NTSB Asks Congress to Give FRA Hours of Service Authority

WASHINGTON — National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker today asked Congress to give the Federal Railroad Administration the statutory authority to revise hours of service rules for railroad workers, noting that current rules are not based on science related to fatigue.

Testifying before the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Chairman Rosenker said that over the past 23 years the NTSB has investigated 16 major railroad accidents in which it established that the probable cause was crewmember fatigue.

Operator fatigue has been on the Board’s Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements since 1990. In 1999, the Board evaluated the Department of Transportation’s actions on fatigue and found that, although DOT supported research and educational programs, the problem continued to be widespread and presented an unnecessary risk to the traveling public.

The FRA is the only DOT modal agency that has hours of service for the employees it regulates set by federal statute. The Federal Hours of Service Act was enacted 100 years ago. Chairman Rosenker called the rules archaic and”not adequate to address the problem.”

They allow railroad operating employees to work 11 hours and 59 minutes, and return to work after only 8 hours off duty. However, if the employee works one more minute – a full 12 hours – the worker is required to have 10 hours off duty before returning to work. Rosenker said “workers are permitted to repeat that arduous work-rest cycle an unlimited number of times.”

Fatigue related railroad accidents continue to occur, the latest of which documented by the NTSB was in Macdona, Texas in 2004.

“The FRA needs authority to regulate crewmember work scheduling practices and work limits,” Chairman Rosenker said. “The Safety Board continues to support the need for change that would provide the FRA the authority.”

— Special to Railfanning.org News Wire