No More Naps on the Railroad, Says New CSX Boss

By Paul Ziobro Features Dow Jones Newswires

CSX Corp.'s new boss has nixed naptime.

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Hunter Harrison joined the railway as chief executive in March, promising to quickly jolt the company's culture and implement tighter schedules, faster trains and less downtime.

One casualty of the new plan: napping breaks, which train conductors and engineers are allowed to take for up to 45 minutes under a strict protocol when trains were stopped. Now, any on-the-job shut-eye is forbidden.

"We had a rule that said you could take a nap while you worked," the 72-year-old railway veteran said in a recent interview. "We don't have that now."

The change, instituted in a half-page bulletin in April, eliminated more than two decades of allowable naps on CSX trains. It also put CSX at odds with its U.S. rivals. BNSF Railway Co., Kansas City Southern Corp., Norfolk Southern Corp. and Union Pacific Corp., allow napping under certain conditions, as do hundreds of other smaller railways.

The two other railways that Mr. Harrison ran -- Canadian National and Canadian Pacific -- don't allow napping.

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"We think it's pertinent and appropriate in certain circumstances to enable an employee to nap," said Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz. The railway has allowed naps since 1999 and has even built "nap rooms" to facilitate rest.

The changes that Mr. Harrison is implementing are meant to give employees less variability in their schedules, allowing them to plan their sleep better, CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said. He added that CSX believes employees are safer "when they are fully engaged in the activity around them at all times when they are on duty" and that worker safety hasn't slipped since the rule changed in April.

Napping gives railroaders a chance to catch up on sleep during frequent delays hauling freight. During long routes, trains may be waiting in "sidings" for another to pass from the opposite direction. With dozens of miles between sidings and long trains traveling about 25 miles an hour, delays can easily last more than an hour. Track repairs, derailments and congestion can also lead to long waits.

Fatigue is an issue too in an operation that runs 24/7 and with engineers called into work in the middle of the night. Federal laws regulate railroad shifts, including a maximum of 12 hours worked in a 24-hour period and 10 hours off before work. Still, the National Transportation Safety Board says nearly 20% of investigations of railway accidents between 2001 and 2012 identified fatigue as a cause or contributing factor.

A Union Pacific spokeswoman cited a National Aeronautics and Space Administration study of airline pilots that showed a planned, 40-minute nap taken in-flight made them 34% more aware and 100% more alert.

Fatigue is a common issue in other industries, including aviation and medicine, that are staffed round the clock and workers are encouraged to nap to keep alert. United Parcel Service Inc., for one, has 125 sleep rooms at its main hub in Louisville, Ky., where pilots can recharge between flights.

"If there was an opportunity to take a nap, 90% of the time, someone in the cab was going to want to do it," said John Paul Wright, a retired CSX locomotive engineer who currently organizes for Railroad Workers United, a coalition of unions. He recalls spending three hours waiting outside terminals in Nashville, Tenn., without moving. "It doesn't matter if it's 12-noon or 12-midnight, someone is going to kick their feet up and nap for a minute."

John Risch, national legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, a union that represents CSX conductors, said that napping is a key way to deal with fatigue. "Eliminating napping is a real disappointment and the wrong way to go," he said.

Waiting is anathema to the CSX chief Mr. Harrison, who is busy implementing a philosophy he practices called precision railroading. The goal is running trains on a tighter schedule and keeping them moving along. In less than four months since Mr. Harrison joined, CSX's trains are moving 10% faster and spending 7% less time in terminals.

Some staff view the change as another way for CSX management to slap violations on workers, who are monitored constantly on inward-facing cameras in cabs. "If you're sitting in a siding somewhere and you fall asleep out in the middle of nowhere, what's the issue with that?," a current CSX employee said.

CSX says it uses a progressive scale, "ranging from informal coaching to termination, to address noncompliant behavior."

Section 111 of CSX's rule book laid out the now-obsolete napping protocol in detail, prohibiting sleep if the train was moving or any crew was on the ground. Only one crew member could nap at any time, while another had to remain at the controls. The maximum nap time was 45 minutes.

Norfolk Southern, which like CSX operates in the eastern U.S., continues to allow naps in its operating rules. "The policy has a positive effect on safety and no effect on productivity," Susan Terpay, a spokeswoman, said.

Canadian Pacific said it prohibits naps because operating crews always have safety-related duties to perform, and expects employees to rest during their time off. "CP believes fatigue management is a shared responsibility between the railroad and the employee," said Martin Cej, a spokesman for the railway.

Railroaders are left with few things to do when trains are delayed. Distractions like smartphones, magazines, books or games aren't allowed. One thing they can do to pass the time, said Mr. Wright, the retired engineer: "Read the operating rules."

--David George-Cosh contributed to this article.

Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 14, 2017 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)