Railroaders’ Rights – The Cell Phone Trap

The alarm is sounding again regarding cell phone use while on duty on the railroad. The cell phone rules on the railroad have not changed, but the railroads have devised a new approach to ensnare unwary railroaders.

Tried and True Recommendations

Given the severe penalties regarding cell phone use while on duty, we recommend you leave your cell phone in your vehicle or locker when you come on duty. As that isn’t always practical, we also advise if you absolutely must have your cell phone on your person or in your grip, be aware your cell phone could be electronically detected by the railroad or the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspectors. These facts still holds true.

New Cell Phone Trap

As discussed throughout the industry, railroad officials and/or FRA inspectors have boarded trains and asked to see railroad workers’ cell phones. In most of those situations, the railroaders’ cell phones were “off” and, therefore, there were no problems. When the cell phones were “on”, railroaders tried to offer legitimate reasons as to “why” the cell phones were in use. – You must remember that you can be fined by the FRA even if the railroad gave you the “o.k.” to use your cell phone.

The new trap set by the railroads is that after a supervisor has asked to see your cell phone and finds it is “off”, the official will ask you to turn it “on” and show him the “placed and received” calls and “text” screens to determine if you used your cell phone while on duty. If you used your cell phone while on duty, disciplinary charges will probably follow.

The issue raised is whether you are obligated to turn on your cell phone and show the screens? At the time of this publication, we have not been able to find a rule addressing this cell phone issue.

What You Should Do

If you comply and your cell phone shows usage while you were on duty, your railroad career can be as good as over unless you are within one of the permissible reasons to use a cell phone on duty.

If you refuse to show your cell phone to a railroad officer when asked, you will surely face charges of insubordination and/or failure to comply with instructions. If you are asked by a FRA inspector, you may be subject to a monetary fine.

Either way you lose.

We recommend you take the cell phone battery out when you go on duty and put it back in when you go off duty. This way you can’t receive an unwanted call or text, but you still have the battery available if you are in a situation where cell phone use on duty is allowed. Now, you can show the battery-less cell phone to anyone without fear of discipline or fines.

If you have a smart-phone where removing the battery is difficult, your only protection is to not have the smart-phone with you… our original recommendation. Putting your smart-phone in airplane mode will not protect you. If you must have the smart-phone with you, the best advice we can offer is do not place or answer any calls or text while on duty.

While we believe there may be an interesting discussion of Constitutional protection for you concerning your cell phone, it is simply not worth the risk of finding out the hard way. Remember when it was argued that inward facing cameras on a locomotive were an invasion of your right of privacy? Recent court decisions have held that railroaders do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy while in the cab of a locomotive. The same reasoning could hold true for cell phones on the railroad.

Cell Phone Rules on the Railroad

As we become aware of more information on this cell phone issue, we will keep you updated through our website. As always, if you have any questions or comments on this or any other issue involving your rights as a railroad worker, don’t hesitate to contact us.