This week marks the beginning of the 2017 Operation Safe Driver Week (October 15-21). Drivers across the country should be prepared for increased law enforcement presence and scrutiny.
Law enforcement officers will be focused on reducing unsafe behaviors such as texting and driving, not using seatbelts, speeding, following too closely, and improper lane changes.
The goal of Operation Safe Driver Week is to reduce the number of traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths involving commercial and passenger vehicles as a direct result of unsafe driving behaviors.
Operation Safe Driver Week
Central Montana Rail, Inc. is requesting an extension of an existing waiver of compliance that permits railroad employees to remain on duty up to 16 hours in a 24 hour period. CMR maintains it has seen no negative impacts to safety and only uses the longer on duty periods for special circumstances like inclement weather, traffic peaks, or employee illness.
Interested parties may submit comments on the waiver request until November 20, 2017.
Docket Number FRA–2001–10948
The North County Transit District submitted its Positive Train Control Safety Plan to the Federal Railroad Administration and is asking that a PTC System Certification for the Interoperable Electronic Train Management System be issued. Interested parties may submit comments on the request until November 6, 2017.
Docket Number FRA–2010–0049
In April the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the fines for violations would be increased due to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015. The following document lists 68 violations along with both the former and current penalty value for each violation.
2017 Inflation Adjusted Fines
On November 1st a federal judge will issue his ruling on whether or not he will allow two expert witnesses, James Whelan, a mechanical engineer, and Al Blackwell, a former railroad track inspector and train crash inspector, to testify at the trial against CSX Transportation and Union Tank Car Co. that is expected to begin on November 13, 2017. The lawsuit stems from a train derailment and chemical fire in Maryville on July 2, 2015.
The derailment, which both parties agree was caused by an overheated roller bearing, lead to one of the tank cars containing the toxic chemical acrylonitrile to become punctured. The leak caused a fire that burned for 16 hours. While there were no fatalities there were numerous people, including the plaintiffs, hospitalized for inhalation-related injuries.
During the pretrial hearing, Mr. Whelan testified that the roller bearing in question had been in use for 21 years at the time of the derailment. However, the grease used to lubricate the bearing during manufacturing has a useful life expectancy of 10 years. Mr. Whelan said “You risk death, injury, or something like this….The grease went 11 years beyond its useful life…..A lubricant has a defined life, it doesn’t matter who made it. It is defective after 10 years.”
He went on to criticise CSX because he feels the workers should have seen the excess grease leaking out of the bearing when the train was still in Ohio. The leak should have prompted them to change the bearing.
Mr. Blackwell feels CSX did not install hot bearing detectors close enough on the tracks to be effective. He feels to be effective they should be placed between 10-15 miles apart. However, CSX policy states they should be placed every 20-25 miles. The detectors on this stretch of track are 26.5 miles apart. Mr. Blackwell feels there were “plenty of spaces” CSX could have placed these detectors along that stretch of track. Additionally, Mr. Blackwell feels CSX crew members should have seen the sparks that would be coming from the overheated bearing. “It is my opinion there were several sight lines available…They could have seen the sparking that was going on.”
Mechanical engineer, former train worker criticize CSX, tank car owner over Maryville train derailment
The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety received multiple applications for modification of special permits. Interested parties may submit comments on any application until October 16, 2017. All comments must contain the application number and be submitted in triplicate.
Applications for modification of special permits
The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety has received numerous applications for special permits. Interested parties may submit comments on any application until October 16, 2017. All comments must contain the application number and be submitted in triplicate.
List of special permit applications
The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety received six applications for special permits. Interested parties may submit comments on any application until September 28, 2017.
Hazardous Materials: Notice of Applications for Special Permits
The deadline for commercial vehicles to begin using an electronic logging device is set for December 18, 2017. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance has said that while its inspectors and roadside enforcement personnel will begin documenting violations in their reports and may issue citations to the drivers found not to be in compliance, they will not start placing those drivers out of service for ELD violations until April 1, 2018.
Drivers currently using a grandfathered automatic onboard recording device will be permitted to continue using it until December 16, 2019.
This decision was made in an effort to allow the motor carrier industry, shippers, and roadside enforcement time to adjust to the new requirements before vehicles are placed out of service. This phased-in approach has been successful in the past when significant changes were implemented.
