North America's Strongest Union

Rail Workers Can Report Job Errors Without Penalty

NJ Transit rail workers can now secretly report on-the-job errors that threaten passenger safety without fearing retribution, under a federal pilot program the transit agency launched this week.

The "Confidential Close Call Reporting System," or C3RS, program is designed to reduce train crashes by identifying human mistakes that occur before a near crash, and correcting them, said Rob Kulat, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration.

NJ Transit is the first and only passenger railroad participating in the pilot program created by the FRA. Two freight railroads — Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific — are also participating, Kulat said.

Under the program, engineers, conductors and other rail employees who witness or experience unsafe behavior report their observations directly to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

BTS workers conduct interviews, scrub the data of any information that would identify an employee, and send it to a labor-management team at NJ Transit.

That team then uses the data to come up with a list of recommendations to prevent future mistakes.

In 2008, NJ Transit had 211 total accidents and incidents, which include grade crossing and trespassing strikes, federal data show. Of those, 17 involved human error, according to federal data.

Kulat said the results from the Union Pacific close call program at its yard in North Platte, Neb. - the largest rail yard in the country – found that accidents attributed to human factors this year declined by more than 70 percent.

In addition, injuries to train, yard and enginemen declined more than 30 percent over the same period, Kulat said.

The American Association of Railroads asked NJ Transit to participate in the two-year pilot program that began Nov. 16, said Penny Bassett Hackett, spokeswoman for NJ Transit.

She said the agency wants to create a culture of safety and decided to join after getting union support.

Richard Darcy, general chairman of the NJ Transit Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which represents 400 engineers, said workers were initially fearful of a program that involved reporting human error.

He said the unions bought in after they were guaranteed it would be confidential and punishment-free, but also because such confidential reporting systems have been successful in the airline industry and with foreign railroads.

Darcy said close-call reports could include an engineer reporting that he nearly went through a red light at a train crossing because he was distracted, or that he realized he caught himself traveling too fast in a certain zone.

Employees would not report incidents that actually result in accidents or injuries.

Rather, those would continue to be handled internally.

Darcy said he expects the reporting will start off slow as employees watch to see how reports are handled. "It begins with a trickle of reports, then goes to a flow. Pretty soon it's a waterfall," he said.


The article, written by Karen Rouse, originally appeared on North on November 20, 2009.

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