December 26, 2007

CHICAGO (Dec. 26)—Acting on a lead supplied by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) investigators have established that the Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) allowed a non-certified employee to operate a locomotive on its main line in Northern Illinois.

FRA Region IV Administrator Laurence V. Hasvold announced the finding in a December 19 letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. He said his office had recommended that the carrier be fined for the violation.

Hasvold said the incident occurred September 21, 2007, at Annawan, Ill., about 30 miles east of the Quad Cities, outside a new ethanol plant being constructed by Patriot Renewable Fuels.

As part of its effort to construct sidings and switching tracks serving the plant, Patriot is using its own locomotive to move ballast cars and has staffed the locomotive with a former engineer for the Rock Island Railroad, which went bankrupt in the 1970s and was liquidated in 1980.

While uncertified engineers are allowed to operate locomotives on a shipper’s private property, they are not allowed to operate on railroad main lines, which are under FRA jurisdiction. The FRA verified, however, that on September 21 an IAIS track foreman allowed the Patriot locomotive onto the main line as part of a ballast-car move.

“The employee of Patriot…operated the locomotive while moving cars,” Hasvold wrote Szabo. “The employee was not qualified on the railroad’s operating rules, was not in a drug and alcohol testing pool, and had never been certified as a locomotive engineer or held a valid locomotive engineer certificate. The track foreman was not well versed on Part 240 for locomotive engineer certification and believed since he had a track warrant for exclusive occupancy, the movement could be done. The Patriot employee also believed the movement could be done because he was working under the direct supervision of the IAIS employee with on-track equipment.”

Havold said IAIS Director of Safety, Rules and Training Jeffrey Johnson contacted the FRA himself shortly after the incident and agreed that the railroad had failed to train the track foreman properly and had not advised him that only certified engineers are allowed to operate trains or engines on railroad property. He said the carrier would take action to make sure that all employees would be updated on Part 240. Hasvold said IAIS had “fully cooperated” with the investigation and accepted its responsibility for the incident.

“It is encouraging to see a railroad readily admitting its error and complying immediately with an FRA finding,” Szabo said. “It is important to note, however, that this incident might not have come to light if an alert UTU member had not notified the union of a possible rule violation.

“The lesson is clear,” Szabo said: If you see something that ‘doesn’t look right,’ write down as much as you can remember and then alert your Local chairman or Local Legislative Representative. Armed with the written documentation, the Illinois Legislative Board will do the rest. The process works, but only when the membership chooses to utilize the process.”