Saturday, March 22, 2014

OMB Approves FRA ICR Revision for Rail Inspection Final Rule

Yesterday the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) announced that it had approved the information collection request (ICR) for the revised ICR (2130-0010) associated with the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) final rule on Track Safety Standards; Improving Rail Integrity (79 FR 4234-4260).

The revised ICR includes an astonishing reduction in the burden hours associated with this program; a total reduction of 1,283,835 burden hours from 3,761,468 hours to 2,475,698; a remarkable 34.1% burden reduction. Given that the intent of the rule is to improve track integrity, an important part of rail transportation safety, reducing the burden on industry is quite an unusual move by this regulatory agency.

Track Safety Rule

I did not follow this rulemaking process in any detail and certainly did not mention it in this blog, it is a technically based regulation that is probably not of specific interest to readers of this blog. A number of changes were made to 49 CFR Part 213, Track Safety Standards; specifically changing §213.3, §213.113, §213.119, §213.237, §213.238, §213.241 and Appendix B.

There are a number of reporting requirements that are covered by this rule. As such, FRA included in the rulemaking an ICR submission updating the reporting requirements for their Track Safety Standards program. FRA included a tabular list of the various reporting requirements for that program on pages 4253-4 in the Final Rule as published in the Federal Register.

Continuous Weld Rail Inspections

The ICR portion of the preamble to the Final Rule does not list the changes to the burdens caused by these reporting requirements, just their estimates of the requirements. The document submitted to OIRA (link to download Word® document) requesting approval of the revised ICR does provide much more detailed information. It shows (pg 85) that the single largest change in burden hours comes from the training requirements for personnel conducting continuous weld rail (CWR) inspections; a reduction of 1,280,000 hours, from 1,920,000 hours to the 640,000 hours (a 2/3rds reduction) listed in the Final Rule.

There was no change in the number of expected personnel; 80,000. What did change was the number of training hours expected; decreased from 24 hours to 8. There is no explanation for this change given in explanation provided to OIRA.

The requirement for this training is found in §213.7(c)(2). There is nothing in this section that specifies how many hours of training are required. It does require {in §213.7(c)(3)} that a trained person must demonstrate to the track owner that they:

• Know and understand the requirements of the written CWR procedures;
• Can detect deviations from those requirements; and
• Can prescribe appropriate remedial actions to correct or safely compensate for those deviations.

This Final Rule did not make any changes to §213.7.

Page 5 of the FRA submission to OIRA on this ICR revision provides a description of the reporting requirements of §213.7. Page 8 provides a written explanation of the requirement for 8 hours of training. Neither page, however, mentions that this ICR decreases the expected training time from 24 to 8 hours.

Decreased Training Time

I am certainly not an expert in continuously welded rail; I could probably identify it 2 out of 3 times in the field. I only have the most general knowledge of how it is inspected. I have, however, conducted hundreds of hours of industrial training over the last thirty years. I cannot remember a single time when a 67% reduction in training time yielded an increase in operator effectiveness.

I fully understand and appreciate that advances in classroom technology have provided some great increases in classroom efficiency (my training experience spans technology improvements from poster boards, to flip charts, to view graphs, to computer aided instruction). But, technical skills like inspections require hands on practice. Any efficiency increase in the presentation of background and program information, should only serve to increase the time available for hands-on practical exercises.

No Time Requirements

Since §213.7 does not specify and minimum training time requirement it is hard to see how FRA came up with their training time (either the 8 hour or 24 hour) estimates. I would assume that they had communicated with the effected community. Or perhaps they reviewed records of FRA inspections. In either case, this change in burden estimate would seem to indicate that the railroads have been reducing the amount of training provided to CWR inspectors.

Decrease in Rail Safety

The chemical industry has long complained that most rail accidents that result in chemical release (with the attendant bad chemical publicity) are the fault of the railroads (employee error or mechanical issues). With the increased scrutiny the railroads are under because of the spectacular crude oil derailments (a coal or grain spill just doesn’t get the same press/political attention as fires and explosions), railroads can ill afford to do anything that has even the appearance of decreasing safety.

I really hope that the railroads have not cut back the training that they provide to CWR inspectors; it cannot improve or even maintain the level of rail safety in my opinion. If they have not reduced those hours, then the FRA has done the railroads a disservice by making it appear that they have reduced the training provided to these important employees.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */