The Federal Railroad Administration issued two new rules on May 20 that require certain railroads to develop certification and training programs for train dispatchers and signal employees. Developed with input from the IBEW, these rules will ensure a safer railroad system for workers, customers and the communities that railroads travel through, Railroad Department Director Al Russo said.

Thousands of railroad members will soon have the training they need to work safer thanks to two new rules from the Federal Railroad Administration developed with input from the IBEW.

"The rules, announced May 20, will require freight railroads, Amtrak and commuter rail lines to develop certification and training programs for train dispatchers and signal employees.

“With these certifications, our members will now be provided the proper training and necessary skills to perform their work without utilizing other means of education, such as going to YouTube to expand their knowledge because of the lack of training that has been the case for years,” Railroad Department Director Al Russo said. “With these mandates, we can have a safer railroad system for our workers, customers and the community.”    

After the rules take effect, scheduled for July, railroads will have to submit certification programs for FRA approval that will evaluate the knowledge, skills and prior safety records of dispatchers, who allocate and assign track use and route trains, and signal employees, who install, repair and maintain signal systems that direct train movements, as well as locomotive and telecom workers who provide service and maintenance for positive train control and other signal systems. PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones and movements of trains through switches left in the wrong position. 

The introduction of mandatory certifications is a significant milestone. The requirement of proper credentialing to work on PTC systems provides an essential layer of protection. It ensures that only qualified individuals can perform these critical tasks, thereby safeguarding the integrity of the profession and the safety of the rail system. This is particularly important for members involved in locomotive maintenance, as they constitute a larger portion of the IBEW rail workforce than dispatchers or signal employees. The IBEW is particularly encouraged by the FRA’s acknowledgement that deploying these new technologies requires adequate training by qualified workers.

The certifications will also help ensure that dispatchers and signal employees periodically receive training on railroad safety and operating rules and practices, as well as on new systems and technology.

Unlike conductors and locomotive engineers, there were no federal regulations for dispatchers and signal employees mandating specific training requirements, safety and knowledge checks, and verification of safety records.

“These final rules address this gap in rail safety and will help ensure that certified dispatchers and signal employees are qualified and fit for duty,” the Department of Transportation said in a news release.

IBEW members, who work as dispatchers or signal employees, as well as in locomotive and telecom, must also pass qualification tests to prove their ability to safely perform their jobs. Depending on each rail carrier’s certification program, as many as 8,000 members could potentially be covered by the rules, Russo said.

When the FRA released its proposal for both certifications in 2023, the IBEW filed public comments, making numerous recommendations for the FRA to consider, many of which were adopted in the final rules, Russo said.

The IBEW also advocated for safety rules for dispatchers and signal employees in 2017 when it submitted a letter to the FRA regarding PTC.

“On behalf of our railroad members, who work hard every day to keep this economy running, we applaud the FRA for listening to working people when crafting these rules,” International President Kenneth W. Cooper said. “With these common-sense measures in place, dispatchers and signal employees can do their jobs better and safer, which benefits everyone from the worker to the consumer.”

Russo said all members who might be covered by these rules should familiarize themselves with them, which can be done here for dispatchers and here for signal employees.