A federal transportation agency is holding a public hearing Tuesday to review SEPTA's waiver of A federal transportation agency is holding a public hearing Tuesday to review SEPTA's waiver of nationally mandated safety rules after one of the transit agency's unions called attention to the engineers' potentially dangerously long shifts and work weeks.
"Public safety is at risk, so a public hearing is absolutely necessary," said Steve Bruno, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen's (BLET) national vice president. "There's no margin of error when it comes to running a railroad the right way."
The union's president, Dennis Pierce, sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requesting a review of SEPTA.
Pierce said SEPTA has increased the number of trains and route miles traveled while cutting back on the number of engineers scheduled since receiving a safety waiver in October 2012.
The waiver allows SEPTA to stretch workdays and cut into the rest time of engineers --some who are already working 14-hour days and 6-day weeks, according to BLET.
"Forcing engineers to operate trains with insufficient rest creates a known -- and preventable -- risk to passengers and crew members," a BLET news release said. "Most other regional commuter railroads work engineers on a 5-day a week schedule with shorter workdays."
But officials with the transit agency insist there have been no problems since they were granted the wavier.
"During the more than two years this waiver has been in effect, no safety issues have been noted where the waiver or engineer fatigue was a factor," said Jerri Williams, a SEPTA spokeswoman.
Williams added 18 engineers are currently in training to help reduce the number of 6-day work weeks and other precautions are already in place to prevent fatigue.
"Any engineer scheduled to work a shift lasting more than 12 hours is required to take a mandatory 4-hour rest period during his or her shift," she said. "The Authority will continue to closely monitor data and related information to prevent engineer fatigue as part of our ongoing effort to ensure the safe operation of service for our customers, employees and the public."
The public hearing is set to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the first floor conference room at the Baldwin Town at 1510 Chester Pike in Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania. The hearing comes a week after a deadly commuter train crash killed six people and injured 15 others in New York.
The BLET represents 53,000 engineers and trainmen, including 220 SEPTA employees.