Federal Railroad Safety Act Helping Protect Railroad Workers

Federal Railroad Safety Act

Federal rail safety standards provide a regulatory framework for railroad companies that owners and operators must obey. The manner in which railroad companies carry out operations and maintenance has a profound effect on the safety and welfare of its workers. Lack of proper safety procedures, equipment maintenance, inspection, training, and record keeping can make the workplace dangerous for railroad workers.

Understanding the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970

The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) was enacted in 1970 for the purpose of giving regulatory rights to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Any area of railroad safety falls under the realm of the FRA; they are responsible for both investigating and prosecuting all railroad issues. Since this law was enacted, the FRA has enacted laws to control factors such as the maximum weight of rail cars, engineer qualifications, and safe operating practices. This law also offers protection for railroad employees. One of such protections is against wrongful termination of employment as well as suspension and demotion. If an employee is treated as such by an employer, then an investigation can take place in order to determine if the employee was acting lawfully. Under FRSA, employees are protected against dismissal if they report hazardous conditions. For example, if you notice your employer taking part in illegal practices and report it, you are protected in your employee status. Employees also have a right to prompt medical attention should they become injured or ill while working for the railroad. Other provisions under this act include remedies for damages. This means employees are entitled to damages in the event that they are involved in an accident.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act assigns, by direction of the Secretary of Transportation, regulatory responsibility to FRA. FRA has responsibility for all areas of railroad safety and the authority required to investigate and prosecute violations of any rail safety law.

The following are part of the regulatory body that the FRA uses to guide railroad operations:

  • Signal Inspection Act
  • Accident Reports Act
  • Safety Appliance Act
  • Locomotive Inspection Act

Signal Inspection Act

In the Signal Inspection Act, provisions are given to FRA to regulate the safety of railroad signals.

This includes the maintenance, testing, removal, or modification of signal systems. Railroad signals are just as important as road signals for drivers of cars. Without them, accidents happen. There have been many recorded accidents that could have been avoided if proper maintenance and care was provided to signals and warning devices, which is why the Signal Inspection Act was established. Maintenance, testing, and modification of signal systems are required in the hopes that maintaining these signals will lead to fewer railroad accidents.

Just some of the requirements regarding signals include:

  • Every railroad system must have qualified signal and train inspectors. They are required to have at least four years' experience or a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and have specialized knowledge of all the rules and regulations required by FRA.
  • In order to ensure grade crossing safety, all warning signals must be working properly. For example, if the warning bars don't get lowered or the lights fail to flash at a crossing, a car may be in danger.

Each state is responsible, under federal regulation, to install and maintain their own crossing signals and determine which type of signal best suits each crossing. Depending on the particular railway company, tracks and signals get inspected 4-7 times each week, depending on how high-traffic an area it is. Train crews also have the responsibility to report any signal malfunction they see to their supervisors and inspectors.

Accident Reports Act

Railroad workers are entitled to safety. If anything goes wrong and a railroad worker is injured, an investigation must take place in order to hold the railroad company accountable and fix the problem so that it doesn’t happen again. The Accident Reports Act requires carriers to submit full and complete accident reports to FRA who is then authorized to investigate the accident in further detail. Accidents must not only be reported each time, there is also a required monthly report that railroad companies have to file with the Secretary of Transportation.

The initial report sent to FRA simply includes surface details of the accident.

Once an accident has been reported to the FRA—if the accident was found to have been caused either directly or indirectly because of the oversight of the railroad company—the injured railroad worker is entitled to a claim. Every one of these acts is set in place for the benefit of the railroad worker to ensure that their rights are not being abused. If you are a railroad worker, acts such as the accident reports act are extremely important to you. Make sure to stay informed of your rights so that if they are being violated, you can seek legal help.

Railroad Safety Appliance Act

The Railroad Safety Appliance Act (RSAA) took effect in 1900—and, although 100+ years have passed, railroads across the country are dramatically safer because of its existence. After the Civil War ended, the industry began to stretch throughout the U.S. As the industry grew, citizens became more and more reliant on the big steam locomotives that could transport goods and raw materials weeks faster than horses and carriages.

Although the industry boomed, there were no safety measures in place to ensure that railroad workers would be kept safe in the face of one of the most dangerous jobs in the 1900s.

In fact, at the time that railroad lawmakers had enacted this legislation, railroad workers had the second most dangerous job in the United States, following closely behind coal mining. Individual states recognized the problem and tried to implement versions of railroad safety and maintenance standards. However, this posed a problem for railroad workers, as almost all rails would travel across state lines. Having safety standards in one state, crossing the border, and then traversing rails where there were no safety standards became a huge pain to railroad employees. For this reason, the federal government stepped in to enact the RSAA to streamline railroad safety across all states. The federal government’s action was extremely beneficial for all railroad workers, as safety laws were now federally recognized. Workers no longer had to wonder if the state they were riding in was compliant to safety laws, because the RSAA covered every part of American soil.

