Reported by Josh Funk for AP News.
Major railroads will be required to maintain two-person crews under a new rule announced Wednesday that will thwart industry efforts to cut crews down to one person.
The Federal Railroad Administration said in a rule published in the Federal Register that railroads will be required to continue using two-person crews in most circumstances as they haul all kinds of cargo, including hazardous materials, across the country. But there will be an exception to allow short-line railroads that have already been using one-man crews to continue using them and railroads can apply for permission to use smaller crews if they can prove it is safe.
Railroads have sought the discretion to operate trains with only one person and move conductors to ground-based jobs in places where automatic braking systems have been installed. It has been a key issue in deadlocked contract talks between freight railroads and their 12 unions, currently being reviewed by a special board of arbitrators appointed this month by President Joe Biden.
Labor groups have opposed one-person crews for years due both to what they say are concerns about safety and jobs. Labor agreements requiring two-person crews have been in place for roughly 30 years at major railroads, although many short-line railroads operate with one-man crews.
“This proposed rule acknowledges that crew size is fundamentally a safety issue at its core,” said Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department coalition that represents rail unions.
Arbitrators reviewing contract talks that began more than two years ago are listening to proposals from both sides this week. Federal law prohibits rail unions from striking until mid September while that board develops a set of recommendations. Both sides can negotiate a deal based on those recommendations.
Federal officials said the proposed rule will replace the existing patchwork of state laws on railroad crew sizes with a national standard.
“This proposed rule will improve safety for America’s rail passengers—and rail workers—across the country,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.
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