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updated 5/17/2010 6:05:53 PM ET 2010-05-17T22:05:53

Railroad operators would face new restrictions on the use of cell phones and other handheld electronic devices under a proposal issued Monday by the government.

The Transportation Department proposal would prohibit the improper use of electronic devices by on-duty railroad operators.

Locomotive engineers, conductors, switchmen and other train employees would be barred from using electronic devices if it interferes with the performance of safety-related duties.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has pushed for restrictions on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by drivers of cars, buses and trucks. The proposal was developed following a summit on distracted driving last year and is subject to a 30-day public comment period.

"Operating a passenger or freight train demands the full and undivided attention of crew members at all times," LaHood said.

Federal investigators found that text messages were the primary cause of a deadly rail crash in Chatsworth, Calif., in September 2008. The head-on crash involving a freight and commuter train killed 25 people and prompted federal regulators to ban cell phone use by train operators.

Congress also passed legislation requiring rail companies to install computer systems by the end of 2015 that can stop trains on a collision course.

The proposed regulations include exceptions for the use of calculators that do not interfere with safety duties, medical devices such as hearing aides and cameras used to document safety hazards or violations, unless the operator is in the cab of a locomotive of a moving train.

The plan would allow the Federal Railroad Administration to review a company's training program on the use of electronic devices.

Holly Arthur, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, said the trade group was reviewing the proposal and needed to have a better understanding of the exceptions allowing some use of electronic devices.

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