The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will hold a public hearing next week to review SEPTA’s waiver of federally mandated safety rules.
The hearing was triggered by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen’s opposition to a safety waiver that allows SEPTA to stretch workdays at the expense of rest time for locomotive engineers. The BLET has called on the FRA to reject the waiver. Testimony by employees and union representatives at the hearing will document practices that force engineers to work on-call, with unpredictable schedules and phone calls from the railroad during periods designated for sleep. Interrupted sleep has a direct and negative effect on fatigue and thus safety. Currently many SEPTA engineers work 14-hour days and 6-day workweeks. Most other regional commuter railroads work engineers on 5-day a week schedule with shorter workdays.
The hearing on SEPTA’s request to continue reduced rest and recuperation time for locomotive engineers — who are the most critical safety employees on every train SEPTA operates — will take place on Tuesday, February 10th.
Who: Federal Railroad Administration
What: Hearing on SEPTA’s request for extended safety waiver
When: 10:00 a.m., Tues. February. 10, 2015
Where: First floor conference room, Baldwin Tower, 1510 Chester Pike, Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania, 19022
“Public safety is at risk; the tragedies at Metro-North should cause SEPTA and other transit agencies to review safety practices,” said BLET National Secretary-Treasurer Steve Bruno. “We’re glad the FRA listened to our request for a hearing and that it will take place in Pennsylvania. The FRA has reprimanded Metro-North for placing its rail schedule over safety considerations. We believe the February 10 hearing will show SEPTA also, is making unsafe choices.”
Last March, the FRA issued a sharply worded report on Metro-North, saying the New York commuter railroad had weakened safety standards while pushing to keep trains running on time. The report followed a fatal accident involving an engineer falling asleep on a Metro-North train that derailed in the Bronx.
“We’re going to testify next week that safety has to come first,” said Bruno. “There’s no margin of error when it comes to running a railroad the right way. We’ve seen terrible accidents due to sleep deprivation on Metro-North and other railroads, and we want to do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”
In a recent letter to the FRA, BLET National President Dennis Pierce stated that since receiving a safety waiver in October, 2012, SEPTA has systematically reduced “the number of locomotive engineer assignments while simultaneously increasing the number of trains and route miles in the public schedule.”
“The FRA publishes minimum safety standards. The waiver allows SEPTA to conduct its operation below those minimum standards,” Bruno said. “Forcing engineers to operate trains with insufficient rest creates a known — and preventable — risk to passengers and crews members. When the FRA examines the record, we believe they’ll agree with us that SEPTA needs more compliance — not less — with federal safety rules.”
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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents 53,500 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States, including 220 hardworking members at SEPTA. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.