Combatting Fatigue in the Railroad Industry

October 12, 2017

Combatting Fatigue in the Railroad Industry

Earlier this year, federal investigators determined that the August 2014 crash and derailment of two trains in Arkansas was due to a sleepy engineer and conductor, who were both likely asleep on at least one of the trains at the time of the collision. The crash led to the derailment of 55 train cars and the death of two crewmembers. One of the engineers involved had been diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea back in 2010, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

 HSA Governs Time Spent on Duty

 The Hours of Service Act (HSA) governs the time that railroad employees can lawfully spend on duty. Last amended in 2008, the HSA provides that railroad engineers and conductors:

RR Engine

  • Can work a maximum of 12 consecutive hours before they must go off duty.
  • Must have at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before the railroad can give them another assignment.
  • Can’t remain or go on duty unless they have had a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off duty in the previous 24 hours.
  • Must have at least two days off before working again after six consecutive days of work. Working seven days in a row is only acceptable if the seventh day is required to return employees to their home terminal.
  • Must have at least three consecutive days off before they can work again, if they have worked for seven consecutive days.
  • On-duty time and limbo time cannot exceed 276 per month.

For dispatchers, a workday can be no longer than nine hours in a 24-hour period (two shifts) or 12 hours in a 24-hour period (one shift). Signal employees are limited to a maximum of 12 consecutive hours on duty, followed by a minimum of 10 hours off duty.

It is never in a railroad’s best interests to have employees who are too tired to properly perform their duties. According to the Association of American Railroads, fighting fatigue is a shared responsibility: railroad companies need to allow employees to rest during off-duty hours, and employees must make obtaining the rest they need a priority.


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