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NewsRailroad

U.S. Senators aim to keep train crew debate alive

Some members of Congress remain determined to address the question of whether having more crew members on a train makes that train safer.

Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) this week introduced a bill aimed at requiring minimum train crew size. The bill “Safe Freight Act,” mandates that every freight train have a certified conductor and engineer on board. 

The senators said the bill, which is a Senate complement to Representative Don Young’s (R-Alaska) bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, is in response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent decision to discontinue the mandate of two-member train crews from the federal rulemaking process.

“The FRA abdicated its responsibility as our nation’s rail safety agency when it withdrew the proposed two-person crew rule,” Markey said on June 26.

The introduction of the bill garnered praise from two railroad unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the SMART Transportation Division.

“Two-person crews make for safer, more efficient train operations, and two-person crews play a key role in safeguarding our nation’s communities when a serious accident occurs,” BLET president Dennis R. Pierce said.

The FRA said in May that its decision to withdraw the train crew mandate from the proposed rulemaking process also preempted state actions to mandate train crews of more than one member, including laws in Colorado and Nevada, and bills before state legislatures, such as House Bill 186, which Ohio lawmakers introduced in April. That bill proposed to levy penalties of up to $10,000 to freight railroads for repeated violations spanning several years if they didn’t comply with Ohio’s  train crew mandate. 

The Association of American Railroads has said that the federal government shouldn’t mandate the crew size of a train, arguing that this issue is one best hammered out between the railroads and the unions. 

But as automation makes its way into safety and operational applications for the railroads, one lingering question is how rail workers can fit into this new landscape. Running longer trains has also led some Congressional leaders to question what crew size would serve that train best.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.

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