It was less than a year ago when I learned that FRA was advocating placing decertifiable offenses under the umbrella of protection of close call confidential reporting (C3Rs).
I thought then, as I think now, that a decertifiable offense is not, and cannot be, a close call. It is in its very commission an incident; a threat to life and limb. That's why it's decertifiable
I did kind of hope that perhaps, maybe, you think, after the experience we had when then vice-president Cheney dictated to the EPA what would constitute science and data regarding climate change, maybe we, everybody, would be just a bit more circumspect when it came to claiming data to support, or dismissing the need of data to support, transparently political agendas.
That deluded I was. Sometimes, I flabbergast myself with my naivete, with my desire to think the best of everyone all the time, to say only good things about nice people.
So...so the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) has filed a petition with FRA requesting a waiver from the requirements of 49 CFR parts 240 and 242 that mandate revoking the certification of locomotive engineers and train conducters who commit certain violations of the FRA's own minimum standards for safe train operations.
The railroad wants employees who commit such violations to be protected from the decertification process and mandatory periods of suspension for violations like:
--like entering a main track without authority; --like ignoring a signal to stop the train; --like failing to perform a required brake test; --like exceeding the speed authorized for movement by more than 10 mph; --like failing to take appropriate action to prevent any of the above violations when an employee on board the train happens to be a designated supervisor of locomotive engineers, or an instructor of the engineer, and the locomotive engineer operating the train commits one of the above violations.
That's not all. There's more, and it gets worse, because in its request for waiver, LIRR wants to forego decertification of train conductors for violations like:
--like not taking the appropriate action to prevent, or even warn the locomotive engineer about his/her actions that may result in the above decertifiable offenses; --like failure to comply with the FRA's own minimum requirements when making shoving or pushing movements, even when that violation results in a FRA reportable accident or incident; --like failure to comply with FRA's own minimum requirements when securing rolling stock, even when that violation results in a FRA reportable accident or incident; --like failure to comply with FRA's own minimum requirements pertaining to the use of hand-thrown switches, crossovers, and derails, even when that violation results in a FRA reportable accident or incident.
Wait, did I really write that? Can that be accurate? I must be mistaken. Let me go back and review.....
Hmmm... the LIRR "requests a waiver from mandatory sanctions, defined in 49 CFR Parts 240 and 242, that would potentially arise when revocation of engineer and conductor certification is not initiated and or effected for properly reported incidents (as identified in the IMOU) that are not observed or discovered in real time ore near real time that would otherwise be mandatory for incidents that involve violations of operating rules and practices: ...242.403(b),(c),(e)(1-4),(e)(6-11),(f)(1-2)." OK, let's check the CFR.
What's interesting about (e) (6-11) is that in applyling it to conductors, railroads are instructed to initiate decertification only in those cases that result in reportable accidents and incidents. So if its decertifiable only when an accident has occurred, then to waive decertification means.........you get the picture?
Wait, there's more, and worse. 242.403(f)(2) states that "a violation of one or more operating rules or practices described in paragraphs (e) (1) through (11) of this section that occurs during a properly conducted operational compliance test subject to the provisions of this chapter shall be counted in determining periods of ineligibility described in 242.405."
So not only does LIRR propose to withhold decertification when the violation results in a reportable accident, LIRR proposes to protect the employee from decertification even when the violation is committed while under direct or indirect observation of an operating officer.
So here's a question, exactly where and how does the "confidential" come into it? Is the LIRR no longer going to report accidents and incidents?
How can any of this be "confidential" when there's an accident? How can you not immediately investigate the accident and make a proper determination of cause in order to prevent a reoccurrence if, and when, you're not making the investigation-- or you are deferring the determination pending.......pending what exactly? A repeat?
Now, what was it 3rd Officer Ripley said at the company hearing into her reasons for destroying the Nostromo? "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?" Yeah, that's it.
Look, in the old days the old Dave, if somebody had proposed such a thing as the LIRR is proposing, would have said some very mean and nasty things about heads being tucked into places where it's near-impossible to tuck heads.
The old Dave would have advised the one proposing such a thing to seek other employment, preferably in a field other than transportation, and certainly in a field other than public transportation. The old Dave-- well that was then, and this is now.
Now? Now, this Dave simply wants to know exactly what new and important information the LIRR hopes to uncover through this scheme? Really. If I were on the phone right now, discussing this petition by LIRR, I wouldn't even break it. Believe me. Credit years of psychotherapy. Or fatigue.
In any case, you will recall of course that the selling point for the previous incarnations of C3RS was that by protecting employees from discipline, by eliminating the climate of punishment, employees would come forward with reports of conditions, situations, behaviors that increased risk but had not yet resulted in an accident.
I am skeptical of that, but at least it warrants investigation. At least we have something to test.
But what exactly are we testing here with the LIRR request? What are we going to measure? That accidents will decline if discipline is waived in all circumstances?
I ask you out there, riders of trains as I am, do you want to be part of that test?
Somewhere, somehow, somebody has sold, or cajoled, or imposed a myth that other industries or other countries, or other railroads in other countries have, by suspending discipline when operating employees violate the requirements for safe train operations but provide a "close-call"report of the violation, have made remarkable progress in reducing accidents.
Now the old Dave in response to such a claim would say, "Bullshit." The new Dave does not use barnyard epithets. The new Dave says, "Show me." The new Dave say, "I don't think so, partner."
Why don't I think so? Because the safest railways among the ten largest railways in Europe are the British railways. And from all the evidence, I've seen, the British railways do not use close call confidential reporting in this manner.
The British railroads are safer than the other European railroads by factors of ... well 4 times safer than the second safest railroad, and maybe 60 times safer than tenth safest.
The British railways do have close call reporting. They have one close call reporting system that is not confidential.
They also have CIRAS.
CIRAS is a confidential reporting system, which after the 1999 Ladbroke collison was adopted system-wide across the railway network. I've spent some time examing the reports made to CIRAS over this year. Reading the reports is truly a vindication of the CIRAS project as the reports range from questions about the proper communication of temporary speed restrictions to identification of poor lighting at passenger stations. Every report is submitted for and receives a response, explanation, and, where necessary, corrective action is taken.
But I couldn't find a single confidential report filed regarding employee violations of the rules for safe train operations. Not one. Maybe those reports are so confidential that they are not even mentioned, but then, if the reports are not aired, vetted, as all other reports are, what information is being obtained? And to what end?
It seems to me that CIRAS is not intended to protect employees from discipline when employees violate the rules for safe train operations. I'd like to think, with their extensive experience, history, accumulation and use of data, the British railways know providing such "protection" magnifies risk and jeopardizes the entire network; all employees, all passengers, all shippers. It might pain me to say this but I think the British know better.
So, here's my plan. Stump like hell for PTC implementation, but until then, if this is the direction FRA in all its lack of wisdom wants the railroads to go, the Old Dave is going to tell the New Dave to take the bus.
October 23, 2014
"I got a bad feeling about this drop...." Frost, Aliens