Union Pacific ends safety measures for engineer fatigue

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Citing expense and the hiring of more workers to give reasonable time off between trips, Union Pacific Railroad has ended safety measures designed to ease fatigue for some substitute locomotive engineers.

The work-rest program was eliminated Jan. 1 at some hubs, such as North Platte and Cheyenne, Wyo., but the change affects fewer than 300 of the company's 8,200 engineers systemwide.

Union Pacific implemented most of the work-rest agreements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in the summer of 1999, as part of several programs aimed at alleviating fatigue. The Federal Railroad Administration investigated the railroad after 11 fatigue-related fatal train accidents in 1997, following its 1996 merger with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Dave Harbert, director of safety for the railroad, told the Omaha World-Herald that the company has moved beyond the service crisis that followed the merger and has hired more workers, giving them reasonable time off between trips.

Railroad officials send ending the agreements has been an option it has always preserved.

One union official, Mike Young of Cheyenne, general chairman of a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers' region that includes Nebraska, told the World-Herald that engineers fear the changes will compromise safety.

The railroad had given some substitute locomotive engineers, known as ''extra board'' engineers, seven days on-call and three guaranteed days off. They were paid for the entire month regardless of how often they worked.

That system was getting too expensive, railroad officials said.

''We want to come up with new procedures that properly balance U.P.'s needs and the employees' needs,'' said Terry Olin, general director of labor relations for the railroad.

With the changes, the substitute engineers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They fill in for regular engineers, who also can be placed on-call but tend to have more predictable schedules.

Burlington Northern also has ended its guaranteed days off for substitute engineers on some routes.

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