February 25, 2014

CHICAGO (Feb.25)—The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said it will seek civil penalties against CSX Transportation Inc. for detaining a train crew after its Hours of Service expired and failing to accomplish post-accident testing in a timely manner.

In a Feb. 10 letter to SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy, FRA Region VI Administrator Steve Fender said the agency had found CSX to be in violation of five provisions of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations following the October 13, 2013 derailment of train Q-639-21 as it crossed a diamond in Smithboro, Ill.

Fender confirmed violations of the following sections of the CFR:

• 219.203(b)(1), in which a railroad must make every reasonable effort to assure that specimens are provided as soon as possible after an accident or incident.

• 219.209(c), which states, in part, that if a test required by this section is not performed within 4 hours of the incident or accident, the carrier must prepare and maintain on file a record stating the reasons the test wasn’t promptly administered.

• 228.11, in which a carrier shall keep a record concerning the hours of duty of each employee.

• 228.19, in which a carrier must submit monthly reports of any excess in Hours of Service.

• HOS Law Section 21103(a)(2), carrier may not allow or require a train employee to remain on duty for a period in excess of 12 consecutive hours.

According to a statement by Q-639’s Conductor, A.C. Hiner, the Indianapolis-East St. Louis train was proceeding eastward across the interlocking on a green signal when several cars derailed on what later was determined to be a portion of rail missing in the diamond, putting the train into emergency and causing substantial damage.

Several cars carrying hazardous materials caught fire. Conductor Hiner, after securing hand brakes on a number of cars behind the engines, uncoupled the locomotives and traveled ahead to a safe distance away from the incident.

Although the crew had been on duty only about six hours when the 5:30 a.m. derailment occurred, and although the derailment site was only 41 miles from an off-duty point, the railroad did not return the crew to its terminal until 4:30 p.m. and then spent another three hours transporting the crew to an off-site location for drug testing that could have been accomplished at the yard.

“They totally mismanaged the investigation and accident follow-up,” Guy said.

“Sometimes a railroad will let a crew stay on duty following an accident because the train was not derailed and work can be resumed, and perhaps even be completed, before the crew’s time would have run out,” he said.

“But that clearly was not the case at Smithboro that day,” he said.

“Several cars not only were derailed but on fire, and there was no way the wreck was going to be picked up and the track restored to a functional state within this crew’s remaining six hours of service,” he said. “For all intents and purposes the railroad was closed.”

Guy said the obvious course of action would have been to send a van to pick up the crew and have the mandatory testing performed at the nearest off-duty location or terminal.

“The dollar value of the damage to equipment and lading was high enough to legally trigger post-accident testing, and the railroad would have been within its rights to hold the crew for a post-accident inquiry.” he said.

“But CSX managers required the crew to remain near the scene well past the time when testing should have been performed, and they kept the crew members on duty well beyond the 12 hours permitted under the Hours of Service law,” he said.

“It was completely unnecessary. The CSX managers blew it, our members caught them at it, we reported the matter to the FRA, so now the railroad faces civil penalties. Hopefully, they won’t do it again, but if they try it our union will be there to make sure the railroad is held accountable by the appropriate authorities.”

“I also want to commend Brother Hiner,” Guy said, “He performed above and beyond his duties that day by securing the head end of his train, all the while knowing the extent of the damage to the rest of his train and the dangers associated with it.”