All seven Class I railroads have signed on to a voluntary program established by the Federal Railroad Administration that enables workers to anonymously share situations in which there might be operational hazards.
Federal officials had renewed their calls for the Class I railroads to take part in the close call reporting system (C3RS) following the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio. The Transportation Trade Department of the AFL-CIO had also pressed federal officials to urge the Class I railroads to participate in the program.
In a Thursday letter provided to FreightWaves, Ian Jefferies, the Association of American Railroads’ president and CEO, told Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that the railroads share his commitment to establishing mechanisms that could help prevent future accidents. The railroads also have their own programs that allow workers to confidentially provide feedback on safety issues via reporting hotlines. In those programs, the railroads’ responses include having peer review teams look into issues and conducting root cause analyses.
“The railroads value receiving this type of close call information in a timely manner because it allows them to act quickly and proactively to address safety issues before they lead to an accident,” Jefferies said, adding that the railroads will continue their own programs as well as participate in the federal program.
Jefferies explained that the participation levels in C3RS varies among all U.S. railroads because there has been a perception that the federal program hasn’t been as effective as internal programs.
To improve C3RS, AAR offered these suggestions:
- Improve the quality of the information received. The information is currently routed through NASA’s reporting system, and part of the challenge is that the information received has been insufficient because NASA staff aren’t familiar with railroading and may not obtain the needed information that would be needed to take action, according to Jefferies.
- Hasten the pace of reporting since NASA’s procedure can take at least 30 days before a close call is reported to the railroads.
- Ensure that close call reporting data is confidential by adopting protocols to ensure confidentiality. The aviation safety reporting program of the Federal Aviation Administration has protocols.
- Enable the railroad to respond to those who might repeatedly misuse the system to avoid corrective actions from the railroad.
- Share the information collected in a timely fashion to help the industry improve safety policies and practices.
“We are committed to continuing the 20-year trend of continuous safety improvements in the rail industry. We look forward to working with you and with FRA on these critical issues,” Jefferies said.
In response to the Class I railroads’ decision to take part in the federal program for reporting close calls, TTD President Greg Regan said in a statement: “We welcome the announcement that all seven major freight railroads will join the FRA’s close call reporting program, following calls from Secretary Buttigieg and rail unions. This is an important step toward improving safety across the nation’s railroads. We applaud Secretary Buttigieg’s leadership on this critical issue and look forward to working together with all partners in the freight rail industry to create a safer system for all.”
Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) said its participation in C3RS would enhance its existing program in which workers can report through an online portal and NS’ safety and environmental department works with local safety committees to review and address the reports.
“At Norfolk Southern, we encourage our railroaders to speak up if they see something that is unsafe. It’s through their daily work and coaching of their team members that we become a safer railroad. Joining the FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System marks another step we are taking to further our commitment to safety at Norfolk Southern and throughout our industry,” NS President and CEO Alan H. Shaw said.
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