Remote control technology has been used in rail yards for many years but I remain to be convinced that it provides optimum safety for workers.
This technology means only one person is often in control of a train. It’s now the norm in most rail yards but there’s some skepticism about whether it’s made yards any safer.
Take the death of Melinda Carter, a 37-year-old conductor who was killed at CSX’s larger Riverdale yard in Chicago in 2010. She was killed when she was run over by a locomotive she was conducting.
Then there’s 33-year-old Jared Boehlke, who lost his life in 2009 when he stepped between two train cars in the CSX Selkirk yard in New York.
I noted that CSX recently updated its rules about remote operation. The amendment that was enacted in 2015 reads:
CSX Updates Remote Control Guidance
THE EMPLOYEE DIRECTING THE MOVEMENT AND/OR THE PRIMARY REMOTE CONTROL OPERATOR OF REMOTE CONTROL MOVEMENTS MUST:
- REMAIN AT THE DESIGNATED PLACE OF SAFETY UNTIL THE MOVEMENT IS STOPPED EXCEPT IN CASES OF EMERGENCY, AND
- MAINTAIN VISUAL CONTACT WITH A PORTION OF THE EQUIPMENT WHILE MOVEMENT IS OCCURRING.
The amended wording certainly appears to be a response to a concern about the hazards of using the remote system, even though it’s been used for more than a decade.
Back in 2001, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) gave the go ahead for major U.S. railroads to employ remote control operators (RCOs). The operators are belt pack devices that move unmanned engines.
Rail unions were skeptical from the start and remain alarmed. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers opposed the use of RCOs on the grounds that the technology was unsafe and untested.
In the past, I have handled several FELA cases involving CSX railroad workers who were hurt during remote control operations. When railroad workers are injured, they are often hurt in rail yards. The arrival of RCOs seems to be more about railroads cutting costs rather than seeking to improve safety at yards.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a rail yard, it’s important to know your FELA rights before your employer tries to take advantage of you. Call me for a free and confidential consultation today at (866) 455-6657.