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In the News

CSX gets tougher on rules violations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Moving away from its innovative education- and training-oriented discipline policy, CSX recently has adopted five "Life-Critical Rules" that carry automatic suspensions for violators.

According to a report carried yesterday (May 9) by the website (, the railroad says it was motivated by the need to improve safety, particularly considering a trend toward increased signal violations. "This is about saving lives," said CSX spokeswoman Kathy Bums.

But a United Transportation Union (UTU) official, while applauding the railroad's interest in heading off potential safety problems, questioned whether the new policy is a step backward from CSX's personal accountability policy.

"This appears to be moving back toward the punitive" discipline policy of old, said General Chairperson John Hancock.

The five Life-Critical Rules include: stop signal violations; blue flag violations; occupying main track without authority; failure to use required fall protection; and negligent maintenance of signal equipment.

The consequences of breaking one of the rules include a 30-day unpaid suspension for the first offense, with up to 15 additional days of paid training, and termination for a subsequent offense. Previously, such violations would result in further training and education if the offense was not particularly flagrant.

"We deliberated long and hard about the consequences of those rules," Bums said.

CSX saw a need to implement them after a safety analysis that noted, among other things, a rising number of signal violations. Last year, CSX recorded 57 red-signal violations, Bums said, and is on a pace to surpass that figure this year. Through March, 19 such incidents had been reported.

Tragedy touches all people on the railroad, Bums said, noting that operating officials choke up when discussing the February rear-end collision of two CSX trains in Carlisle, Ohio, that killed engineer David Wund, 35. Two other crewmen were injured in the crash, which reportedly involved a signal violation.

Avoiding such tragedy is what every railroader strives for every day. "I can't conceive of why anyone would set out to run a red signal," Hancock said. "It would appear a more constructive approach would be to have a discussion on the issue" rather than an automatic suspension.

A violator could be counseled by fellow railroaders, he suggested, and given further training to ensure that a subsequent violation does not occur. That's the way other violations are handled as part of CSX's personal accountability policy for railroaders.

Hancock praised that policy, which is a part of the larger "Social Compact" CSX has with organized labor. "It treats the individual as a grown-up person mature enough to do his job," Hancock says of the accountability policy.

The Social Compact's emphasis on communication and management-labor cooperation -- and its success in improving management-labor relations -- prompted Hancock to find fault with the way the Life-Critical Rules were imposed. "While I compliment the carrier on their forward thinking, I chastise the carrier for unilaterally implementing this," Hancock said.

Bums said general chairmen were brought into the process. But Hancock said the decision had already been made, and that both sides should have worked together. "We have met them halfway on many issues," he said.

But there's no half way to comply with the Life-Critical Rules, CSX says.

"We want you to think of these Life-Critical Rules the same way you view the rules of society, which are in place to help protect the vast majority of us who obey the law. The same is true here," Al Crown, executive vice president-transportation, and Michael Cantrell, senior vice president-engineering and mechanical, wrote in an e-mail alerting employees to the change. "In keeping with the Social Compact, when someone endangers his or her own life or the lives of co-workers by violating one of these five rules, we are going to assess stronger consequences."