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New rail chief says it's the end of the line for naps

Who doesn't like a little shut-eye in the afternoon? If you've put in a few hours of hard work or driven a long distance, a cat-nap can be just refreshing enough to keep you going strong for the rest of the day. Not many people have the luxury of taking a nap on the job, though.

It used to be that, if you were an engineer for CSX Corp., you could take a nap break under certain conditions. However, the new rail chief hired this March has made some drastic changes in the company, and one of them is to eliminate napping. Some question whether this new policy will create a workplace environment that is safer or more dangerous.

You snooze, you lose

For about 20 years, CSX allowed engineers to rest while waiting during the long delays for repairs, track congestion or other trains passing on the same track. If another train passed while yours was on a siding, you may wait an hour or more -- the perfect amount of time for a nap. Former rules allowed you to nap under strict conditions, including:

  • You may sleep for no longer than 45 minutes.
  • One crew member must stay at the controls.
  • Only one engineer can nap at a time.
  • The train must be completely stationary.
  • No crew members can be out of the train while you nap.

The new rail chief believes naps have no place in an efficiently run transportation organization, and he intends to enact a system of penalties – including termination -- for workers who fall asleep on the job. You probably already have cameras aimed at you in the cab of the train.

Meanwhile, other US railways continue to allow naps, saying napping is an excellent way to fight fatigue, which is known to result in serious accidents. They also see no negative effect on productivity when they allow their workers to sleep. You may have heard that other industries encourage workers, such as pilots and doctors, to nap for safety reasons.

Fast track to danger?

Like other rail operations in Connecticut and across the country, CSX trains run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and engineers often start their shifts in the middle of the night. While federal safety rules require rail workers to limit their shifts to 12 hours or less and take 10 hours off between shifts, fatigue still ranks high as a factor in nearly 20 percent of rail accidents.

Accidents in a railyard or on the tracks can be devastating and require you to follow a frustrating process for seeking compensation. It may take some time to determine whether eliminating naps will result in an increase of accidents and injuries.

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