BNSF Petitions FRA for Relief from Conducting Pre-departure Inspections on Combined Consists

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) has recently petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for waiver from Federal railroad safety regulations regarding pre-departure inspections. BNSF specifically requested relief from 49 CFR 215.13, which requires that a pre-departure inspection be performed when combining two separate consists including one or more cars and one or more locomotives that have been properly inspected and tested in compliance with all applicable regulations; meaning that both consists have had a Class I brake test under 49 CFR 232.205 and a Class IA brake test under 49 CFR 232.207, or that the combined consists have been designated as extended haul trains and are compliant with all requirements of 49 CFR 232.213. BNSF maintains that the requested relief will allow combining two existing and operating trains without additional inspections, besides a Class III brake test. The carrier further states that the relief will allow subsequent separation of two trains without additional inspections (besides a Class III brake test) provided that a record of the original consist remains intact.

The Brotherhood Railway Carman (BRC) has joined with five other rail unions to oppose BNSF’s petition for waiver because the requested relief could endanger the safety of both railroad workers and the general public. Rail labor made three principle arguments in their comments: first, that BNSF failed to comply with FRA’s requirements that govern the filing of petitions for waiver of railroad safety regulations; second, that the request was made because Class I railroads have continuously resisted upgrading their existing air brake technology, claiming that such upgrades are too costly and burdensome; and finally, that adding locomotives to a train, whether within the train’s consist or at the rear end, is not an innovation, but rather a practice that has been used in the railroad industry for decades. “The request for relief made by BNSF in this instance is based solely on the fact that the carrier does not want to comply with the pre-departure inspection requirement proscribed by 49 CFR 215.13,” says BRC General President Rich Johnson. “The pre-departure inspection requirement for combined consists has a long history of contributing to safety in the railroad industry and the use of these tests should continue.”

Click here to read rail labor’s comments.