U.S. agency wants feedback on proposal to regulate train crew size

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 146 views 

A federal agency is seeking comments on a proposed rule that would require trains to have at least two crew members for over-the-road operations. However, a railroad organization does not support the rule.

The Federal Railroad Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced the proposed rule “with some exceptions for certain low risk operations and circumstances where mitigating measures are in place to protect railroad employees, the public and the environment.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the rule would increase safety for rail passengers and workers.

But the Association of American Railroads expects the rule would be a setback for the industry and does not include a safety justification.

Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads said the proposed rule “prioritizes politics over sound, data-driven safety policy.”

He noted a similar proposal in 2019 was retracted after it didn’t show a safety justification.

“We knew then, and we especially know now with the full deployment of positive train control technology, that there is no plausible safety justification for regulating the number of individuals physically located inside the cab of a locomotive,” he said. “As has always been the case, railroad staffing and duty assignment decisions belong at the bargaining table. In fact, this issue is being negotiated right now across the industry in the current round of collective bargaining, and that process should be allowed to conclude without attempted interference in an area never before regulated.”

According to the Association of American Railroads, the Federal Railroad Administration provides no new safety data, and reverses its previous assessment of the relevance of pre-positive train control research and disregards the evidence of safe one-person operations.

The federal agency’s regulatory approach “puts freight rail at a long-term competitive disadvantage to other – less fuel efficient – modes of transportation,” according to the railroad organization. “AAR and the freight railroads will strongly encourage the FRA to reconsider this misguided, political proposal that would stand in the way of future progress in the industry.”

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the rule also would replace the existing patchwork of state laws regarding crew size with a uniform national standard. Another aspect of the proposal regards the location of crew members on a moving train and would prohibit the operation of some trains with fewer than two crew members from transporting large amounts of certain hazardous materials.

“We are committed to data-driven decision making,” said Amit Bose, administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration. “In cases where railroads wish to operate with fewer than two crew members, we are proposing that they perform a rigorous, thorough and transparent risk assessment and hazard analysis, and FRA will provide an opportunity for public comment on these submissions.”

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until Sept. 26. Link here for the proposed rule.