Metra expands system that drew 130 ‘close call’ reports

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In the interest of improving safety, Metra’s unions have signed on to a confidential system that protects employees when self-reporting most “close call” incidents. | File photo

About 130 reports of Metra “close calls” have been made in slightly more than six months since four unions signed a confidential safety reporting agreement, officials said Tuesday as they announced an expansion of the program.

Nine other unions signed on to the “Confidential Close Call Reporting System” on Tuesday, making Metra the nation’s first commuter railroad to have all its unions agree to report close calls anonymously, without fear of discipline.

The addition of the new unions gives Metra the most comprehensive safety reporting system in the nation, officials said.

Under the program, union workers are protected from discipline when they self-report incidents involving safety concerns such as speeding trains, missed signals or passenger doors that open on the wrong side, union and Metra officials said. Not covered are drug and alcohol violations, which cannot be exempt from discipline by Metra or the Federal Railroad Administration.

Although some have called the system a “get out of jail free card,” the FRA views it as a chance to prevent injuries or death, FRA Associate Administrator Robert Lauby said before Tuesday’s signing ceremony.

“The FRA sees those 130 [Metra] reports as safety issues we never would have known about,” Lauby said.

Recommendations on what to do about roughly 130 Metra close-call reports that have been made since Aug. 17 are to be discussed with Metra management for the first time this week.

The anonymous safety reporting system started in the aeronautics industry with the FAA, Metra CEO Don Orseno noted.

Currently, a third party — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — accepts “close call” railroad reports, redacts identifying information, then forwards them to a “peer review” team of labor, Metra management and FRA officials for recommendations.

Orseno said the anonymous reporting system encourages a culture of safety and has built greater openness between unions and management in discussing safety issues.

“The safer we can be, the better off we’ll all be,” Orseno said.

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