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Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on June 13 published in the Federal Register a final rule on “Fatigue Risk Management Programs for Certain Passenger and Freight Railroads.” The Commuter Rail Coalition (CRC) and Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) responded.

“Under the regulation, Class I freight railroads, Amtrak and commuter railroads must develop and implement a Fatigue Risk Management Program (FRMP) as part of their larger system safety and risk reduction programs,” FRA said in a statement. “Before submitting a FRMP plan to FRA for approval, each railroad is required to consult with affected employees to identify fatigue hazards, as well as specific actions to be taken to mitigate or eliminate those risks.”

Railroads must consider addressing in their plans factors that may influence fatigue, such as scheduling practices and an employee’s consecutive hours off-duty. FRMPs will be reviewed annually and updated periodically by railroads; FRA will conduct periodic audits.

The final rule (download below) fulfills a Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandate and takes effect July 13, 2022. FRA said it “is one of several ongoing FRA initiatives to address the complex operational, environmental and cultural issues that contribute to fatigue. ”

What has been the industry reaction so far? CRC awning Railway Age it “supports rule-makings that, backed by data, make already safe commuter railroads even safer for our riders and employees.”

“We welcome the FRA’s new rule requiring freight and passenger railroads to have Fatigue and Risk Management Plans that they develop with workers to address scheduling, drug and alcohol testing, and hours of service concerns,” TTD President Greg Regan said in a statement on behalf of the group’s 37 unions. “This rule provides a solid framework for continued engagement between labor unions and the FRA to ensure that employers are providing working conditions that keep workers and the public safe.

“Fatigue is an industry-wide concern that has been well-documented by the FRA. Freight railroaders, in particular, have unpredictable schedules and are continuously on call. These workers may have 90 minutes’ notice before working a 12 to 60 hour shift. …

“There is no doubt that punitive attendance policies such as the policies at Union Pacific and BNSF Railway, as well as other Class I railroads, have exacerbated the fatigue issue, putting employees and the public at great risk. The FRA is currently conducting a study on fatigue among drivers and engineers … and we are confident the final results of this study will show that fatigue is linked to worsening workplace conditions for these workers.”

In related developments, Transport Canada in November 2020 updated the Duty and Rest Period Rules for Railway Operating Employees, placing new limits on duty-period length; increasing the minimum rest period between shifts; and establishing limits on total hours worked per week, month and year.

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