Occupational Health & Safety

railroad locomotive

Changes to Raise Rail Workers' Rest Periods

The Federal Railroad Administration is implementing the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 with several changes in the hours of service rules effective July 16.

Changes in the federal railroad hours of service rules that will take effect July 16 will increase train employees' minimum off-duty period to 10 consecutive hours during the prior 24-hour period while retaining the existing maximum of 12 consecutive hours on duty. Also, employees of contractors or subcontractors to a railroad who are engaged in installing, repairing, or maintaining signal systems will be covered by the hours rules.

The Federal Railroad Administration published details of the changes in the Federal Register. The changes are being made as FRA implements the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008; Section 108 of the act amended the hours rule, requiring FRA to provide for electronic recordkeeping and require training. Large railroads already have been tracking and reporting hours data electronically for some time.

The act sets the first limits on how much time employees may spend awaiting and in deadhead transportation. A railroad may not require or allow an employee to exceed 40 hours per month awaiting or in deadhead transportation from duty that is neither time on duty nor time off duty in the first year after the date of enactment, with that number dropping to 30 hours per employee per month after the first year, "except in situations involving casualty, accident, track obstruction, act of God including weather causing delay, derailment, equipment failure, or other delay from unforeseeable cause." Railroads must report to DOT all instances when these limits are exceeded.

The changes do not apply to employees of commuter and intercity passenger railroads, who will continue to be covered by the current rules unless the DOT secretary issues different hours of service rules for them. If no new regulations are enacted by Oct. 16, 2011, the new FRA rules will be extended to these employee groups.

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