On March 9, 2021, the Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requesting a waiver of compliance from certain provisions of the Federal railroad safety regulations contained at 49 CFR parts 215 (Railroad Freight Car Safety Standards) and 232 (Brake System Safety Standards for Freight and Other Non-Passenger Trains and Equipment; End-Of-Train Devices). More specifically, the requested waiver would allow UP to combine two existing and operating trains without additional inspections, besides a Class III brake test, and subsequently separate the two trains without additional inspections, besides a Class III brake test, provided that a record of the original consist remains intact. The waiver would apply to current requirements at 49 CFR 215.13, Pre-departure inspection, which requires an inspection when combining two separate consists including one or more cars and one or more locomotives that have been properly inspected and tested in compliance with all applicable regulations, meaning that both consists have had a Class I brake test (§ 232.205), Class IA brake test (§ 232.207), or have been designated as extended haul trains and are compliant with all requirements of § 232.213.
The Brotherhood Railway Carman (BRC) has joined with other rail unions to oppose UP’s petition for waiver because the requested relief will not ensure the same level of safety as provided by the current Federal regulations. In summary, the unions made the following arguments against granting the requested relief:
- the new trains made by adding or removing cars poses a risk of interrupting the consistency of brake mechanisms;
- origination inspections also include checks of important safety appliances and a variety of common issues such as missing brake shoes or wheel flanges that can pose serious risks to operators and other rail users if not addressed;
- there is no guarantee that simply combining trains will mean that every brake is properly engaging as part of the newly formed train;
- added length will always cause additional strain on the air compressor;
- use of distributed power configurations to mitigate the risk posed by skipping the Class I brake tests is not an excuse to abandon critical safety checks;
- abandoning the required Class I brake test would not necessarily be safer for rail workers;
- Class III brake tests are not more reliable if they rely on End-Of-Train devices given that these devices are subject to technology failures caused by increasingly long trains; and
- should the UP petition be granted, FRA must apply as robust, if not more strenuous, conditions to UP’s relief that FRA applied to a similar request made by the BNSF Railway in 2020.
“Allowing this relief to UP is unsafe and irresponsible,” says BRC General President Richard Johnson. “Class I and IA brake tests are the cornerstone of safety in the railroad industry. With precision scheduling and other forms of system wide testing relief already provided to UP across its entire system, any change to the current regulatory framework should only be done if UP could guarantee the same level of safety as the current regulations provide, something the carrier has not accomplished in its request.”
Click here to read rail labor’s comments.