A union leader at Bailey Yard urged the city council Tuesday night to endorse a two-person crew requirement for freight trains.
Troy Merritt, the president of Local 286, told the council that freight trains are too much for one person, or no people, to handle.
The requirement would be for safety purposes, given that Union Pacific is planning for an automated system called Positive Train Control, which could eliminate one, or even both, people on the locomotive.
“That information needs to be known,” Merritt said. “It’s an issue of public safety.”
Merritt, also the legislative representative of the SMART TD union, represents trainmen and engineers who work east out of North Platte. His appearance came just three days after 80 mechanical workers were terminated at Bailey Yard. And, three weeks earlier, 30 transportation workers were placed on reserve status.
Those layoffs led to speculation that 10% or more of Bailey Yard’s workforce could be cut, which would create serious negative repercussions for the city’s economy.
Merritt wants the council to consider endorsing a bill in the Nebraska Legislature requiring two people on the crew of all freight trains in the state. The bill is LB 611.
He intends to return in two weeks to ask for a formal resolution, he said after the meeting.
The two-person crew bill in the legislature was introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth. Brandt’s district includes Fairbury, Geneva, Crete and Hebron.
A hearing for the bill is set for March 5 before the legislature’s transportation and telecommunications committee.
“In cases of emergency or mechanical issues, another crew member should be required in order to prevent accidents on rail when one member of the crew may be impaired or unable to detect issues which may lead to accidents,” Brandt said.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue was the first co-sponsor of LB 611, which quickly gained several other co-sponsors — Sens. Tom Brewer, Machaela Cavanaugh, Wendy DeBoer, Steve Erdman, Tim Gragert, Mike Groene, Matt Hansen, Rick Kolowski, Mike McDonnell, Adam Morfeld, Dan Quick, Tony Vargas and Lynne Walz.
There is also a two-person crew bill in the United States Congress, and several other states are considering the requirement.
The most recent action was in the Colorado House of Representatives, which approved a two-person crew bill on Feb. 4 on second reading.
There are about 14 privately owned freight railroads that operate in Colorado, according to information filed in support of the that bill.