WRITTEN STATEMENT OF
GREG REGAN, PRESIDENT
TRANSPORTATION TRADES DEPARTMENT, AFL-CIO
BEFORE THE FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION
December 14, 2022
My name is Greg Regan and I am the President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD). By way of background, TTD consists of 37 affiliate unions, representing millions of frontline workers across every mode and every sector of America’s transportation network. Our unions represent the totality of rail labor, including both passenger and freight rail workers, such as the engineers and conductors that drive and operate freight and passenger trains. I speak collectively on behalf of those 37 unions and their workers in this testimony.
TTD is pleased to co-endorse the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and SMART-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) testimony on this vital issue. BLET and SMART-TD are two of the 13 rail unions affiliated with TTD and TTD fully supports BLET and SMART-TD’s positions on crew size.
Additionally, TTD is honored to be joined in support of two-person crews by thousands upon thousands of individual rail workers who have submitted personal comments into the docket to describe in detail why two people are needed to operate a train. These workers are the ones whose voices we are here to amplify. Rail workers experience the demands and risks of the job daily, and we need to listen to them when they tell us that they need safety protections.
TTD welcomes this public hearing and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)’s proposed rule to require a minimum of two crewmembers on most freight and passenger trains and establish minimum requirements for the location of crewmembers on a moving train to promote safe and effective teamwork. We applaud Administrator Amit Bose’s leadership on this issue and urge the FRA to finalize the strongest rule as soon as possible.
This proposed rule acknowledges that crew size is fundamentally a safety issue at its core, and that two-person crews are inherently necessary to ensure the safe operation of our freight rail and passenger systems. By creating a federal standard across the industry, the FRA can address the significant safety concerns presented by railroads operating with single-person crews.
The Current State of the Railroad Industry
While FRA has been considering action on crew size for almost 10 years now, trends from the last few years in the rail industry have only heightened the need for strong, swift action by FRA. Since 2015, the Class I freight railroads have introduced a new operating model known as Precision Scheduled Railroading or PSR. The railroads’ actions through PSR are some of the most reckless and dangerous by any industry in the past few years.
The Precision Scheduled Railroading model exists solely to squeeze every last nickel and dime out of the industry. It exclusively serves the short-term benefit of the railroads’ shareholders at the expense of their workers, and of the very customers they are supposed to be serving. The PSR model has allowed the Class I railroads to achieve record profits – more than $146 billion since 2015 – to the detriment of workers, rail shippers, and consumers. In nominal terms, these profits are even more than what the railroads made at the height of their robber baron days in the 19th century. To achieve these profits for their shareholders’ benefit, this business model has stripped rail networks of their human and physical capital. Since 2015, these railroads have laid off 45,000 workers, which is the equivalent of 30% of the nation’s total freight rail workforce.
Railroads may want us to believe these workers are redundant, but it has become clear that the massive reductions in workforce are simply about cutting costs, even if those cuts result in the degradation of safety. The railroads may say they care about safety, but that is hollow rhetoric.
The railroad workers who remain have been forced to do more with less, and are faced with discipline or dismissal if they refuse to comply. The consequences of these choices are no longer hypothetical. Carriers are also compensating for reduced staffing by requiring remaining employees to perform work outside of their craft in addition to fulfilling their regular duties. At best, this may involve employees performing tasks with which they are not experienced. At worst, employees may be forced to do work for which they are not qualified. Furthermore, rather than maintaining appropriate staffing levels, carriers are mandating overtime for workers who are already stretched thin and penalizing workers who refuse to come to work when they are sick. In an industry where fatigue is a constant risk factor, exposing employees to additional fatigue by asking them to work longer, faster or perform multiple jobs, especially while sick, is a recipe for disaster.
The FRA’s own safety data shows that since 2009, the number of railroad accidents and incidents reported to FRA has not meaningfully declined. Derailments, fatalities, and collisions all increased in the years leading up to the pandemic. Given the notorious pressure that railroads put on their workers to prevent them from reporting incidents to the FRA, TTD suspects that these accidents/incidents are severely undercounted, especially during the pandemic when safety risks have been much higher, and normal government functions – including safety inspections – were curtailed.
The bottom line is that Precision Scheduled Railroading prioritizes short-term profits over the long-term health and safety of our freight rail system. Between reports from frontline employees and the FRA’s own data, it is clear that PSR puts rail workers and the public at a real and unacceptable safety risk. The railroads’ implementation of PSR clearly demonstrates that they are prioritizing profits above safety, no matter the cost. One does not need to be told how dangerous that is.
Safety Reasons for Two-Person Crew Mandate
In the U.S. a freight train can weigh up to 65,000 tons, average over a mile long, and contain hazardous materials like the 2.2 million carloads of chemicals the railroads transported in 2021. Class I railroads are now running trains up to five miles long. It is absurd to argue that such a massive piece of equipment can be safely operated by one individual given the many tasks for which at least two people are needed. That is in addition to the many vital FRA regulations and railroad operating rules that must be followed. This is why FRA’s safety regulations are written under the assumption that at least two crewmembers will operate freight and passenger trains.
While two-person crews are currently the norm on U.S. freight railroads, crew size is often an issue that the railroads would like to determine only during the collective bargaining process, not by government regulation and oversight. That has certainly been the case during this latest round of collective bargaining negotiations where the Class I railroads wanted to put this issue on the table. The safety of rail workers, our communities, and this country’s rail system should not be bartered at a bargaining table. A basic safety issue like crew size should not be open for negotiation and it should not be something for which unions have to give something else up – like wages – in order to achieve. Additionally, smaller railroads can put one-person crews out on the tracks, not only jeopardizing safety but also setting a dangerous, competitive trend that larger railroads will seek to follow.
