Denny D’s Did You Know 2.21 Electronic Devices

Lately there has been some concerns raised regarding crew members using electronic devices when they shouldn’t be. I’m sure most of us remember the incident in 2008 when the passenger train hit the freight train in Chatsworth, California. Tragically, 25 people lost their lives. The investigation determined that the engineer of the passenger train was texting at or near the time of the collision. One of the outcomes from this was an emergency order issued by the FRA regarding usage of electronic devices by train crews. Before this incident, the railroad had rules regarding the use of electronic devices, but now those rules are made even more restrictive by Federal Regulation. Violation of electronic device rules now not only can result in discipline from the company, but civil penalties as well. Beyond the penalties, there is something else just as important to keep in mind. If you were using an electronic device and involved in an incident with the public such as hitting a trespasser or a vehicle, a derailment that causes damage to the public, or a hazardous chemical release, there is a very real probability that you could be looking criminal prosecution and litigation against you personally. It is important to know when it is and is not ok to use electronic devices and what type of use is permitted.


 The GCOR glossary specifically defines what constitutes an electronic device. The conductor’s walkie-talkie is not considered an electronic device for purposes of this rule. One crucial element to keep in mind is that 2.21 differentiates between use of personal electronic devices and railroad supplied device.


Personal Devices Prohibited

Turned off and Stowed

  • On a moving train
  • While a crew member is on the ground. Remember that this applies while the conductor is down giving a roll by, or the engineer is doing his inspection.
  • While the train/engines are being inspected or readied by someone else. This would apply while sitting in 301 and the carmen are performing your brake test or your engineer is walking through and checking out the locomotives.


Personal Devices Permitted 

  • To respond to an emergency or radio failure 
  • Camera. Stand alone camera only and only photos of safety concerns. Cell phone camera use is prohibited for any reason.
  • Calculator. Stand alone calculator only, not the one on your cell phone.
  • Deadheading. If deadheading on a train, use is permitted only if riding on a trailing unit.
  • Cell Phone: Voice communication only and only while stopped. 
  • May be used to refer to rule books. The rule books must be stored and wireless capabilities turned off. I recommend putting your device in airplane mode prior to turning it off, that way the wireless capabilities are already off when you power it on to reference the rules. Also, if your battery is dead, you don’t have your reference documents.
  • In a crew room. It is okay to use your device to update your stored rule books. This part of the rule changed with the recent SSI. Provided that all duties have been completed, texting and internet use is permitted in a crew room. Proceed with caution, make sure you are not sitting at the table or near another crew doing their job briefing.
  • Remember texting, games, and internet usage is never permitted on a locomotive whether moving or stopped, unless deadheading on a trailing unit.


Railroad Supplied Devices  


This part of the rule would apply to managers and the conductor’s work order reporting cell phone. Railroad supplied devices must also be turned off and stowed when not in use. The exception to this is the work order reporting phone. This device must left powered on at all times per SSI Item 15. The reporting may be done after a job briefing with other crew members and may be done from the ground if the employee is not fouling the track. Use of the device is prohibited on a moving train. Finally, managers may use their devices for FTX reporting and other communication. If they are riding with you, their device must be turned off and stowed while moving just like yours. 


Compliance of GCOR 2.21 is a critical rule. If there is an incident involving the locomotive you were on, even 200 miles down the road and a few days later, the event recorders will be downloaded and cameras will be viewed. If you are in violation of 2.21 you are not only putting your own job at risk, but you are also jeopardizing the career and livelihood of your fellow crew members. As one my favorite old head conductors use to put it, “this ain’t no hobby.” While there are days I get frustrated, I tend to forget a lot of the headaches out here on the 10th and 25th of each month. I need this job and I’m sure most of you do as well. Let’s take some time to think about and look out for each other when making our decisions on how we do our jobs out here.