When I was a young kid growing up in the railroading community, I had the chance to hear my grandfather and uncles talk about all things railroad. One thing I remember vividly is that my grandfather’s cabin on a lake had a sign outside that called the place “Stull’s Whistlestop”. He explained that a whistlestop was a small station where trains only stopped when signaled. Stull’s Whistlestop was always a place where railroaders came and had each other’s back and talked about issues facing railroaders and their families. He was a union griever and he often shared information and took things he heard back to the union and railroad. I’ve decided to try to continue that tradition with regular information through this version of “Stull’s Whistlestop” where you can come and find out information about current issues you and your families may face as the railroad community.
The FRA recently conducted a study on fatigue experienced by train crews. It generally confirms what train crews already knew and have been saying for decades: irregular schedules are not conducive to good health and lead to mental and physical fatigue. The FRA sent surveys to BLET members nationwide to gather information about start times and work patterns engineers were regularly subjected to by the railroads. It learned that
four out of five locomotive engineers and conductors reported day-to-day start time variability of at least 4 hours, and more than 90 percent reported two or more changes from day to night work in a 1-week period. This variability and frequent switching between day and night work is not conducive to recovery between shifts and has been shown to impact sleep quality due to circadian rhythm interruption.
In addition, while railroads provided train lineups which should, in theory, reduce some uncertainty and unpredictability in work schedules by giving train crews information about how many turns out they are, about 75% of engineers and conductors surveyed said that the information in the lineups was unreliable and actually contributed to additional levels of stress and fatigue.
Another critical part of the study related to engineers and conductors who identified as “highly fatigued,” which is defined as those crews that frequently experienced fatigue both at work and at home as well as on their commutes to and from work. The study found that highly-fatigued train crews were 6 times more likely to be involved in accidents on their drives to and from work. Falling asleep at the wheel of their vehicles happened 4 times more to highly-fatigued engineers as compared to those who felt rested. While there is a focus on fatigue at work and the dangers related to on-the-job tasks, the largely undiscussed risk to train crews who are not getting proper rest is the danger on the way to and from the job.
Hopefully railroads will begin to see the added stress and dangers they place their train crews in through unreasonable attendance policies. Worries of missed calls and earning points back only add to the fatigue and distress train crews regularly experience. If you suffer from an accident or injury related to fatigue, whether on the job or in your commute, it is worth your while to contact a FELA attorney to discuss how your job contributed to those injuries to ensure you are not overlooking any of your rights.