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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
Attorney • (800) 752-0042

Should the Public Care Whether Railroad Workers Have Limited Hours of Service?

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Why should you care if railroad conductors and engineers will work less hours? Do you care if new railroad safety legislation puts stricter controls on rail employers in how they compute the time they must pay a conductor and engineer? The answer is simple: Yes! You have less chance of being hurt in a railroad crash or derailment.

Our law firm has represented railroad conductors and engineers for many years, and has worked closely with these workers in developing their cases and understanding how they work. To understand how topsy turvy the schedule of a railroad conductor or engineer may be, you simply have to think about medical doctors who are residents and on call at a hospital. The medical community has been studying the incredibly long work hours of medical residents and recently the medical industry has woken up to the dangers of fatigued and tired residents, or physicians for that matter. Now, there are regulations relating to overworking residents. Guess what? This converts to less malpractice.

Likewise, in the railroad field, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended regulation and study of the fatigue of railroad workers because it has been a contributing factor to many railroad accidents. New legislation passed by both houses of Congress will likely be signed by President Bush before the end of his term, and it will limit not on the total weekly hours railroad workers may work, but will acknowledge and limit the in between time (off “work” but still not at a hotel or in a position to obtain rest) called “limbo time.”

Most non-railroad folks don’t realize that most railroad workers are on call and can be dispatched at all kinds of hours, which really interferes with sleep. For example, existing federal law did control the total number of hours that a conductor or engineer could work in a week. The problem is what happens when they are technically off work and not being paid but waiting to be transported to a hotel for example – this is sometime known as “limbo time” among railroad workers. Compensation for “limbo time” (being off duty, but not being on your own and that is, being transported back to a hotel or something like that) was a big issue, but whether this would be considered part of hours of work was another issue.

Also, “in almost all serious rail accidents, the NTSB has found that fatigue was a contributing factor” said Frank Wilner, a representative of the United Transportation Union (UTU), the union representing conductors and some engineers. He added “going to work in a fatigue state is the equivalent of going to work drunk”, referring to safety issues. Understanding how important the limbo time discussion was to railroad workers is highly technical to their industry and little understood by persons not engaged in railroad work, but it is important to say that this new legislation will go a long way to improving the alertness of railroad crews, and therefore will improve safety.