I have received numerous calls recently from Railroad Engineers and Conductors from across the nation regarding certification issues, especially with regard to visual color deficiencies and visual acuity issues. It is important to understand that the Railroads are struggling with the appropriate methods with which to measure color vision deficiency and visual acuity deficiencies in field testing. If an Engineer or Conductor has failed a clinical test for color blindness or visual acuity, it is important that they understand the field testing procedures. The Federal Railroad Administration has recently issued an interpretation to clarify the provisions of its Locomotive Engineer and Conductor Qualification and Certification Regulations with respect to visual standards and field testing. Prior to undergoing field testing, it is important for Engineers and Conductors to understand this process.
Vision Certification Testing Standards
The Federal Railroad Administration has received numerous inquiries from Railroads as to how this type of testing should be conducted. In addition, my Firm has been in the process of appealing disqualifications of Engineers and Conductors to the Locomotive Engineer Review Board and the Operating Crew Review Board on behalf of clients who have either failed field testing procedures or have otherwise recently been denied re-certification because of visual impairments. The process is challenging and it important for these individuals to understand their rights with regard to this issue, since it can effectively derail their careers.
Job Function and Environment Matter
First, it is important to understand that the Railroad’s Medical Departments have significant latitude in certifying Engineers and Conductors despite visual impairments. This latitude involves conditional certification for allowing Engineers and Conductors to continue to work under certain circumstances. For example, an Engineer may be allowed to continue to work despite a color vision deficiency if the Engineer works in an area where the railroad signal aspects are positional rather than color based. Also, Conductors may be certified if they are not normally required to recognize signals during the course of their work day. More importantly, Railroads are inconsistently applying field testing procedures.
As a result of these issues, the Federal Railroad Administration has issued an interim interpretation to provide guidance to railroads as to how to properly administer a field test. It has been my experience that Railroads are inappropriately administering field tests to the detriment of long standing employees who have demonstrated the ability to work safety despite their vision deficiencies.
What Railroad Employees Should Do Prior To a Field Test
It is important for any employees facing a field test because of a visual deficiency to contact experienced Railroad Counsel to provide guidance in this area. If faced with an inappropriate field test, the individual should engage their union representation to help ensure that the field test is appropriately and fairly administered. In addition, if the employee does not pass the field test, and is ultimately denied re-certification, there are procedures that need to be followed and time limits regarding an appeal to the Locomotive Engineer Review Board or the Operating Crew Review Board in order to preserve their rights to re-certification. My office is available to assist any railroad union employee in this regard.
Ready for The Next Step?
If you are an employee working for a railroad and are concerned about the outcome and administration of a pending field test for your visual acuity please contact Matt Darby at 410-769-5400 or toll free at 800-248-3352.
By Matt Darby