July 12, 2004
CHICAGO (July 12)—The Federal Railroad Administration has determined that Norfolk Southern managers violated the Federal Hours of Service law last January 6 when they dispatched a road crew on “short time,” then failed to provide a relief crew en route and ordered the crew to continue on duty, and then tie-up the train, beyond expiration of their Hours of Service.
The FRA’s decision came after UTU members at Kankakee reported the incident to Local 1003 Chairman Aaron Combs. Combs, who also serves as the Local’s Alternate Legislative Representative, wrote the incident up for UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, who filed a Formal Complaint with the FRA March 8.
“The Federal Railroad Administration has completed its investigation into this matter and determined that several violations of both Federal law and regulations occurred as a result of this incident,” Regional FRA Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold reported back to Szabo June 29.
“As a result of this investigation,” Hasvold wrote, “a recommendation will be made to the Office of Chief Counsel for several civil penalties to be assessed for violating the Hours of Service Law and Federal reporting regulations.”
According to Combs’s report as verified by FRA investigators, an NS crew based in Streator, Ill., and laying over at Elkhart, Ind., was called for duty at 12:45 a.m. to return to Streator with Train 41KB306, a distance of 185 miles.
After setting out cars in the yard at Kankakee, the crew was advised they were on “short time” but were ordered to continue their trip and “take it as far as you can and 10R [an outbound train from Streator] will relieve you.”
However, when the crew reached the limits of their Hours of Service with no eastbound train and no relief crew in sight, the dispatcher ordered them to secure their train with handbrakes and go home. When the crew advised that insufficient time remained even for tying of brakes, they were ordered to proceed with tying handbrakes nevertheless. The crew complied, relieving themselves of service 25 minutes beyond the expiration of their statutory 12 hours.
“This crew did exactly what should be done in the situation,” Szabo said. “Rather than dispute with management at the scene, they complied with their illegal orders and then reported the incident to the union for further action.
“Thanks to their prompt reporting and accurate documentation, my office was able to file a credible Complaint, and the FRA took it from there,” Szabo said. “Although there are several administrative steps yet to be taken, it is probable that Norfolk Southern will be fined over this incident.
“That’s exactly the way the system is supposed to work,” Szabo said: “If you are given orders you know violate the law, act as ordered and then report the violation to the union for forwarding to the FRA. Enforcement starts with the membership. When we each do our part, the system works.”