New rule bans railroad operators from using cell phones while on duty

The Federal Railroad Administration on Monday published a new final rule (.pdf file) that will prohibit the improper use of cell phones and other distracting electronic devices by on-duty railroad operating employees.

The rule will explicitly restrict the use of cell phones and other handheld devices by safety-critical employees, including locomotive engineers, conductors and switchmen. The change finalizes an emergency order issued three weeks after a September 2008 collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific Railroad freight train in Chatsworth, CA. The collision resulted in 25 fatalities and more than 100 injuries. Investigators determined the Metrolink engineer had been text messaging minutes before the crash.

The final rule is scheduled to go into effect March 28, 2011.

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