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Railroads Find Common Contractor Screening Solution

IN THE YEARS SINCE 9-11, the transportation sector has gone a long way toward mitigating potential threats within its own work force, most often under government mandates like the Transportation Worker Identification Credential and the requirement for criminal background checks of hazmat truck drivers.

Yet, one major personnel security initiative was industry-driven and has grown into a best practice: the e-RAILSAFE program. North America’s Class I lines, which are the larger operations, use this program not only to vet and credential contract workers but also to administer security awareness training that is mandated by federal regulators.

E-RAILSAFE’s genesis dates to the years following 9-11, when major railroad operators realized that their personnel security programs were woefully inadequate given the new threat environment.

Bill Heileman, general director of homeland security at BNSF Railway, which operates primarily west of the Mississippi, recalls gaps in personnel security and identity verification for contractors. Contractors on certain projects might be vetted and issued corporate credentials, while others were afforded access without background checks or credentials. The company simply relied on personal familiarity with contract supervisors and, in turn, their familiarity with their own workers.

Federal regulators stopped short of mandating worker vetting but made a strong case for it. In 2006, the departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation recommended that any companies carrying “toxic inhalation hazard” hazmats, like chlorine, require background checks and safety training for workers with unmonitored access to critical infrastructure.

Separately, DHS told railroads they should hold contractors to the minimum security standards for permanent employees, which includes background checks, if they wanted to qualify for certification under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program.

BNSF, regional competitor Union Pacific Railroad, and eastern line Norfolk Southern Railway turned to personnel security vendor e-VERIFILE.COM, which developed e-RAILSAFE to serve their needs.

Participation in e-RAILSAFE is a condition of the railroads’ contracts. Registration and the cost of vetting and credentialing employees fall to the contractor. The contractors register with e-RAILSAFE for a flat fee of $99, at which time e-VERIFILE.COM conducts due diligence to confirm the company is a legitimate Class I contractor.

Once the company is enrolled, individual workers register via the e-RAILSAFE Web site, providing information required for their background check. Client-specific security awareness training is administered via the site.

Applicants are flagged for denial sectorwide if they have outstanding criminal warrants, felony charges, or a felony conviction within the prior seven years; served a prison sentence within the prior five years; or raise Social Security fraud alerts. Higher criteria may be imposed by individual railroads or based on the nature of contracts.

Participating workers are rescreened at least once every two years, says e-RAILSAFE spokesman Tony Cooper.

The credentials bear the holder’s photograph, markers of the railroads the worker is cleared by, and authenticating characteristics. Registration costs contractors $50 per cleared applicant and $37 per declined applicant.

E-RAILSAFE’s other participating railroads are Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway. With the recent enrollment of eastern operator CSX, Inc., the initiative is expected to surpass 150,000 credentialed workers.