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New safety rules set training standards for train dispatchers and signal repairmen

New federal certification rules for train dispatchers and signal repairmen finalized Monday set minimum standards to counter investor pressure for continued cost reductions on railroads, while also requiring these employees to will ensure that they have the skills necessary to operate all the high-tech systems on today’s trains.

The new Federal Railroad Administration rules are the latest step in the agency’s broader efforts to improve rail safety since last year’s tragic East Palestine derailment in Ohio. had been developed years before the train accident.

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FRA Secretary Amit Bose said in an interview with The Associated Press that both of these workers are working on equipment that railroads rely on, such as trackside detectors that help spot mechanical problems before they cause derailments. He said it makes sense because it is part of the advanced technology that exists today. Set their certification standards.

Railroads can use trackside detectors like this one installed along the Union Pacific Line in western Iowa to spot mechanical problems with trains before they cause derailments, pictured Dec. 15, 2023. We make it possible to discover. The Federal Railroad Administration finalized new rules on Monday, May 20, 2024, establishing training and certification standards for workers who install and maintain these sensors and other signals along railroads. (AP Photo/Josh Funk)

“That’s the key point for me: We want to make sure that qualified workers are doing the job they’re supposed to do professionally,” Bose said. He also said that while technology can help improve rail safety, FRA wants to make sure it complements existing efforts, such as visual inspections, and does not replace them.

Bose said dispatchers play a key role in operating the automatic braking system known as Positive Train Control, which Congress mandated railroads install. In addition, modern dispatch centers are equipped with numerous giant monitors at each desk that dispatchers use to keep track of the trains traveling through their area.

Bose said railroad companies are concerned about safety but too often do the bare minimum as they try to control costs to increase profits.

“The industry has learned a lot since East Palestine and has implemented and redoubled its safety efforts,” Bose said. “We have to be concerned about safety 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and while we are encouraged by the efforts of the railroads, there is always more work to be done.”

But changes announced by railroad officials after the Ohio derailment drew national attention to rail safety have not resulted in a significant change in safety statistics. Major reforms are also stalled in Congress as Republicans want to wait to consider changes until the National Transportation Safety Board releases its final report on the derailments next month.

The American Association of Railroad Trade Organizations said in a statement that the new dispatcher and signalman rules are unlikely to significantly improve safety because railroads already train their employees.

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“It is essential that all employees are adequately trained and qualified to perform their duties safely,” said AAR spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek. “This is why railways are making significant investments to ensure our employees have the skills and knowledge they need to maintain safe operations and do their jobs well.”

But the American Association of Train Dispatchers union praised the new rule because it should prevent the common practice of forcing dispatchers to do jobs for which they are not adequately trained and prevent managers without the proper qualifications from working as dispatchers. It also gives the union and federal regulators a chance to review railroads’ qualification plans before the rule goes into effect.

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