A new rule released on Wednesday will force railroads to maintain two-person crews, preventing the industry’s attempts to reduce crew sizes to one.
OMAHA, Nebraska A new rule that was published on Wednesday will force major railroads to keep two-person crews, preventing industry attempts to reduce crew sizes to one.
Railroads have asked for the freedom to operate trains with just one person on board and to relocate conductors to ground-based positions in locations with automatic braking systems. It has been a crucial topic in impressed contract negotiations between freight railroads and their 12 unions, which are currently being examined by a special panel of arbitrators that President Joe Biden convened last month.
For years, labor organizations have resisted one-person crews, citing worries about jobs and safety, respectively. Although many short-line railroads run with one-man crews, larger railroads have had labor agreements mandating two-person crews for about 30 years.
According to Greg Regan, president of the coalition of rail unions in the AFL-Transportation CIO’s Trades Department, “this new rule recognizes that crew size is a safety problem at its core.”
This week, ideas from both sides are being considered by arbitrators who are examining contract discussions that started more than two years ago. While the group creates a set of recommendations, federal law prevents train unions from striking until mid-September. Based on those suggestions, both parties can negotiate a settlement.
According to federal authorities, the new rule will establish a nationwide standard for train crew sizes in place of the current hodgepodge of state legislation.
According to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, “This proposed rule would improve safety for America’s rail passengers—and rail workers—across the country.”
During the Trump administration, a similar rule requiring two crew members was dropped because the Railroad Administration felt there wasn’t enough proof that it was safer.
Regulators stated on Wednesday that a second crew member in the locomotive’s cab might be crucial in ensuring that safety regulations are being observed while monitoring train operations.
The advent of Positive Train Control, a system that can autonomously stop trains in specific situations, has led freight railroads to claim that a second person was no longer necessary.
Ian Jefferies, the executive director of the trade association for American railroads, claimed that the rule “prioritizes politics over smart, data-driven policy.”
According to Jefferies, there is “no plausible safety basis for controlling the number of personnel physically positioned inside the cab of a locomotive” because of advancements in braking technology.
The railroad sector has underlined that the safety of two-man crews is not supported by crash statistics. Labor unions countered that since most railroads now employ two-person crews, the data cannot demonstrate how safe one-person crews are.
According to a Union Pacific spokesman, regulators should not be used to determine crew size but rather should negotiate with the unions. A ground-based role for conductors, according to UP officials, would make such employment more appealing because they could work more predictable schedules if they weren’t required to be aboard trains.
As the country emerges from the worst of the pandemic, railroads have struggled to fill new positions this year due to a persistent shortage of labor.
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