August 25, 2014
CHICAGO (Aug. 25)—Spurred by a SMART-TD complaint, the Federal Railroad Administration again cited the Union Pacific Railroad for assigning crews to work at times when the Federal Hours of Service Law (HOSL) specified they shouldn’t be.
Two of the three recent violations occurred in the same territory as the six earlier violations reported in “Hot Topics” July 3—the carrier’s main lines in the Southern Illinois territory between Villa Grove and Salem.
But the latest round of violations included one crew trip between Salem and Yard Center in the Chicago suburb of Dolton.
“Many of the Class I carriers in Illinois have been caught in HOS violations at one time or another, but we are having a particularly persistent problem with the Union Pacific on its lines connecting Chicago with Southern Illinois,” said SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy.
Guy said all of the violations concern UP’s failure to acknowledge the so-called 6-and-2 rule in the Hours of Service Law.
“Six-and-two means that an employee who initiates six consecutive work starts in six consecutive days from his home terminal is then entitled to 48 continuous hours of rest at the home terminal before being called to work again,” Guy said.
“If the sixth consecutive start ends up with the employee at an away-from-home terminal, the employee can be worked back to the home terminal within 24 hours, but then must be given 72 hours’ rest at the home terminal,” he said, “or that employee can be immediately deadheaded back to his or her home terminal, or if the employee spends more than 24 hours off duty, he or she must be deadheaded home.”
According to a Complaint Guy filed with the FRA May 7, UP violated these provisions three times.
The first violation occurred February 1 and 2 when a conductor based in Salem was called to take a train to Yard Center in Dolton. The assignment was his sixth consecutive start in six days, but instead of being deadheaded back to his home terminal he was called to work 25 hours after tying up at his away-from-home terminal.
The second violation involved the same conductor March 6, when he was called on his sixth consecutive start in as many days to take a train from Salem to Villa Grove. The trip lasted 4 hours and 33 minutes, and again, instead of being deadheaded home, the employee was called to duty after spending 24 hours off duty at his AFHT.
The third incident came March 12 when the same conductor was called for a 6:15 a.m. start to the away-from-home terminal at Villa Grove.
“This was his sixth consecutive start, having worked March 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th, without a minimum of 24 hours off between tours of duty,” FRA Regional Administrator Steven J. Fender wrote in an August 13 letter to Guy.
Twenty four hours and 25 minutes after going off duty at his away-from-home terminal the conductor was called to take a train back to his home terminal of Salem, Fender wrote. “On returning to his home terminal the conductor lodged a protest with UP management in Omaha but was told that his assignment had been legal.
But that’s not the way SMART-TD saw it. The conductor wrote the incidents up for Local #979 Chairman Matt Tackett, who submitted the details to Guy, who drafted an FRA Complaint and submitted it to Fender. After an investigation of UP, Fender reported back to Guy in his August 13 letter:
“The investigation revealed that UP was in violation of HSL Section 21103 (a)(4)(a) at Yard Center…on March 2nd, and at Villa Grove, Illinois on March 8th and 13th.” Fender said his office had forwarded its finding to FRA headquarters with a recommendation for “civil penalties”—fines—against UP.
But Guy, who called the earlier outbreak of violations by UP an “epidemic,” said the fines may have to be increased and UP may have to be subjected to a more intense level of FRA scrutiny in order to bring its problem in Southern Illinois under control.
“If we get any more of these complaints we will ask the FRA for a more routine presence on the parts of the UP where these violations are occurring,” he said. “That would mean FRA inspectors on the property—which railroads do not like—and inspectors going over Hours of Service records to spot other violations.”
Guy said an FRA review of UP employee-assignment records could turn into big trouble for the carrier if it discloses other HOS violations that crew members never reported.
“The violations that get reported usually are only a small sample of the total number that have actually occurred,” he said. “Violations are like cockroaches: For every one you see on the rug there are a dozen more back in the woodwork.”
Guy encouraged members to familiarize themselves with the latest Hours of Service regs and to report any suspected violation