New Federal Rule Requires 2-Person Railroad Crews

'As trains ... have grown longer, crews should not be getting smaller'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 2, 2024 2:54 PM CDT
New Federal Rule Requires 2-Person Railroad Crews
A CSX train engine sits idle on tracks in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Major freight railroads will have to maintain two-person crews on most routes under a new federal rule that was finalized Tuesday in a milestone in organized labor's long fight to preserve the practice. The Transportation Department's Federal Railroad Administration released the details of the rule Tuesday morning after working on it for two years. Out of more than 13,000 comments on the rule, about 60 opposed it. More, from the AP:

  • There has been intense focus on railroad safety since a fiery February 2023 derailment in Ohio, but few significant changes have been made apart from steps the railroads pledged to take themselves and the agreements they made to provide paid sick time to nearly all workers. Such changes include adding hundreds more trackside detectors and tweaking how to respond to alerts from them. A railroad safety bill proposed in response to the derailment has stalled in Congress.
  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that America shouldn't accept the current average of nearly three derailments a day, and that regulators will keep fighting to improve that record over the objections of railroad lobbyists.

  • Rail unions have long opposed one-person crews because of safety and job concerns. Labor agreements requiring two-person crews have been in place for roughly 30 years at major railroads, although many short-line railroads already operate with one-person crews without problems. The unions say that conductors are crucial in helping operate the train and keeping engineers alert, and that they serve as a first responder.
  • "As trains—many carrying hazardous material—have grown longer, crews should not be getting smaller," said Eddie Hall, the president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union. Hall said keeping two people in the cab of a locomotive is crucial now that railroads rely on longer trains that routinely stretch for miles. It has been a key issue in contract talks for years.
  • Railroads, which have a history of resisting new regulations, have sought the discretion to operate trains with only one person and move conductors to ground-based jobs in places with automatic braking systems. The railroads argue that the size of train crews should be determined by contract talks, not regulators or lawmakers, because they maintain there isn't enough data to show that two-person crews are safer.
  • The worst railroad disaster in recent history involved a one-man crew. In 2013, the brakes failed on a train parked in the hills above the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic. The train rolled downhill and derailed, killing 47 people and causing millions of dollars in damage.
(More railroad stories.)

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