Having two crewmembers on a train provides the safety net needed to prevent errors that could jeopardize safety while also helping ensure train operations comply with important regulations. Second crewmembers offer more than just passive redundancy. Operating a train is a complex and demanding job that calls on both crewmembers to work as a team and undertake a variety of important tasks, often simultaneously, to ensure trains run smoothly and safely.
For example, a conductor’s responsibilities include:
● managing the train consist;
● coordinating with the locomotive engineer for safe and efficient en route operation;
● interacting with dispatchers, roadway workers, and others outside the cab;
● and dealing with exceptional situations like mechanical problems.
As the FRA also knows, fatigue continues to plague the rail industry. Employer-mandated long shifts and unpredictable work schedules create a fatigued workforce which has a direct and negative impact on safety. Recent media coverage has put a spotlight on how the railroads’ move to the PSR operating model is causing numerous problems, especially fatigue among workers. A second crewmember helps both employees stay alert and provides an essential backstop to prevent the costly mistakes that can occur when chronic fatigue affects memory or judgment.
When emergencies occur, having two crewmembers is vital since the ability of a lone crewmember to investigate or respond to the situation is severely limited. If a train being operated by a single crewmember were to encounter an emergency situation such as a highway crossing collision with an automobile, a release of hazardous materials or a mechanical problem, that crewmember could not leave the engine idling in order to investigate the issue. Those emergency response needs would have to wait until another crewmember could arrive from many miles away. Should a train break down and block a highway crossing, a second crewmember would be needed to quickly disconnect the train to unblock that crossing.
Expecting one crewmember to execute every required task while anticipating all possible operating scenarios is an unacceptable risk and beyond irresponsible. Having a second crewmember physically on the train in the event of an emergency quite literally could be the difference between life and death. The additional capacity of a second crewmember could also minimize property and environmental damage to surrounding communities. The FRA’s recount of the events of the December 2013 Casselton, North Dakota incident illustrates how multiple crewmembers working together to communicate and coordinate with emergency responders can help save lives and reduce destruction.
Other Industries’ Examples
TTD has seen, through its other unions’ affiliation, how other transportation sectors require at least two crewmembers to ensure necessary safeguards in the event of an incident. In the aviation sector, commercial passenger flights have for decades had at least two pilots in the cockpit in case one pilot becomes incapacitated. Most large cargo flights have at least two pilots as well for that reason. In the maritime industry, most large cargo and passenger vessels have multiple crewmembers in order to handle the complex tasks needed to operate such vessels and respond to emergencies. On ocean-going vessels for example, federal law requires that two crewmembers must be certified as GMDSS radio operators, which is the maritime global distress system, so that there is redundancy in responding to emergencies should one arise.
Unfortunately, most transportation safety laws in our country’s history have come after incidents that killed people – incidents that could have been prevented with these safety requirements in place. The aviation and maritime sectors implemented these crew requirements in response to such tragedies. Let’s not wait for another tragedy in the rail industry before implementing this common sense safety requirement of at least two person crews on trains.
In fact, we sadly learned this lesson the hard way in 2013 in Quebec, Canada when a runaway train carrying 72 cars of crude oil killed 47 people and demolished the town of Lac-Megantic. The incident occurred after a crewmember, working alone, parked the train uphill from the town for the night. Unmanned, the train rolled down the track and exploded. This devastating, potentially preventable incident, is a stark reminder of the safety challenges that face this industry and the need for a federal mandate requiring at least a two-person crew on every U.S. freight train.
The railroads talk frequently about the wonders of technology and how technology will solve all of our problems, including being able to drive trains. The bottom line is that technology, including Positive Train Control (PTC), is not a substitute for well qualified human beings who have knowledge and expertise, as we have seen numerous times in transportation incidents. High-profile transportation incidents such as the Lac-Megantic derailment or the recent Boeing MAX plane crashes that resulted tragically in multiple deaths, and near tragedies like the Miracle on the Hudson and Captain Sully Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles’ heroic actions, show that the best and most effective way to ensure transportation safety is having multiple crewmembers who are experienced and well qualified to operate that particular mode of transportation. The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System technology Boeing used in fact made the Boeing MAX plane crashes more likely, not less, and represents an unfortunate cautionary tale on substituting technology for trained human beings.
Railroads also claim they need to retain the ability to move to one-person crews because they are facing a near-term existential threat from automated trucking. This claim is neither true nor logical. First, there are no automated trucks on the market today. They are simply not available for purchase. Second, most experts in automated driving technology say it will take decades for the technology to become viable, if it ever does. Third, the so-called “full self-driving” systems from companies such as Tesla are facing multiple investigations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) because these programs have killed and severely injured several people. Automated trucking technology is not a near-term threat to railroads, if it ever will be one. Beyond that, even if automated trucking were magically fully and safely implemented tomorrow, that is not an excuse to neglect safety in another mode of transportation.
Rail operations are relatively safe today because trains are operated by two-person crews and the hard work and expertise of these crews and other rail workers. It is deeply troubling that instead of recognizing this fact, the railroads are advocating a policy that would give them the ability to downsize this workforce and expose workers and communities to avoidable safety risks in our freight network. Moving from two-person crew operations to one-person crew operations is like, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once famously said, throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.
Not everything in this proposed rule is perfect. In the coming days, TTD will file comments that suggest ways to improve the proposed rule. However, the core issue at stake here is that all trains, freight and passenger, need a crew of at least two people. It is imperative that the FRA finalize the strongest possible rule as quickly as possible so that we can protect rail workers, communities, and this country from the accidents and incidents that would eventually happen if we move to one-person crew operations. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. We look forward to working with FRA in the future.