Drug Testing Proposed for RR Maintenance Workers

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed expanding its drug testing rules to apply to railroad maintenance employees, and to cover grade crossing accidents "likely due to human factors."
     Its current regulations include pre-employment drug and alcohol tests, random drug and alcohol tests, reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol tests, and post-accident toxicological tests, for certain railroad employees. The department proposed expanding the rules to cover "maintenance-of-way employees," who maintain railroad tracks and other structures.
     The rule also would expand the list of circumstances under which railroads must perform post-accident drug and alcohol testing. Currently, participants in major accidents would be tested for drugs or alcohol. Grade crossing accidents have been exempt due to the unlikelyhood of the train being able to stop in time regardless of operator sobriety.
     The FRA's proposed rule requires drug and alcohol testing after grade crossing accidents when they are "likely due to human factors or involved a regulated employee fatality."
     The proposal is a response to a Congressional mandate under the Rail Safety Improvement Act and a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board to expand its policies to all employees who "perform FRA safety-sensitive functions."
     The rule would apply not only to railroad employees, but also to independent contractors, subcontractors and volunteers who perform safety-sensitive functions.
     Maintenance-of-way employees are at a high safety risk because they work along railroad track and roadbed and may be hit by trains or other equipment on or near the track, according to the action. They also can directly affect the safety of railroad operations because they work on or near railroad tracks, operate equipment, and assist in directing trains through work areas.
     In 2007, a passenger train in Massachusetts hit a track maintenance vehicle being serviced by employees, killing two and seriously injuring two others. Subsequent drug testing showed a foreman who was killed had probably used marijuana within a few hours of his death.
     After the accident, the NTSB investigated its data on drug testing and concluded that maintenance-of-way employees use drugs and alcohol more than employees who are currently covered by drug testing regulations.
     The FRA is seeking public comments about which maintenance-of-way employees should be included under the proposed rule's definitions, as well as comments about safety concerns for those employees.
     Comments are due by Sept. 26. The agency said it plans to resolve the rulemaking without a public hearing, but it will schedule one if it is requested.