Two railroad unions are backing new federal legislation to mandate two-member crews on all freight trains. Currently, many trains operate with only one crew member, endangering the safety of the public, the unions said.
The measure, HR1763, was introduced April 17 by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, Congress’ longest-serving Republican and an influential lawmaker on transportation issues.
Railroad Workers United, a coalition of unions representing passenger and freight rail workers from around the nation, announced Young’s bill. The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department also backs the two-person crews legislation.
Rail unions are pushing similar legislation in various states, notably in Minnesota, where a DFL-run state senate committee held a hearing on mandating two-member crews there and was expected to pass it. Railroads tried to sidetrack the Minnesota bill by claiming it would conflict with federal law, SMART state transportation legislative director Philip Qualy said.
“The carriers’ practice to remove more and more persons from the right-of-ways of American railroads endangers the general public,” Qualy added.
Rail workers and unions contend freight trains need two-person crews for safety reasons. They cite accidents that could have been prevented had a second crewmember been present to take action. In particular, SMART and the BLE&T cite the 2013 derailment, fire and explosion of an oil train in Lac Megantic, Quebec. That disaster killed 47 people and virtually destroyed the small town. Due to Canadian deregulatory moves, the train had only an engineer.
“BLE&T continues to oppose and condemn single-person freight operations as adverse to worker and public safety,” President Dennis Pierce said. “Today, there are only two ways to end one-person train operations: Federal laws or regulations that outlaw this dangerous practice, or collectively bargained contract language that requires two crew members on every train.
“We will continue to work to protect contractual language to defend two-person crews, and it also is our goal to protect the safety of railroad workers and the general public by advocating for passage of HR1763.”
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said, “The safest rail operation is a two-person crew. With several major derailments in the last few months, most notably the oil train derailment and explosion near Charleston, W.Va., in February, lawmakers and the public must understand multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities.”
Earlier, his division released a survey of 2,519 adults in six congressional districts, five of them Republican, showing 82 percent support for two-person crews.
“No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though it can fly itself. Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different,” he said.