Railroad Industry Report Taken to Task over Safety Provision


The legislative director for one U.S. railroad union has dismantled the railroads’ study showing freight trains can be run with one person, the engineer.

John Risch, legislative director for Smart’s Transportation Division, spent much of his testimony hearing earlier this month on two-person crews rebutting study done for the rail industry’s lobby, the Association of American Railroads.

Risch told the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hearing that “a minimum of two crew members on trains is vital to safe train operations.”  He reiterated the many safety arguments, led by the ability to prevent crashes, that Smart-TD, the Teamsters Rail Conference, the Machinists and other rail unions have presented to strengthen the two-person crew rule.

 “The good news is virtually all trains in America are operated with a minimum of two crew members today, and establishing a strong rule to provide for that practice to continue will have little, if any, economic impact on our nation’s railroads. We have two people on trains today because we need two people to get the work done safely,” Risch added.

Risch also noted crew size is a collective bargaining issue between the unions and the railroads. Rail unions, particularly the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/ Teamsters, have successfully resisted rail carrier demands in bargaining to cut crews to just the engineer. John Tolman, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative, also testified at the event.

 The rail unions have campaigned long and hard for the last three years for a stringent two-persons-per-freight rule. Their drive started after a parked oil freight train’s brakes failed on a hill above Lac-Megantic, Quebec, while the sole crewmember was off on a break.

That long freight accelerated downhill, derailed, crashed, burned and exploded in downtown Lac-Megantic, destroying the area and killing 47 people. There have been other, but non-fatal oil train accidents since.

After the crash, FRA issued a preliminary rule that favors two-person crews. But it has enough loopholes that the unions sent in written objections to those exceptions.