June 26, 2015

(Chicago, June 26) Acting on a SMART-TD formal complaint, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said it will seek fines against the Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) for a February incident in which a trainmaster served as conductor.

SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy filed the complaint with the FRA in an April 1st letter after Local # 258 L.R. Tracey Frerichs asked him to look into the way Job No. ICWS12 was crewed eastbound out of Iowa City, Ia. On February 12.

According to records Frerichs supplied to the Illinois Legislative Board, the carrier assigned a qualified engineer and a student conductor to train ICWS12.

However, no qualified Certified Conductor was assigned to be a member of the crew. Instead the student conductor was to be supervised by an IAIS trainmaster, who was himself a qualified conductor but had not updated his credentials by being tested as a conductor in the 30 days previous to his teaching assignment.

Acting as a supervising conductor without periodic testing is a violation of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

On June 18 Region VI FRA Regional Administrator Steven J. Fender reported back to Guy that an official investigation had confirmed the violation and that his office would recommend that civil penalties–fines–be levied against the Iowa Interstate.

Fender also noted that the trainmaster did not file the paperwork the FRA requires when a supervisor serves as a train-crew member.

“Additionally,” he wrote, “the trainmaster did not keep a record of comingled service, hours of service performed on that day, or the monthly record required for that month, which is a violation of the Hours of Service record keeping regulations.”

“This incident teaches us several lessons,” Guy said. “The first is that railroads will skirt the law if necessary to save the cost of a qualified crew member. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen, and crew members need to be alert to it. This incident didn’t pass the smell test: A carrier can’t simply replace a mandatory crew member with a supervisor and not expect us to ignore it.

“The second lesson is that once a railroad chooses to ignore one rule there’s a good chance it will ignore others,” Guy said. “Iowa Interstate began by ignoring the rules about the qualifications of a conductor, then followed up by blowing off two paragraphs in the Hours of Service regulations, including the need for proper record keeping.”

Guy said the third lesson is a more positive one: Member activism can act as a brake on managerial misconduct.

“We’ve shown again that the system works,” he said. “The crew members of Job. No. ICWS12 reported the apparent violations to their local L.R. The L.R. forwarded testimony and written evidence to the legislative director in Chicago. Our office prepared a Formal Complaint, leading to prompt and decisive action by the FRA.”

Guy commended the crew members for bringing the incident to the attention of their local LR.

“Brother Frerichs then used his knowledge of the process to get me the information I needed to properly file our complaint, and he did so as soon as he received the information from the crew members,” Guy said.

Guy said that the actions of the crew and the follow-up by Brother Frerichs may have made the job of every train-crew member in Illinois “just a little bit safer.”

“Railroad managers have their own grapevine,” he said. “News of what happened on the Iowa Interstate last February almost certainly flashed around their network.

“Because of that crew’s suspicions and our union’s quick response, many of those managers will think twice before ordering a crew to work in violation of FRA regulations. We may not be able to keep railroad managers honest, but at least it can keep them nervous.”