAFETY ALERT NO. 1 (revised)

While the UTU has consistently taken exception to single-person operations, in reality it exists today. Accordingly, our members should be aware of the safest course in an unsafe situation.

UTU members working in single-person operations are strongly encouraged to question any order by a railroad official to perform any activities that may result in an injury, loss of limb or life — short of insubordination.

If your request to be relieved of such a task is denied, please immediately contact your local chairperson, general chairperson, local legislative representative or state legislative director for further handling.

In doing so, document these actions as soon as you are able, providing as much information as possible, including witnesses, times, dates, locations and names of all involved.

Following is the proper procedure to handle any types of incidents you feel cannot be safely accomplished by a one-person operation:

1) Call for help, such as a utility employee and/or the mechanical department to assist with the function while the RCO operator maintains control of the RCL transmitter (belt pack) and provides three-step protection. All blue flag rules still apply.

Following are FRA regulations relating to the functions of a “utility employee.”

A utility employee properly attached to a train or yard crew, per the requirements of 49 CFR 218.22(c)(1), (2), (3) and (4), may go on, under or between rolling equipment that the crew is called to operate to perform any of the six functions permitted by 49 CFR 218.22(c)(5), without blue signal protection.

The following are the only six functions permitted:

  1. Set or release hand brakes.
  2. Couple or uncouple air hoses and other electrical or mechanical connections.
  3. Prepare rail cars for coupling. (This means opening knuckles, adjusting drawbars, arranging air hoses etc. It does not mean making repairs, such as changing a knuckle or replacing an air hose.)
  4. Set wheel blocks or wheel chains.
  5. Conduct air brake tests to include cutting air brake components in or out and position retaining valves.
  6. Inspect, test, install, remove or replace a rear-end marking device or end-of-train device.

Under all other circumstances, a utility employee working on, under, or between railroad rolling equipment must be provided with blue signal protection in accordance with §§ 218.23 through 218.30 of Subpart B to Part 218.

2) If help is not available, notify management that you are concerned the function you are being required to perform is unsafe, and that you would prefer not to perform the function.

3) If the carrier official (supervisor, manager) insists that you perform the unsafe function anyway, tell him/her you feel this would place your personal safety in jeopardy and ask that they reconsider your request.

4) If the carrier official denies your request, perform the function as instructed, taking every safety protection available, including:

  • Making sure everyone working on both ends of the yard knows where you are, and that you are about to be on your own under or between cars on the track and without blue-flag protection.
  • Make sure the belt pack is set to prevent the locomotive from moving.
  • Secure cars on a cut located on the oppose side of where the locomotive is attached (to prevent rollback).
  • Keep a constant eye and ear out for any movement whatsoever.
  • Keep the belt pack on, to ensure the man-down feature is operable (or as near as safely possible without creating a tripping hazard), just in case it’s needed.

5) After being required to perform the function, report these occurrences to you local legislative representative, safety chairpersons and local chairpersons.

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force and its mission, click here:

http://utu.org/safety/utu-rail-safety-task-force/