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FRA issues rule requiring two-person train crews

By Admin

Reported by David Lassen for Trains.

The Federal Railroad Administration today issued its new final rule generally requiring two-person crews on trains, which it says “enhances safety” and industry group the Association of American Railroads immediately blasted as “unfounded and unnecessary.”

“Common sense tells us that large freight trains, some of which can be over 3 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,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release. “This rule requiring safe train crew sizes is long overdue, and we are proud to deliver this change that will make workers, passengers, and communities safer.”

The AAR, meanwhile, emphasized a lack of evidence connecting crew size to safety, and noted the FRA had dropped a similar rule in 2019 [see “FRA withdraws proposed minimum crew size rule,” Trains News Wire, May 24, 2019]

“FRA is doubling down on an unfounded and unnecessary regulation that has no proven connection to rail safety,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said in a statement. “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.” He cites a 63% drop in the casualty rate for employees since 2000 and a 27% decrease in overall the overall train accident rate in the same period, as well as a 6% decline since 2022.

The FRA says the rule “closes a loophole” that allowed railroads to initiate single-crew operation without performing risk assessment, mitigating risks, or even notifying the agency. It also says it differs from the initial rule proposal by giving smaller Class II and III railroads the opportunity to continue or initiate one-person operations by notifying the FRA and complying with new federal safety standards.

The federal action comes at a time when states have increasingly legislated for two-person crews. At least 11 states have passed two-person crew laws, although their ability to withstand legal scrutiny remains in question because of federal right to oversee matters of interstate commerce.

The AAR says the rule is an “overreach” into an area historically addressed through collective bargaining, and will diminish the importance of the bargaining process by inserting the regulator between the parties. Unions, however, praised the FRA action.

“This rule acknowledges that crew size is fundamentally a safety issue at its core,” Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “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. While the FRA has considered action on crew size for almost a decade, operational and safety changes across the rail industry the last several years have only heightened the need for strong crew size regulations.”

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Eddie Hall said his union has advocated for a two-person crew rule for 13 years and has sought it in collective bargaining. “As trains, many carrying hazardous material, have grown longer, crews should not be getting smaller,” Hall said in a statement. “I personally have operated freight trains that stretched over 3 miles in length. … Today’s announcement is an important step in making railroading safer in every state, rather than a piecemeal approach.”

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) said the rule “solidifies the role of freight conductors in this country” and said that union officials “pushed lawmakers and government officials to understand the ramifications of a nation with single-person freight crews.” The union’s president, Jeremy Ferguson, called the decision “historic for SMART-TD members and all rail labor. Today’s ruling codifying the two-person freight crew not only demonstrates this administration’s dedication to the safety of this country and our workforce, but it also shows their respect and acknowledgment of our men and women and the work they do.”

“No one wants a miles long train barreling through their community with only one operator,” Brown said in a statement. “This is an important first step to protect communities—but we must pass the Railway Safety Act to make trains carrying hazardous materials safer and ensure railroad lobbyists can’t roll back the two-person crew rule in the future.”

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