From “Just What is a Train Dispatcher?” Copyright © 1992 Thomas A. White

Crewmembers on trains work over a regularly assigned territory of about 100 to 300 miles. They are governed by the Federal Hours of Service Act, which specifies that they may be on duty no more than 12 hours in any 24 hour period. Part of the train dispatcher’s strategic and tactical consideration concerns the crew, the hours of service law and the various labor agreements of train and engine crews and track and signal maintenance personnel, for all of which the dispatcher is responsible. If for any reason, the train will not cover the territory assigned to a crew within the 12 hours, which may include a previous trip if the dispatcher has elected to use a crew for a second trip without the 8 hour off duty time that separates counted 24 hour periods, the dispatcher must see that the crew is relieved before the expiration of the 12 hours and that a new crew is called and transported to the train. In some cases, some type of mechanical or weather trouble may have precluded the crew making the end of the assigned run. In others, the dispatcher may have calculated that planning on 2 crews for the same train for the same district was the most efficient and economical means of achieving the desired end, for example if an additional crew was required at the distant end of the trip to protect other traffic or to avoid being paid held away from home detention pay or if there was enough switching work at intermediate stations for two trains but no locomotive available for a second one.

Consideration of the crew for the adjoining territory also enters into strategic and tactical planning. Crewmembers require from one to three hours advance notice depending on the location, in order to report for duty. The dispatcher must decide sufficiently ahead of arrival, when each train will arrive at a crew change point and issue that information to the crew change station in order to have the crew called on duty and ready to take the train when it arrives. Once that figure has been issued, tactical planning must include the on time arrival of the train at the crew change point. Should the train arrive late, the new crew could receive penalty pay for being called on duty in their initial terminal and not leaving promptly (normally, crew members are paid by the mile and without the penalty payment would effectively not be paid for being on duty), and allowed time under the hours of service law would elapse unproductively.

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