Locomotive Engineers v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co.,
516 U.S. 152 (1996)

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No. 94-1592. Argued October 30, 1995-Decided January 8,1996

The Hours of Service Act (HSA), 49 U. S. C. §21101 et seq., limits the number of hours that train crew employees can remain on duty. At times a train cannot reach a crew change point within the allotted time, however, so the railroad must stop the train in order that a new crew can replace the first, or "outlawed," crew. Transportation of the new crew to the train and the outlawed crew back to the terminal is called "deadhead transportation." Under §21103(b)(4), "[t]ime spent in deadhead transportation to a duty assignment is time on duty, but time spent in deadhead transportation from a duty assignment to the place of final release is neither time on duty nor time off duty." The latter time is commonly termed "limbo time." After the Federal Railroad Administration, which administers the HSA, announced that it would follow a Ninth Circuit ruling that the time spent waiting for deadhead transportation from a duty site is on-duty time, respondent railroads filed this suit seeking direct review. The Seventh Circuit, sitting en bane, rejected the Ninth Circuit's interpretation and held that time spent waiting for deadhead transportation from a duty site is limbo time.

Held: The HSA's text, structure, and purposes demonstrate Congress' intent that time spent waiting for deadhead transportation from a duty site should be limbo time. As a matter of common usage, § 21103(b)(4)'s phrase "time spent in deadhead transportation" can be read to include the time spent waiting for such transportation. That this is so is also established by the HSA's provisions classifying given periods as on duty or off duty. When those provisions are considered in light of the HSA's purpose of promoting train safety, they reveal that on-duty time typically includes those hours that contribute to an employee's fatigue during his 12-hour shift. Thus, time spent waiting for deadhead transportation to a duty site should be classified as on-duty time because, along with the time spent in the transportation itself, it contributes to employee fatigue during the work assignment. But time spent waiting for deadhead transportation away from a duty site does not cause the fatigue that implicates safety concerns and so, like the deadhead transportation which follows it, the waiting time must be deemed limbo time.


Finally, classification of the time at issue here as on-duty time would impose on railroads the very scheduling problems that Congress sought to avoid when it created limbo time as a compromise during the 1969 HSA amendment process. Petitioner unions' attempts to treat the time at issue as on-duty time under §§ 21103(b)(5), 21103(b)(1), and 21103(b)(3) are unpersuasive, as are the cases that they cite, all of which were decided before the 1969 amendments. Pp. 156-162.

44 F.3d 437, affirmed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Lawrence M. Mann argued the cause for petitioners.

With him on the briefs were Harold A. Ross and Clinton

Malcolm L. Stewart argued the cause for the federal respondents. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Leonard Schaitman, John F. Daly, Paul M. Geier, and Daniel Carey Smith. Ronald M. Johnson argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company et al. *

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court. We granted certiorari to resolve a division between two Courts of Appeals regarding the correct statutory classification, under the Hours of Service Act, 49 U. S. C. § 21101 et seq., of the time that train employees spend waiting for transportation at the end of their shift.


Congress enacted the Hours of Service Act (HSA) in 1907.

Hours of Service Act, ch. 2939, § 1, 34 Stat. 1415. The HSA's purpose is to promote railroad safety by limiting the number of hours a train crew may remain on duty and by requiring

*John H. Broadley, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Robert W Blanchette, and James C. Schultz filed a brief for the Association of American Railroads as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

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