Freight-rail industry opposes, unions support FRA’s two-person crew proposal
As published in Progressive Railroading
Freight-rail industry representatives last week called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to drop its proposed rule mandating two-person crews on freight trains.
At an FRA hearing last week, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and theAmerican Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) officials noted that the railroad industry is committed to safety; however, there is no evidence or data to support the theory that two-person train crews would improve the safety of railroad operations, railroad employees or the public.
“The proposed rule is a textbook example of unnecessary regulation. In fact, while perhaps well-intentioned, the proposed rule is actually misguided and will undermine the very goal of both the FRA and the freight rail industry — making a safe rail network even safer,” said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger in a press release.
Joining Hamberger at the hearing were Cindy Sanborn, executive vice president and chief operating officer at CSX; Robert Babcock, senior vice president of operations and development for the Indiana Rail Road Co.; David Brown, COO of Genesee & Wyoming Inc.; and John Graham, dean of the Indiana School of Public and Environmental Affairs and former administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Hamberger also noted that in its notice of proposed rulemaking, the FRA acknowledged that it had no safety data to support its proposed rule calling for two-person train crews.
“We have said time and time again that the FRA should conduct a fact-based — not emotionally driven — data-gathering process,” Hamberger said. “If a safety risk is identified, then rulemaking might be appropriate. But we are confident that an independent, objective analysis will conclude that no regulation is needed.”
ASLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr told FRA officials that the rule fails to consider the economic impact on small railroads. Of the 450 railroads that make up ASLRRA’s membership, more than 100 operate with fewer than four operations employees on as little as 2 miles of track.
Economic margins on many of those railroads are sometimes thin, she noted in a press release issued after her testimony.
“We are truly a small business industry and we do a lot of good work on a shoe string budget,” said Darr. “This efficiency is the reason that many small railroads survive today. We operate efficiently and we operate safely. That’s how we make our livelihood and that’s how we keep our people going home safely to their families each night.”
Darr also noted the disparity between the direction of the rest of the transportation industry is taking toward technology-assisted operations to improve safety, such as driverless commercial vehicles and the positive train control mandate.
“Given this confused regulatory environment combined with the effects of the DOT’s current and pending regulations, we are creating an enormous disincentive to make investments in small railroads as viable businesses,” she said.
Transportation union representatives testified that they support the FRA’s rule proposal.
“It’s time to put to rest the absurd notion that operating a 19,000-ton freight train with a single crew member is safe,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, in a press release. He was joined at the hearing by John Risch, national legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division.
“The American public understands that having massive freight trains travel through their communities operated by one-person crews is a safety menace that should be barred by our government,” Wytkind said. “We need a strong rule from the FRA mandating a certified conductor and certified engineer on all freight trains, and we need it this year.”
Wytkind and Risch recommended the FRA strengthen the rule in its final form, as it “provides too much leeway for the railroads to evade the two-person mandate,” stated the unions’ press release.