A bill to require at least a two-person crew on each train was killed Friday by the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on a 7-1 vote.The aim of the bill was to improve safety for train crews and the public, said Sen. Mike Groene, who introduced it. Sen. Tom Brewer of western Nebraska was a co-sponsor.
The bill would have required at least two people on each train or light engine used in the movement of freight.
The only yes vote was from Sen. Dan Hughes of Dist. 44, south of North Platte.
Two work days later in North Platte, Bailey Yard retiree Terry Sigler asked Gov. Pete Ricketts to help resurrect the bill.
Ricketts held a question and answer session with about 60 people Tuesday in North Platte, part of a series of his stops throughout the state.
Sigler noted Bailey Yard is the largest railroad classification yard in the world and employees about 1,000 train and engine workers alone.
He said railroads operate 24 /7, 365 days a year, and it is paramount to have two highly trained crewmen aboard each freight train to reduce the risk of human error. Split second decisions are required for safe operations, he said.
Ricketts urged Sigler and others who support the bill to contact the committee chairman, Sen. Curt Friesen, who represents a district that contains Grand Island and land east of there. Ricketts asked what the vote count was, and Sigler said 7-1. The governor said it would be tough to get it to the floor.
Ricketts said every bill has to win favor by a legislative committee, even his programs.
“It’s just part of the legislative process,” he said. “I have no ability to introduce a bill without working with one of the senators.”
In reply, Sigler said the bill addresses safety and should not have been killed in committee.
Ricketts urged Sigler to look to see what the senator’s objections were and talk to those on the committees.
On Jan. 31, at the committee hearing on the bill, Kevin Potthoff of McCook testified that many trains carry hazardous materials near water sources, schools and homes.
“When we went from crews of five people to two people, the change was dramatic,” Potthoff said. “I cannot fathom what it will be like to go down to a one-person crew.”
Railroad companies are developing technology that could replace one of the remaining two people in each locomotive.