March 26, 2008

CHICAGO (March 26)—For the second time in a month the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has sustained a UTU Complaint that Amtrak and the BNSF Railway allowed an Amtrak train crew to exceed the Federal Hours of Service Law (HSL) of 12 hours on duty.

FRA Region VI Administrator D.J. Tisor said an investigation by the agency had verified the Complaint filed by UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo last December 12.

The Complaint, based on information forwarded to the Illinois Legislative Board by UTU Local #1525 Chairman R. Dennis Jacobs, alleged that the conductor and assistant conductor of Amtrak train No. 5, the California Zephyr, went on duty at Chicago at 1:10 p.m. December 8. The crew was due to be relieved upon the train’s scheduled arrival at Omaha at 10:29 p.m., but congestion and signal problems caused the crew to expire 89 miles east of Omaha at Prescott, Iowa.

“The circumstances were essentially as outlined in your letter,” Tisor wrote Szabo March 5. “…The crew stopped at Prescott, Iowa, when the crew expired under the HSL at 1:10 a.m. on December 9, 2007…At 1:12 a.m. [the conductor] was told by the dispatcher, ‘Keep rolling westward till you meet your relief.’ The crew continued to Stanton, Iowa, where they stopped the train at 2:30 a.m.” The crew had exceeded its HSL limit by 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Tisor said the FRA investigation revealed that both Amtrak and BNSF were in violation of the HSL. He said his office would recommend civil penalties—fines—against both companies.

“It is interesting that the FRA has now cited the same two railroads, Amtrak and BNSF for ordering the crew of the same train, No. 5, to violate the Hours of Service Law twice under virtually identical services,” Szabo said. “On the night of December 17/18, the crew of No. 5 exceeded its Hours of Service in central Iowa and was ordered to proceed westward until relieved. In that incident, the crew exceeded its Hours of Service by 1 hour and 35 minutes.”

Szabo said Amtrak may need to look at better crew utilization – including where crews are based – and that such violations will cease only when railroad managers understand that all such incidents will be recorded, reported and followed up with enforcement.

“The outcome in both of these cases shows that when our members write down the circumstances of the incident and forward them to the Illinois Legislative Board in Chicago, our Complaints are virtually always sustained,” Szabo said.

Szabo reminded members that if ordered by a supervisor to violate Hours of Service, or any federal regulation, comply with the instruction and record the facts.

“Do not be insubordinate,” he said. “Do as instructed, but record all the facts – date, time, train number and the name and title of the supervisor who ordered you to violate the law. If you turn your notes over to your local chairman or local legislative representative, he will forward them to Chicago to be written up in a Formal Complaint. The system works when you use it.”