49 CFR Appendix C to Part 218, Statement of Agency Enforcement Policy on Tampering
The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 1988 ( Pub. L. 100-342, enacted June 22, 1988) (“RSIA”) raised the maximum civil penalties available under the railroad safety laws and made individuals liable for willful violations of those laws. Section 21 of the RSIA requires that FRA adopt regulations addressing three related but distinct aspects of problems that can occur when safety devices are tampered with or disabled. It requires that FRA make it unlawful for (i) any individual to willfully tamper with or disable a device; (ii) any individual to knowingly operate or permit to be operated a train with a tampered or disabled device; and (iii) any railroad to operate such a train.
Because the introduction of civil penalties against individuals brings FRA's enforcement of the rail safety laws into a new era and because the changes being introduced by this regulation are so significant, FRA believes that it is advisable to set forth the manner in which it will exercise its enforcement authority under this regulation.
FRA has employed a functional description of what constitutes a safety device under this rule. FRA's wording effectively identifies existing equipment and is sufficiently expansive to cover equipment that may appear in the future, particularly devices associated with advanced train control systems currently undergoing research testing.
FRA has been advised by portions of the regulated community that its functional definition has some potential for confusing people who read the rule without the benefit of the preamble discussions concerning the meaning of this definition. Since this rule is specifically intended to preclude misconduct by individuals, FRA wants this rule to be easily comprehended by all who read it. To achieve that clarity, FRA has decide to specify which types of equipment it considers to be within the scope of this rule and provide some examples of equipment that is not covered. In addition, FRA is ready and willing to respond in writing to any inquiry about any other devices that a party believes are treated ambiguously under this rule. This regulation applies to a variety of devices including equipment known as “event recorders,” “alerters,” “deadman controls,” “automatic cab signals,” “cab signal whistles,” “automatic train stop equipment,” and “automatic train control equipment.” FRA does not consider the following equipment to be covered by this rule: Radios; monitors for end-of-train devices; bells or whistles that are not connected to alerters, deadman pedals, or signal system devices; fans for controlling interior temperature of locomotive cabs; and locomotive performance monitoring devices, unless they record data such as train speed and air brake operations. Although FRA considers such devices beyond the scope of the regulation, this does not imply that FRA condones the disabling of such devices. FRA will not hesitate to include such devices at a later date should instances of tampering with these devices be discovered. FRA does not currently perceive a need to directly proscribe tampering with such devices because there is no history of these devices being subjected to tampering.
Section 218.57 addresses instances in which one individual has tampered with a safety device and a second individual (a “subsequent operator”) knowingly operates a train or permits it to be operated, notwithstanding the presence of the disabled or tampered-with unit. The most common occurrence addressed by this provision is the situation in which a train crew encounters a locomotive with a safety device that has been tampered with prior to the crew's assuming responsibility for the locomotive. FRA has structured this provision and its attendant enforcement policy to reflect the fact that instances in which one individual encounters a locomotive that someone else has tampered with are relatively infrequent occurrences.
FRA's regulatory prohibition for subsequent operator conduct reflects the legal standard for individual culpability set forth in the RSIA. Under the relevant statutory standard (“knowingly operates or permits to be operated a train on which such devices have been tampered with or disabled by another person”) - now incorporated into § 218.57 - individuals could be held to a simple negligence standard of conduct, i.e., a standard of reasonable care under the circumstances. FRA's conclusion about the proper interpretation of the word “knowingly” stems from both normal canons of statutory construction and analysis of decisional law concerning the use of similar statutory constructs in the civil penalty context. It is also consistent with other Departmental interpretations of the word as used in similar contexts. (See 49 CFR 107.299, defining “knowingly” under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, 49 App. U.S.C. 1801 et seq.)
Under that statutory language, the responsible members of the crew could be culpable if either (1) due to their failure to exercise reasonable care, they failed to determine that the safety device was not functioning, or (2) having ascertained that the device was not functioning, still elected to operate the train. Similarly, railroad supervisors who permit or direct that a train with a disabled device be operated after having learned that the safety device is not functioning or after having failed to use reasonable care in the performance of their duties could also be subject to sanction.
However, as a matter of enforcement policy, application of a negligence standard in this particular context presently appears unwarranted. We have seen no evidence of an employee's negligent failure to detect another employee's tampering having caused a safety problem. FRA can effectively attack the known dimensions of the tampering problem by employing an enforcement policy that limits its enforcement actions to situations where individuals clearly had actual knowledge of the disabled device and intentionally operated the train notwithstanding that knowledge.
Therefore, FRA will not take enforcement action against an individual under § 218.57 absent a showing of such actual knowledge of the facts. Actual, subjective knowledge need not be demonstrated. It will suffice to show objectively that the alleged violator must have known the facts based on reasonable inferences drawn from the circumstances. For example, it is reasonable to infer that a person knows about something plainly in sight on the locomotive he is operating. Also, unlike the case where willfulness must be shown (see FRA's statement of policy at 49 CFR part 209, appendix A), knowledge of or reckless disregard for the law need not be shown to make out a violation of § 218.57. The knowledge relevant here is knowledge of the facts constituting the violation, not knowledge of the law.
Should FRA receive evidence indicating that a stricter enforcement policy is necessary to address the tampering problem, it will revise its enforcement policy to permit enforcement actions based only on a showing of the subsequent operator's negligent failure to detect the tampering, as the relevant provision of the RSIA permits it to do now. Any such change in enforcement policy will become effective only after publication of a revised version of this appendix.