The Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line Regional Rail Association (ASLRRA) are seeking modifications to the existing hours of service (HOS) regulations which they say will help the railroads improve their response to unplanned rail events such as derailments.
The two groups said the existing mandate limits the railroads to respond “expeditiously” to emergency situations such as a derailment or a grade crossing incident, according to October 21 comments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). FMCSA has been seeking comment on modifications to the HOS requirements for drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV).
Railroad employees who operate commercial vehicles work on the railroads’ rights-of-way and are subject to the HOS mandate, AAR and ASLRRA said.
The existing mandate calls for drivers to go off-duty after driving on-duty for 14 hours or before exceeding 60 or 70 hours in a seven- or eight-day week, according to their comments.
Both groups supported two proposed modifications that FMCSA sought input on, which are to increase the maximum driving window because of adverse weather conditions and to allow a split-duty period.
AAR and ASLRRA said FMCSA’s proposal to increase the on-duty time of drivers encountering adverse weather conditions would “provide limited relief” to railroad employees responding to an unplanned event due to a weather-related incident. The rail groups said this modification should also broaden its definition of adverse driving conditions to include high winds and heavy rains, and it should remove the restriction of “lack of advanced knowledge at the time of dispatch” so that companies and drivers can use the most accurate tools to predict adverse weather conditions.
Meanwhile, allowing a split-duty period, in which a driver can take a break from duty time while still being on a 14-hour duty period, will enable the railroads to give rest time to an employee who’s called to drive equipment to an unplanned event and must stay there until told otherwise.
This proposal “would provide some flexibility for situations where an unplanned event is unable to be remediated within a driver’s otherwise 14-hour window,” the groups said.
Although AAR and ASLRRA supported these modifications to the existing HOS regulations, they pressed FMCSA to consider their October 2018 request to allow additional on-duty time for railroad employees responding to an unplanned event.
“While two of the proposed changes in the NPRM [notice of proposed rulemaking] have the potential to provide some limited relief to railroad employees, the proposal does not provide relief urgently needed for railroad CMV drivers,” the groups said.
FMCSA is seeking to modify the existing HOS regulations, according to an NPRM issued in August. They agency proposed five changes to the existing rule amid feedback from drivers asking for more flexibility, especially in light of operational restrictions caused by the electronic logging device mandate that went into effect between December 2017 and April 2018.
FMCSA sought feedback on these proposed modifications through October 22.