The Federal Railroad Administration has formally withdrawn a pending rule to set a mandatory crew size for freight and passenger trains.
The mandatory rule had been pending, but not enacted, since 2016, after two terrible railroad wrecks, one in Canada and one in North Dakota.
On May 23, the FRA withdrew the consideration, and also claimed jurisdiction over all state laws and regulations to establish minimum crew standards, according to John Rich of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
SMART’s transportation division was one of thousands of groups and individuals who filed comments urging at least two people per freight train.
In all, there were 1,600 written comments on the proposed rule. The vast majority — 1,545 — were in support of some kind of train crew staffing requirements, according to FRA administrator Ronald Batory.
The four central points of comments in support were:
1) a train crew’s duties are too demanding for one person;
2) new technology will make the job more complex;
3) unpredictable scheduling makes fatigue a greater factor when there is only a one-person crew; and
4) the idea of a one-person train crew is seemingly in conflict with the statutory and regulatory requirements for certification of both locomotive engineers and conductors.
Others said when trains block crossings, two-person crews can deal with the potential dangers better than one person.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center, an organization dedicated to the protection of the environment, said a second crew member can be critical in containing environmental damage or making operational moves that could prevent accidents, and thus believes it is common sense that two crew members are better than one.
Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), a regional network of grassroots community organizations that includes 12,200 members, also urged at least two people per train.
The National League of Cities (NLC), an advocate for more than 19,000 cities, villages, and towns, supported a mandatory crew size. NLC said local officials are concerned with the significant increase in the volume of hazardous materials shipments combined with rail operators seeking to reduce crew sizes.
Nevertheless, accident data that was provided to an FRA study group “did not capture accidents where the cause or contributing factor was a lack of a second crew member,” the decision said.
The Association of American Railroads, representing the railroad owners, commented that FRA’s admission as to a lack of safety data meant the rule was “arbitrary,” indicating that the rule might be determined unlawful through judicial review.
Also, FRA massively underestimated the costs of the rule on the industry, the owners said. And, the owners said FRA’s proposed rule was stifling innovation just as autonomous (driverless) technologies are emerging.
For those reasons, the FRA found that “no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate at this time,” the decision said.
The labor unions say the decision is short-sighted.
“The federal government is refusing to protect the public and at the same time is prohibiting states from doing so by posting this federal notice,” Rich said.
“This action should put an end to any thoughts that this president and this administration is supportive of railroad workers,” he said. “It flies in the face of so-called conservative values and state’s rights.”
SMART-TD is considering legal action, urging members to contact Congress and support a federal law in Congress that requires two-person crews — a federally certified conductor and a federally certified locomotive engineer.
It is time for every operating railroad worker to contact their member of Congress personally, Rich said.