A bill intended to improve safety for freight train crews was considered Tuesday by the Transportation and Telecommunications committee.
LB 611, introduced by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, would require a crew of at least two people on each train or light engine used in the movement of freight. If a train is stopped for any reason, a two-person crew would be able to get it running again more quickly, Brandt said, which would improve public safety.
“In our rural and small communities, there’s usually only one crossing for EMTs, fire and police to use,” he said. “A stoppage for any reason near that location could result in a train blocking that crossing for a lengthy period of time.”
Violation of the requirement would result in a fine of no less than $100. Additional, graduated fines would be levied for subsequent violations within three years of the initial violation.
The Public Service Commission would enforce the two-person requirement, directing any collected fines for distribution to counties for use by public school districts.
Bob Borgeson, representing the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), testified in support of the bill. LB 611 would maintain the status quo of using two-person crews, he said, and prevent attempts by the rail industry to bargain on important safety measures.
“This bill is needed because the rail industry is attempting to automate the cabin of the trains we run,” Borgeson said. “This is demonstrated by a failed collective bargaining agreement a few years ago with Burlington Northern Santa Fe [Railway] that our members turned down, with 80% voting against it.”
Adam Hausman, a BNSF Railway employee, also spoke in support of the bill. Hausman suffered a medical emergency while on duty and might not have received medical care in time had there not been a second person to call in to dispatch, he said.
“I often think about what would have happened if my issue had been more serious,” Hausman said. “I likely would not have been able to control my train in that situation and, worse, [could have] harmed more people.”
Opposing the bill was Rod Doerr, vice president and chief safety officer of Union Pacific.
There is no correlation between crew size and safety improvement, Doerr said.
“Since the 1980s, key safety indicators have improved across the board, even as crew size has decreased from five persons to two,” Doerr said. “There is no objective data supporting the idea that two-person crews are safer than a one-person crew.”
Eighteen senators have endorsed the bill as co-sponsors.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.