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FRA adopts final rule mandating two-person train crews

By Admin

Reported by Progressive Railroading.

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued its final rule on train crew safety requirements, which generally mandates a second crew member on Class I freight and passenger trains, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced today.

The minimum crew-size rule is long overdue, Buttigieg said in a press release.

“Common sense tells us that large freight trains, some of which can be over three miles long, should have at least two crew members on board — and now there’s a federal regulation in place to ensure trains are safely staffed,” he said.

In approving the final rule, FRA officials said safety functions could be lost when railroads reduce crew size to a single person.

“Without the final rule, railroads could initiate single-crew operations without performing a rigorous risk assessment, mitigating known risks or even notifying FRA,” the government’s press release stated.

The final rule contains some differences from the initial notice of proposed rulemaking in how it treats freight railroads, especially short lines and regionals. In limited cases, the rule permits exceptions for smaller railroads to continue or initiate certain one-person train crew operations by notifying FRA and complying with new federal safety standards.

The Association of American Railroads blasted the final rule, saying the FRA adopted it without the lack of evidence connecting crew size to safety. The AAR also noted that the FRA dropped a similar rule in 2019. At that time, the FRA was run by the Trump administration.

“FRA is doubling down on an unfounded and unnecessary regulation that has no proven connection to rail safety,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies in a press release. “Instead of prioritizing data-backed solutions to build a safer future for rail, FRA is looking to the past and upending the collective bargaining process.”

AAR officails noted that each year railroads spend billions of dollars to enhance infrastrcture, deploy technologies and invest in employees in order to improve safety. The overall train accident rate is down 27% since 2000 and 6% since 2022, they said.

“Railroads are committed to working with our union counterparts and policymakers to build on this momentum and advance proven solutions that meaningfully advance safety. Unfortunately, the crew-size rule takes the industry in the exact opposite direction,” Jefferies added.

Meanwhile, a rail labor organization praised the FRA’s action. Operational and safety changes implemented across the rail industry over the past several years have heightened the need for a mandated crew-size minimum, said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, in a prepared statement.

“This rule acknowledges that crew size is fundamentally a safety issue at its core,” Regan said. “Rail workers experience the risks of the job daily, and have made it clear that two-person crews are inherently necessary to ensure the safe operation of our rail systems.”

The final rule codifies train crew staffing rules at a federal level, ensuring that freight and passenger rail operations are governed by consistent safety rules in all states, FRA officials said. This is an ongoing issue as some states have considered legislation to require two-person rail crews.

The volume of comments from rail workers, families and the general public impacted by long trains and other issues “raised legitimate safety concerns that railroads, on their own, have not been able to adequately address,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose.

“Today’s final rule acknowledges the important role both crew members play in the safe operations of trains, and it comes at a time when the latest annual data reflects some troubling trends that demonstrate the need to improve safety,” Bose said.

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