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Train crew work schedules contribute to accidents

CLEVELAND, November 29, 2006 -- The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today released a study which provides a strong scientific rationale for evaluating railroad employee work schedules to address worker fatigue.

According to the FRA, human factor errors were responsible for nearly 40 percent of all train accidents over the past five years. An FRA evaluation of the research findings confirms that fatigue plays a role in approximately one out of four of those accidents.

The goal of the research was to determine if a fatigue model can accurately and reliably predict an increased risk of human error that could contribute to the occurrence of a train accident. A mathematical model for detecting the point at which the risk of fatigue becomes hazardous could be part of a railroad's fatigue management plan. FRA expects this information will aid the railroad industry in improving crew scheduling practices in order to reduce that risk. A similar approach is currently utilized by the Department of Defense.

Under the study, researchers analyzed the 30-day work schedule histories of locomotive crews preceding approximately 1,400 train accidents and found a strong statistical correlation between the crew's estimated level of alertness and the likelihood that they would be involved in an accident caused by human factors. In fact, the relationship is so strong that the level of fatigue associated with some work schedules was found to be equivalent to being awake for 21 hours following an 8-hour sleep period the previous night. At this level, train accidents consistent with fatigue, such as failing to stop for red signals, were more likely to occur.

"We applaud FRA's work in validating Dr. Hursh's model for use in the railroad industry," BLET National President Don M. Hahs said. "The fact remains, however, that the vast majority of fatigue concerns could be addressed, if not eliminated, by taking several simple steps, including: improving 'train line-up' information for crews waiting to be called for work; 8 hour call for duty; defined calling windows to prevent work tour cycling; and ending abusive limbo time.

"All of these practices could be implemented today, if the carriers were as concerned about the health and safety of their crews as they are interested in multi-billion dollar profits."

[Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 11-29-06]