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WASHINGTON DC – On Monday, May 17, 2010, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced the proposal of a rule that would ban the improper use of electronic devices by railroad employees while on duty. The announcement was made by U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in his ongoing campaign to stop distracted driving.

Cell phones and handheld devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs)

A PDF of the Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register can be downloaded here.

The proposed rule is the latest in a number of actions taken by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to combat distracted driving. Secretary LaHood initially announced plans by the DOT to vigorously pursue steps to reduce the risks posed by distracted driving during a Distracted Driving Summit in September 2009.

In a prepared statement FRA officials said that the regulations are necessary to more effectively prevent the “inappropriate and unauthorized use of these devices on the job.”

The FRA has determined that regulations are necessary to be able to prevent accidents like last year’s Metrolink accident with a Union Pacific Railroad train. The findings of a preliminary investigation showed that a Metrolink engineer was text messaging at the time of the crash.

The proposed rule is intended for safety critical employees, applying to locomotive engineers, switchmen and other train workers. It would restrict or prohibit the use of cell phones and other handheld devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), whether personal or railroad-supplied and would only allow their use under “highly limited circumstances.” The proposed rule basically disallows the use of an electronic device if it would interfere with ones self or another employee’s performance of safety-related duties.

According to the FRA, the proposed rule would also give them the authority to review the training programs used by the railroad companys regarding the use of electronic devices. Also, the proposed rule would require railroad companys to keep records to document employees that receive recurring training at specified intervals.

The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) does provide some exceptions. The proposed rule would allow for the use of watches, calculators, medical devices or railroad radios. Cameras would also be allowed to be used in various emergency situations or to document bona fide safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws.

The NPRM is asking for comments on whether violations of the rule should be used as a basis for revoking an engineer’s certification to operate a locomotive under other FRA regulations. The deadline for comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking is June 17, 2010.

A final rule would supplant Emergency Order 26 (EO 26). Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted at (Docket# No. FRA-2009-0118).

Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP, is a top nationwide FELA lawyer firm representing railroad workers injured on the job who need experienced attorneys knowledgeable in the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). For expert advice and FELA help, call 800.773.6770.

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