Standardizing FRA Part 243 Training Requirements with Simulations

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With the final installment of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act guidelines in place, railroads seek to adopt standardized training that meets or exceeds 49 CFR Part 243 (and other) FRA requirements. And while many railroads have solid training on the books, now is a great time to update and create more robust offerings for mechanics, engineers and conductors. Many railroads are turning to simulation training that can be used anytime and anywhere, as needed, to enhance trainee retention and railroad safety, as well as long-term ROI. Let’s see how that looks and why it’s such an attractive option!

In 2008, after a series of fatal rail accidents, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improve Act (RSIA). In it, they directed the FRA to create new safety regulations to “govern different areas related to railroad safety, such as hours of service requirements for railroad workers, positive train control implementation, standards for track inspections, certification of locomotive conductors, and safety at highway-rail grade crossings.”

There had been guidelines in existence for more than one hundred years prior, since as far back as the 1880s and 1890s. The Master Car Builder Association (for freight cars and locomotives) created these standards for railroaders. And many of those standards were still in place – and enforced, even though lots had changed about the world (and about railroads) since then.

For example, the power brake law has been on the books, pretty much intact, since 1903. Originally, this 85/15 brake law stated that “a train shall not move if less than 85 percent of the cars in that train have operative and effective brakes.” And the remaining 15 percent must have hand brakes.

This is still true, and the definition has expanded to include repairs, specifically to moving defective cars without penalty, assuming a host of conditions are met, including, “[t]he movement of the defective car or locomotive for repairs is not in a train in which less than 85 percent of the cars have operative and effective brakes.”

It’s a clever adaptation of existing ratios. And railroads have historically moved forward with standards in this way – adapting them to accommodate new needs. And there has been a good bit of gray area and little standardization across the industry, as a result. This was, of course, a safety concern – one that attracted FRA attention in 2008.

Standardizing these laws with specific criteria for testing and getting everyone on the same page made sense. It was time. And it was also time to update these laws to reflect modern concerns. The FRA had its work cut out for them.

RSIA Training Challenges
The FRA came into existence in 1967 and had been doing this work for a good bit of time ahead of the RSIA, but it was time to set these standards in stone to help create a safer environment for everyone. So, the FRA set out to create specific engineer, conductor, maintenance away and mechanic trainings, in that order.

It all took a bit longer than originally anticipated – approximately a decade longer, in fact. Because crafting training for an industry is challenging regardless of how long someone has been doing it. There were multiple territories and trainings to capture and accommodate. And the process was trial and error, which is to be expected.

Engineer training was first, Part 240, as they’re the most visible of the crafts. They’re also the most likely to be involved if someone gets hurt, injured or killed, as it will be in or around the train, by way of derailment, railroad crossing mishap or something of that nature.

Even though they got a solid start in 2007, these criteria weren’t complete until 2010. Next up were the Conductors, Part 241. That process was another three-year cycle that started in 2010 and was put in place in 2013. It was followed by Maintenance of Way, and then Mechanical Training, both of which are in Part 243. This was complete in the early part of 2020.

The Mechanical Training was challenging as it incorporated the entire QMI Inspector process and more besides: Parts 215, 218, 220, 221, 224, 231 and 232 specifically. But each piece of the RSIA training had its own unique challenges to consider, because they were each updating outdated laws as they were going.

And now, with this full set of standards in place, the FRA is ready to certify railroad workers for compliance!

But ….on the way to Part 243 compliance – many railroads discovered their training methods (much like the standards themselves) were a bit outdated and could use updating.

Meeting FRA Training Requirements with Simulation Training
Railroads have always been committed to maintaining the highest level of safety, so this part was in no need of change. And the commitment to training continues to be an important foundation as well. It’s actually that above and beyond commitment to superior training and safety that has lead railroads to discover simulation training, in fact. The ability to run through emergency scenarios and practice responding to them in ways that encourage not only retention, but faster reaction times to these events is invaluable.

They’ve realized simulation trainings enhance what they already offer and are available to learners anytime, anywhere and can meet the learner at whatever level of expertise they find themselves in. Beyond that, it’s available via tablet for on-the-go refreshers and can be monitored to track the progress of individual learners.

This is great, because with all of the intricacies being built into these training packages, railroads have a lot of ground to cover. It may not be entirely new, but the devil is in the details and there are quite a few of those!

Taking Part 215 for example – there are so many safety standards to keep in mind, from wheel defects, flat spot, thin flange, high flange, broken rim, cracked rim, difference between a heat check and a crack and so much more – and it all has to be built into the program. And this, in turn, must be drilled into mechanics’ minds.

What better way to accomplish this than with repeated practice available at a mechanic’s individual pace, wherever they’re located with no need to travel to a training facility or take them out of commission for a week at a time. See the solution in action below:

“The inclusion of simulation in our training, both initial and periodic, allows us to challenge our workforce to demostrate their skills in fully customizable scenarios that meet or exceed CFR 243 requirements. The technology allows us to objectively measure their performance on each task, provide immediate feedback, and electronically capture completion of the training for record keeping. The multiple deployment options increases scalability and also allows us to deliver training in a responsible way to respect social distancing recommendations.”
Ryan Foster, Manager Technical Training, Transportation, Norfolk Southern

Because time is never on a railroader’s side – especially in this rapidly changing new normal. Limited resources and physical distancing has made meeting Part 243 training a pressing issue right now – and left railroads wondering how to standardize this in much less time, and for greater retention.

When compared against traditional face-to-face training, mechanics are looking at four to five days of training. If that exact training is transitioned to a ‘learn-by-doing’ simulation training, an hour of training on a simulation can take the place of an entire day of in-person training in many instances. That’s incredible. Add to that the retention rates that simulation training offers and the ROI is undeniable.

Today’s training keywords are – Virtual, Digital, and Asynchronous.

To that end, we are launching an extended suite of anytime, anywhere Simulations & Guides for Mechanical, Transportation, Engineering, Safety and C&S functions – available to license and ‘plug & play’. Leading railroads (BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and KCS) are deploying our FRA approved Sims (readwaivers’) to reduce costs and stay compliant.

View the Sims here