CVSA Prepares for December 2017 ELD Implementation; Announces April 1, 2018, Effective Date for Out-of-Service Criteria Related to ELD Rule
The American Association of Railroads submitted a petition to the FRA requesting an extension and expansion on two of its current waivers of compliance.
The first waiver allowed them to operate trains at class 5 speeds over heavy point frogs (HPF) with guard check gages conforming to the standards for class 4 track frogs.
AAR was also granted a waiver of compliance regarding frog guard rails and guard faces; gage that allowed them to operate trains at class 6 speeds over HPF designs with guard-check gages conforming to the standards for class 4 track frog guard check and face gage dimensions.
The current waivers are both due to expire on January 18, 2018. Interested parties may submit comments on either waiver request until October 6, 2017.
Docket Number FRA–2001–10654
The Surface Transportation Board has reached out to CSX again with concerns over the railroad’s performance and lack of improvement. CSX will now be expected to provide a detailed schedule, including milestones and key actions, for the remaining implementation of the company’s new operating plan by August 24, 2017.
Three weeks ago STB sent a letter to Hunter Harrison, the CEO of CSX, requesting weekly phone calls to discuss solutions for the problems the railroad is currently experiencing following a series of customer complaints about the unpredictable and slow service, excessive congestion in the key hubs of New Orleans and St. Louis, and rail cars sitting idle for days.
While the railroad has participated in the weekly telephone calls with STB it has failed to provide any hard data. According to STB, that lack of data has made it difficult to assess the magnitude of problems and pace of recovery for the railroad.
Each railroad is required to submit weekly service data reports and based off of that information it does not appear that the CSX’s performance will simply continue to deteriorate. All of that data will be published on STB’s website for shippers, stakeholders, customers, and other railroads to review.
Harrison has made several major changes to the railroad since taking over as president and CEO. As part of his precision railroad system, he has closed rail yards, removed 900 locomotives and 60,000 freight cars from service, laid off 2,300 employees, and plans to lay off an additional 700 by the end of the year.
As problems persist, federal regulators want more details from CSX
The Federal Railroad Administration will be issuing a safety advisory to inform railroads, contractors, and rail welders that there is a potential for electrode induced rail pitting and fatigue cracking during the pressure electric rail welding process.
Upon concluding its investigation, FRA feels as a result of improper electrode contact to the rail during welding can result in electrode induced pitting which can lead to fatigue fracture and potential rail failure.
Interested parties may submit comments on the safety advisory until October 16, 2017.
Docket No. FRA–2017–0074; Notice No. 1
Despite only being appointed the CEO of CSX Railroad five months ago, Hunter Harrison has made drastic, and some would say destructive and dangerous, changes to railroad operations.
In an effort to improve the railroad’s bottom line he has eliminated layers of management and plans to close and downsize rail yards across the country.
Hump yards are currently on the chopping block because he believes they are inefficient and closing them would save the company $10 million. The ones that manage to stay open are being converted to flat switch yards.
A hump yard is used to sort trains. The cars are slowly pushed up an elevated rise. From there a crewmember disconnects the cars and they roll downhill into different tracks that sort them by destination. The speed on the downhill slope is controlled by devices called retarders. They mechanically slow the cars so they maintain a safe speed. Converting these yards to a flat switch yard means the employees will do more on the ground work to get the cars sorted.
A signal maintainer that currently works at a hump yard in Indiana said “One of the big problems is that management was actively being encouraged to disregard safety standards and being threatened with their jobs if dramatic changes didn’t occur. They increased the speeds of the cars that go down through the retarder. Normally those cars take 5 seconds but management said they should take 2 seconds to pass….there were more derailments than I have ever seen in this yard. I worked there for five years. If you are working in the yard, this is dangerous and if something were to happen there are only two ways in and out for emergency services. One of those entrances is constantly blocked by trains and the other often is as well.”
Another railroad worker said “Men are constantly being threatened with their jobs on the line. We are told to switch cars like back in the 1950’s when injury and fatality rates were high and it’s just a matter of time before we have a headline of injury or fatality. Men are getting cussed up one side and down the other, and shown no absolute professionalism in the least little way.”
Some of the most worrisome changes CSX has made recently include ending the three step protection, lifting the ban on getting on and off moving equipment, safety meetings are no longer being held at the start of shifts, the discontinuance of the brake stick, and the refusal to provide work boots and some safety equipment for employees. CSX is increasing the speed of work but appears to have no regard for the safety of its workers.
