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A recent incident discussed by the Federal Railroad Administration reveals just how important it is for railroad workers to abide by all federal regulations, even those that might not seem especially critical or safety related. As the unfortunate episode reveals, failure to do so can result in termination.

The case occurred in Montana and involved a locomotive engineer who took a photograph while inside the engine of a train that was in motion. The picture reveals that the camerawork did not take place while the train was racing at fast speeds; the photo shows that the speed was only 13 miles per hour.

A short time later, the engineer then logged into his Facebook account while still on the moving train and posted the photo to his Facebook profile. Two friends of the engineer, who were also on moving trains, noticed the picture and posted responses, commenting on the photograph of the engine. The comments from the friends widened the circle of people who were able to see the picture and included an inspector for the Federal Railroad Administration.

After the inspector saw the photograph, an investigation was commenced into the matter. Inspectors decided the actions by all three men amounted to violations of the General Code of Operating Rules, specifically GCOR 2.21, which deals with electronic devices. The rule states: “railroad operating employees on duty (including supervisors) must have each electronic device turned off and stowed out of sight… when on moving rolling equipment.”

The FRA investigation culminated in the firing of all three workers (the photographer and his two friends). It’s unfortunate for the workers who may not have even realized that their behaviors would result in such swift punishment. Though 13 miles per hour may not seem like a big deal, it still qualifies as a violation of federal law and a fireable offense, something that other railroad employees need to be aware of in the future.

In a related incident, the Washington Metro system announced last month that a train operator who was caught using a cellphone while behind the controls of the train has been fired. Metro, like almost all rail operators around the country, has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of personal electronic devices by train operators. The policy is incredibly strict and requires the termination of any worker found violating the rule, even for a first time offense.

This was apparently not the first time such a violation has occurred. News reports revealed that last year nine Metro employees were fired for violating the cellphone policy while on the job. A spokesperson says there is never an excuse for a train operator to be using a cellphone while on duty, except in an emergency situation. The spokesperson says that the department takes the matter very seriously, especially in the wake of a 2008 train crash in Southern California which left 25 people dead and another 130 injured. Reports revealed that the engineer had been sending text messages while on duty.

About the Editors: The Virginia and North Carolina injury law firm of Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro provide legal articles on health and safety as a pro bono service. Our firm also blogs on railroad & FELA worker injury claims.

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