Borderlands: CanadaInternationalNewsRail

Transport Canada revises rules on worker fatigue in the rail industry

Rules modify time allotments for length-of-duty periods, rest periods and total hours worked

Transport Canada has revised the rules governing worker fatigue for the rail industry.

The federal agency announced Wednesday that the Duty/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees have been updated to better reflect the latest science on fatigue management. The adjustments will also help ensure that Canadians working or living near railways are kept safe, Transport Canada said.

The agency said the rules “represent a historic improvement over the existing rules.” The revised rules place new limits on the length of a duty period and they lengthen the minimum rest period between shifts. Other changes include new limits on the total number of hours that can be worked in a week and within a month. Previously, there were no limits for work hours but there were limits for rest periods and length-of-duty periods.

Worker fatigue was considered one of the issues that led workers to strike against Canadian railway CN (NYSE: CNI) for eight days in November 2019. 

Transport Canada said it worked with constituents on the rules, including the railway industry, which had proposed some of the updates. The agency also collaborated with labor groups. 

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) confirmed that it worked with Transport Canada, union representatives, industry experts and fatigue expert Professor Drew Dawson to develop the rules. 

“These rules represent an improvement over the existing framework and benefits both the railways and the employees who operate the trains,” said RAC President and CEO Marc Brazeau. “The new rules introduce additional science-based controls which will further mitigate risks associated with fatigue and improve rail safety.”

The railway industry will be required to develop more comprehensive fatigue management plans that will define how to mitigate fatigue risks. The railways will have 12 months to complete their plans and 24 months to implement them. Meanwhile, the requirements governing length of work and rest periods will take effect 30 months from Wednesday for freight railways and 48 months for passenger railways.

A comparison of the old and new rules is available here. Existing rules governing worker fatigue and the railways were last adopted in 2011.

The revised rules will be complemented by regulations on fatigue risk management systems to further mitigate the risks of fatigue, Transport Canada said.

“Rail safety remains my top priority. I would like to thank the railway industry as well as unions for their contribution to the updated Duty/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees based on the principles of fatigue science,” sand Minister of Transport Marc Garneau. “The new rules represent a historic improvement over the existing framework and incorporate modern and evidence-based fatigue management principles to a whole sector of the transportation industry. My department will continue to engage with unions and the railway industry on ways to further address the risks of operator fatigue.”

According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, there were 1,246 rail accidents reported in 2019, of which 33% were freight rail-related; 3% involved passenger trains, while the remaining 64% were mainly single cars or cuts of cars, locomotives and track units. 

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.