Sections of the RSAA

There are eight major sections in this act that are still in existence today.

The safety features that all cars and locomotives must include:

  • Train couplers that can be coupled by impact and uncoupled without a worker having to step in between the ends of the cars
  • Efficient hand brakes and secure sill steps
  • Secured running boards and ladders that have available handholds or grab irons at the top
  • Handholds and grab irons at the ends of cars and sides of cars
  • Drawbars that meet height requirements as prescribed by the Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Enough power brakes or train brakes for the engineer to control the whole train’s speed without using hand brakes
  • 50% of all train vehicles must be equipped with power or train brakes
  • Power-driving wheel brakes useable with the train-brake system

The last three sections outline various situational changes of these compliances like the train company’s ability to streamline the allowed height and weight of cars and a train company’s ability to break the power and train brake rules under certain circumstances. The last section says carriers can refuse to receive a train vehicle that does not include power or train brakes from a railroad line of a connecting carrier or shipper.

The RSAA & Lawsuits

The RSAA greatly increased the safety of trains for all railroad workers. Employees could no longer be crushed between rail cars as they tried to couple trains together. They no longer had to worry about an engineer’s ability to stop a train by themselves. Overall, they now had rights under the federal government. Despite the history of these regulations and the importance they have for train employees, companies will still break these rules. If you are a railroad worker injured while performing your job duties, it is important you understand the provisions of the Railroad Safety Appliance Act. If your injury occurred while you were riding on a train that was out of compliance, your employer might have to compensate you. For this reason, injured train employees should report injuries that result from accidents immediately after they occur. Train cars constantly switch rails and routes; if an employee does not properly and promptly record their injury, it will be hard to prove that the company was out of compliance. Talking to a professional train accident lawyer can help you secure the evidence you need to receive just compensation.

Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA)

The Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA) was passed by Congress in 1908 as the first federal law addressing steam locomotives. While there used to be more sections, the introduction of better technology and superior train engineering has retired some of the older statutes. The sections of the act that are still in effect today state that locomotives can only be permitted for use when its parts are up to code.

One of these standards declares that a carrier can only operate if the locomotive and its parts and appurtenances “are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury.” This standard prohibits a train from operating until an engineer or company fixes all malfunctioning conditions of a train that can put someone at risk.

The second standard states that a licensed locomotive inspector must inspect all the parts and mechanisms regularly. The number of times an inspector must examine a train depends on how that train is classified. There is a big difference between a commercial train that carries raw materials and a passenger train that carries thousands of people every day. Each of these trains has inspection requirements that fit the build of the train and its ultimate purpose, but all trains must pass inspection before operators can take them to the tracks.

The third and final statute of LIA states that the locomotive must be able to withstand all the tests prescribed by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Essentially, this is a “cover all” statute that ensures that a train is not only passing inspections but also performs well in real life scenarios. Inspectors can test a train’s ability to stay on a piece of the track by looking at the wheels as a train travels slowly. Inspectors can also test a train’s ability to brake properly, round a bend, and haul cargo. Similar to the second statute, the necessary “stress tests” that an engineer must perform before a train can hit the rails is dependent on the type of train that is in use.

Who Does LIA Protect?

There have been cases in which locomotive inspectors attempt to file a claim while citing LIA; however, the LIA is not clear about which employees the act covers and under what circumstances an employee should receive coverage. Many argue that LIA only covers employees injured while the locomotive is "in use" and therefore engineers injured while inspecting the train do not qualify. For these scenarios, an engineer should turn to an attorney who can help him or her understand his or her rights. LIA has provisions for punishment for railroad companies that refuse to comply with these standards. The act also requires that a supervisor of a company report all locomotive accidents to the Interstate Commerce Commission with an ensuing investigation, including accidents where investigators are injured while checking LIA compliance.

Substances & LIA

If a railroad worker is harmed by toxic fumes such as diesel, exhaust, or asbestos insulation while performing job duties, an inhalation injury does count as an LIA violation. Railroad companies are responsible for containing toxic substances that can injure or harm employees. If you are hurt while operating or maintaining a locomotive, you may be entitled to a personal injury claim under the Locomotive Inspection Act.

Maintaining Safe Work Environments

After an accident has left you or a loved one injured, do not hesitate to contact our firm. The natural dangers inherent on railroad sites leave employees susceptible to harm from toxic materials and hazardous wastes—not to mention dangerous equipment. The working conditions to which railroad workers are exposed every day can be quite dangerous and can lead to serious occupational illness and injury. For these reasons, it is imperative that top-notch legal counsel be obtained as quickly as possible after any type of railroad accident and/or injury.

Arnold & Itkin has successfully represented victims injured in railroad accidents. Our law firm has a demonstrated track record of successfully trying cases by building a strong and persuasive case as quickly as possible. Call now.

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