Time was, way back in the day, I spent these long periods of snow and cold....working outdoors in scenic Proviso Yard in Chicago. Now?
Now? Hey, I'm retired. I'm in New York, and believe me, as bad as it might get, NYC doesn't even budge the needle on the old chill-o-meter compared to Chicago.
I don't have to mink-oil my boots every week. I don't have to dress in layers. I don't have to bring a complete change of clothes, from socks and long underwear to knit cap and gloves (BTW, way back in my day, it was mittens, with separate thumbs because no glove could keep your fingers warm enough if they were separated from each other).
Now? I read a lot...drink wine with every meal except breakfast (ok, once I had wine with breakfast, but that was in France. ok, maybe it was twice or three times, but who's counting?)...... and provide what I hope are thought-provoking comments on the state of our industry.
So I was reading and I read where Metra Commuter Railroad has petitioned FRA for relief from certain provisions of 49 CFR parts 240 and 242; specifically the provision that require a railroad to decertify locomotive engineers and conductors for certain operating violations.
Well, I have had so much success with my other comments on other petitions from other railroads requesting the same type of waiver, that I just couldn't resist providing another comment. And here it is (full disclosure: I did not consume any substance prohibited by rule G prior to submitting my comment. All errors, inaccuracies, poor grammar are exclusively the result of my innate abilities.)
Agency: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
Document Type: Nonrulemaking
Title: Petitions for Waivers of Compliance
Document ID: FRA-2015-0011-0002
Once again, a railroad is asking for relief from the requirements of certain sections of the regulation regarding certification and decertification of locomotive engineers and conductors for violations of specific operating requirements.
Once again the petitioner argues that the waiver is made to facilitate, or enhance a so-called confidential close call reporting system.
Once again the petition claims that C3RS is a proven method for reducing the risk of accidents due to operating, and operator error on the railroad.
With all due respect, nothing on the C3RS website proves that such systems are any more effective at reducing the risk of accidents.
As a matter of fact, a survey of accident rates on the properties participating in the pilot programs indicates a rough equivalency in those accident rates and the rates on properties not participating in this type of program. There is even some evidence that on at least one property certain types of accidents have increased.
Great Britain, which has extensive experience with C3RS type programs, and which has the safest railroad operations in the European Union, does not protect operator failure, rule violations by operating crews, in any of its programs.
The Metra request has its own unique circumstances in that:
"The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) conducted an intensive, focused safety assessment of the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (Metra) after three serious incidents occurred between May 27, 2014, and June 3, 2014. FRA's proactive response was intended to identify discrete and systemic risks so that corrective actions could be taken before a more significant incident occurred with potentially greater consequences."
At the conclusion of that assessment FRA released a report and detailed recommendations to improve the safety of train operations on Metra.
In its petition, Metra does not mention those recommendations, and is silent on whether any of FRA's suggestions have been implemented, and if so, what further evaluation of operating employee safety has been conducted to measure the results.
Has Metra priortized safety to its conductors over OTP, fare collection and customer service?
Has Metra reviewed opportunities for heightened crew interactions during high risk operations to provide safety redundancy?
How can Metra review such opportunities when it seeks relief from investigating and determining the specific events, failures, involved in such violations by protecting them by C3RS? Is not warning a locomotive engineer of an overspeed condition not a heightened crew interaction during a "high risk operation"?
Are not properly operating a hand thrown switch, leaving equipment in the clear, determining authority to enter the main line, areas for heightened crew interactions during high risk operations?
Clearly they are, or FRA would never have included such areas under both its regulatory domain, and as grounds for decertification. Yet, without any information regarding Metra's actions, FRA is requested to approve a waiver, the approval of which significantly impedes the ability of railroad officers to properly investigate possible violations in these high risk areas and determine if in fact human error, operator failure has occurred.
In addition, the FRA assessment recommends that Metra improve the technical expertise of its managers through training them to analyze event recorder data, and conduct a minimum number of event recorder reviews. That process cannot be accomplished "in the blind"-- without determining the train number, the date and time, the exact locations, and the crew members involved. The recommendation of FRA then is in direct conflict with Metra's petition.
If a decertifiable violation is discovered via event recorder analysis after or even before the employee has filed a C3RS report, what then? I believe an employee has up to 3 days to file that report and claim protection under the C3RS program. Is an operating officer supposed to not take any action for 3 days, possibly jeopardizing passengers and other employees while the clock runs out on the C3RS allotment.
FRA developed certification requirements, which included mandatory decertification actions, in response to an act of Congress after the collision at Chase, Md. Short version: "It's the law." If a railroad wants relief, the railroad should petition its duly elected Congressional representatives, not the regulatory agency charged with the execution and fulfillment of the law.
Well, it's snowing again. And it's cold. Time to have another glass of wine.
March 5, 2015
"Will you just listen to me, Parker?" --Ripley, Alien