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Train crash brings new rules to Hoosier Southern Railroad

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Cell phones, other devices banned from locomotives

TELL CITY - The regulatory ripples from a train wreck in California in which 25 people died have reached Perry County in the form of new safety rules imposed upon employees of the Hoosier Southern Railroad.

"Congress put together a 315-page rail-safety bill" after the engineer of one of the trains in that wreck allegedly missed a stop signal because he was sending a cell-phone text message, Dick Neumann said Oct. 8 at a regular meeting of the Perry County Port Authority Board of Directors. The port authority also oversees operations of the short-line railroad, and Neumann is vice president and chief executive officer of the port-rail agency. He recalled "an incident about 15 years ago that brought about drug and alcohol testing and engineers' certification. This, too, will have a far-reaching impact."

Some changes are immediate while others must be implemented in a year or 18 months, he said.

An emergency order issued by the Federal Railroad Administration and recorded in the Oct. 7 Federal Register prohibits electronic devices such as cell phones, music players and laptop computers from being used in locomotives unless a train is stopped.

A conductor cannot carry or use a cell phone while a train is running or he or she is performing switching duties.

A number of train collisions have occurred while railroad or contract workers were using cell phones, according to the Federal Register entry, available at www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/PubAffairs/EmergencyOrder26.pdf.

Some of the changes in the legislation have been pending for years, but got pushed through after the wreck, Neumann explained.

"They didn't have anything to do with the California incident, but that got Congress' attention," he said.

The number of hours per day and days per week railroad crewmen can work will be limited, and railroad crossings will be posted with toll-free numbers people can call to report problems. New requirements, such as more-frequent bridge inspections, will have a financial impact on the local port operation, Neumann said, and a new requirement to certify conductors in addition to engineers will increase the administrative burden.

"One incident has changed the safety regulations of the industry," Neumann noted, stressing that "I'm not defending the guy - it shouldn't have happened."

Rail workers spent at least 12 hours the Monday after the Sept. 14 wind storm cutting trees and removing them from the track with a boom truck, Neumann told the board.

"We didn't move any cars that day," he said. The wind also ripped about 40 panels from a fabrication shop at the Tell City Port, he said. "We just paid a fair amount to have some of those repaired."

Neumann said volumes of materials transiting the port have dropped, and attributed it to a weakening economy. Thirteen barges, 12 of pig iron and one of coal, were scheduled to arrive this month, but he wasn't sure if the port-rail agency's customers would be able to accept it.

He also said an audit for 2006-07 was beginning, and "I don't foresee any significant issues" coming from it.

The board members approved an interlocal agreement concerning improvements to River Road and another that intersects it, and hoped to obtain signatures from Cannelton officials at their council meeting this week.