CSX railroad closes and downgrades major facilities
CSX has once again made the headlines for another controversial decision. Action News Jax obtained an internal document stating as of Tuesday CSX will not be paying for its employees’ safety boots or high-visibility clothing any longer.
CSX employees feel they are working in increasingly unsafe conditions and the moral is low. Alisa Wilkes, an attorney representing CSX employees, said “It’s hard to get up and go to work in the morning when you know that it’s another dime out of your pocket that you’re going to have to spend.”
A spokesperson for the railroad released a statement pointing out that CSX will continue to supply hard hats, safety vests, and eye protection for employees. The statement went on to say that the change was being made to underscore the importance of shared responsibility between CSX and its employees.
CSX Stops Paying for Certain Safety Equipment for Employees
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a proposal to amend its rulemaking procedures. FMCSA is planning to revise the process for preparing and adopting rules, petitions, and direct final rules. Interested parties may submit comments until October 6, 2017.
Docket No. FMCSA–2016–0341
Last week Hunter Harrison, president and CEO of CSX, issued a letter to its customers apologizing for the recent disruptions in service. The letter seemed to lay the majority of the blame on the employees. As a result, the employees and the unions representing them are not happy with Mr. Harrison.
The portion of the letter that was perhaps the most upsetting reads “While most people at the company have embraced the new plan, unfortunately, a few have pushed back and continue to do so. This resistance to change has resulted in some service disruptions … As we move forward, we will continue to address these internal personnel matters and our teams have recommitted themselves to reaching out to those affected to work through any service issues and resolve them as quickly as possible.”
One of the union groups representing CSX employees, The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation (SMART), released a letter of their own making it clear that they are unhappy that CSX has refused to accept responsibility for its customers’ service disruptions. In part, the letter read “Our members, the ballast line employees, rightfully take your comments as a personal attack on their professionalism. They have worked through numerous operations challenges and changes to their work routines. Despite harsh treatment, furloughs and repeated violations of their collective bargaining agreements, it has not deterred the employees from fulfilling their duties. If anything, our members are pushing forward even though management is providing limited guidance and resources.”
At this time, none of the other 12 unions have released statements of their own. However, Clark Ballew, the spokesman for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees – Divsion of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said “SMART was spot on with its assessment. Morale is low and not just in the track department but throughout the system. (Harrison) is reaping what he’s sowed. Workers are disgruntled and tired.”
CSX unions not happy with CEO Harrison’s letter or changes
Kansas City Southern Railway Company is asking FRA to approve its Positive Train Control Safety Plan and issue the PTCSP Certification. Interested parties may submit comments until September 5, 2017.
Docket Number FRA–2010–0059
Norfolk Southern Railway Company has submitted a verified notice of exemption regarding a one mile stretch of rail line in Atlanta, GA it intends to abandon. As required, NSR has also certified that the line has had no local or overhead traffic for at least two years and confirmed no complaints have been filed by a user of the rail line. Provided all remaining requirements are met the exemption will be effective on September 2, 2017.
Docket No. AB 290 (Sub–No. 388X)
A CSX train derailed in Hyndman, Pennsylvania early this morning and slammed into a residential garage. The accident caused a fire that was still burning more than two hours later. The train was traveling from Chicago to Selkirk, New York. Some of the railcars were transporting flammable liquefied asphalt, although at this time it is not known whether any of the six derailed cars were among them. Residents in a one-mile radius have been evacuated and an emergency shelter has been set up at the Hope for Hyndman Charter School. It is unknown at this time how long the residents will be prevented from returning to their homes. Thankfully there have been no reported injuries.
Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for CSX, stated “CSX’s top priority is to work cooperatively with first responders and other officials to protect the public’s safety, and CSX personnel are on the scene assisting first responders, providing information about the contents of the train and expertise on responding to railroad incidents.”
Residents Evacuated After Freight Train Derailment, Fire
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics is seeking approval for an information collection from tank car facilities. The purpose is to obtain the planned and projected number of tank cars that will be retrofitted or manufactured to the new DOT standards beginning next year and continuing annually until 2029.
Interested parties may submit comments on the request until August 30, 2017.
Notice of Request for Clearance of New Information Collection: Annual Tank Car Survey