Fatigue on the railroad has always been a primary concern to both workers and governmental agencies.
The government has attempted to address fatigue through the hours of service laws. These laws fall short of allowing workers to predict when they will be required to report for work.
In general, the hours of service law requires train operator to rest for 10 hours after a tour of duty. However, workers in unassing pool service or on extra lists can have a tough time predicting when they will be required to report for their next tour of duty. Many train operators remain on standby for hours or even days waiting for a call requiring them to return to work.
Calls from the railroads requiring a train operator to report for work can come at any time during the day or night. Trying to predict when that call to work will come remains elusive. Operating employees on freight railroads frequently receive a 2 hours notice of when their tour of duty will begin. Unscheduled operating employees in pool service rely on a loosely fixed train schedule known inside the industry as a "Train lineups." These train line ups are often inaccurate and represent information that is often incorrect.
The lack of predictability in train lineups can require operating employees to report to work many hours before or after the time they had initially planned to work the next day.
A scenario of how fatigued a train operator would be can be illustrated in the following example:
If a train operator has reviewed the train line up and determined that they will most likely be needed at 4 am the next morning, they will plan their day's events keeping in mind they should go to sleep in the early evening to be rested for their train at 4 am. However, it is not uncommon for train line-ups to be wrong and the employee to be called to work hours before their anticipated reporting time.
When train lineups are wrong, or the needs for more manpower arise unexpectedly the effect is chaotic. The employee planning for their tour of duty to begin at 4 am may now be required to report at 9 pm the evening before. This is 7 hours before the time they had planned to go to work and precisely the time the operator would normally be going to sleep.
Federal law allows a train operator to work for 12 hours. The worker who was forced to report to work at 9 pm and had not yet had the opportunity to sleep could now be on duty operating a train until 9 am the next morning. This means the worker may now have been awake for 25 hours as they complete their tour of duty.
Although the idea of people operating trains after they have been awake for 24 hours may seem terrifying, it happens each and every day on the nation's largest freight railroads.
Train operators need a predictable schedule, so they can be adequately rested before they report for duty. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is now considering risk management rules to address the issue of fatigue on the railroads. Until railroads and the FRA take fatigue management seriously the U. S. rail network will continue to have risk factors that are unwarranted and pose a grave danger to the public.