In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in the November 10 Federal Register, the Federal Railroad Administration proposes to make January 1, 2012, the effective date for implementation of conductor certification.
If they become law, the new rules will affect conductors and engineers throughout Florida and the nation, including the railroad operating on the First Coast – CSX, First Coast Railroad, Florida East Coast Ry., and Norfolk Southern.
The United Transportation Union reported on its website last week that the rulemaking on principles, elements and methods of conductor certification was ordered by Congress in the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act.
The NPRM — preceding publication of a final rule, expected in early 2011 (ahead of implementation) — was developed through the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), comprised of stakeholders, including affected labor unions, railroads, suppliers, manufacturers and FRA safety experts.
The various stakeholders had many conflicting objectives for the rulemaking, and the NPRM is a consensus document that required compromise among all stakeholders.
The labor union participated in the talks, and it will “respond to NPRM with recommendations for improvement and change in the final rule — as will all stakeholders. The FRA will make the sole determination as to contents of the final rule,” the union stated.
Major provisions of the rulemaking include conductors who must be certified are defined as “the crewmember in charge of a train or yard crew.”
Other definitions state, “Trains are defined as freight and passenger trains on railroads that connect to the national rail network.”
Conductor certification does not cover assistant conductors, brakemen, yard helpers, switchmen, utility men, switch tenders, flagmen or others not in charge of a crew.
Railroads must implement a formal process — to be approved by the FRA — for training conductors and determining they are competent.
To be qualified for certification, a conductor must successfully complete all instruction, training and examination programs required by the carrier. Conductors must also meet minimum federal safety standards, including minimum hearing and vision standards.
Passenger train conductors must have received emergency preparedness training to be certified.
Current conductors will automatically be certified (grandfathered).
Conductors may be decertified for between 30 days and three years, depending on the number of violations. Decertification may occur for violations stemming from operation of their personal motor vehicles, such as impaired driving.
Decertification may also take place when FRA safety regulations are violated (such as failing to take appropriate action to ensure a locomotive engineer adheres to train speed limits and signals and signposts, or fails to perform or have knowledge that a required brake test was performed).
Decertified engineers will not be allowed to work as a certified conductor while decertified, nor will decertified conductors be allowed to work as certified engineers. An exception is that a conductor, decertified for violating a 49 CFR Part 218 safety regulation, will be able to work as a certified engineer.
If the railroad permits, a decertified engineer or decertified conductor may work, for example, as a brakeman, a passenger train assistant conductor, or in another non-certified position.
If the railroad permits, decertification time may be used for retraining.
All crews are required to have a certified conductor assigned. The NPRM is crew consist neutral, but provides that a lone engineer must be certified as both an engineer and a conductor, or be accompanied by a certified conductor.
The process for appealing decertification can be extremely lengthy, and will require an attorney-at-law.