News & Publications

Rail Law Alert No. 10

Senators Announce FRA to Initiate Rulemaking on Cameras in Commuter Rail Locomotives

In response to pressure from U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) plans to initiate a new rulemaking process regarding use of cameras in train locomotives and operating cabs on commuter rail systems to record accidents and unsafe behavior, the Senators announced on Sunday, January 12, 2014.  The announcement, reported by local news outlets, comes just over a month after a deadly Metro-North derailment at Spuyten Duyvil that resulted in four deaths and over 60 injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had previously issued a recommendation to require inward- and outward-facing cameras in passenger locomotives.  According to the NTSB, inward-facing cameras can be used to monitor train crew performance and identify dangerous behavior, such as falling asleep and texting, while outward-facing cameras can be used to monitor crossing accidents and identify track deficiencies.  The NTSB made its recommendation in response to another commuter rail accident in 2008 involving a Metrolink commuter rail train whose engineer was allegedly texting when the accident occurred.  After that accident, Metrolink installed inward- and outward-facing cameras throughout its entire commuter rail fleet and, represented by Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, successfully litigated its decision against protesting labor unions.  Metrolink is the only commuter service to have installed inward-facing cameras to date, and Metrolink and Amtrak are among the few passenger railroads to have voluntarily implemented cameras in their locomotives.

According to news reports, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo sent a letter to Senators Schumer and Blumenthal notifying them of FRA’s decision to initiate a rulemaking on cameras during 2014.  If FRA issues a proposed rule, railroads and other interested parties would have an opportunity to comment and suggest changes to address particular issues or concerns.