Federal agencies Rail Transportation

Railroad union vows FRA’s decision to scrap proposal for minimum crew sizes won’t ‘go unchallenged’

Photo: BeyondImages/iStockphoto

Washington — The Federal Railroad Administration has withdrawn a 2016 notice of proposed rulemaking that would have established a minimum crew size of two members on most railroad operations.

The withdrawal supplants laws on minimum crew sizes in nine states, including two-person crew requirement laws in California, West Virginia and Wisconsin, according to a withdrawal notice published in the May 29 Federal Register. FRA states that the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 mandates all laws, regulations and orders related to railroad safety be nationally uniform.

“FRA has determined that no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate at this time and intends for the withdrawal to preempt all state laws attempting to regulate train crew staffing in any manner,” the notice states.

After what it calls an “in-depth” study of the issue and extensive stakeholder and public outreach on the topic, FRA concluded it “cannot provide reliable or conclusive statistical data to suggest whether one-person crew operations are generally safer or less safe than multiple-person crew operations.”

The agency received nearly 1,600 comments on the NPRM during a five-month period in 2016. Of those, 1,545 expressed support of the proposed rule, while 39 stated that FRA shouldn’t regulate the size of crews.

Count Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, among the latter group. “AAR and its member railroads are gratified that the FRA rescinded this unjustified proposal and confirmed what it acknowledged from the start: There is no evidence to justify regulating minimum train crew size as a matter of safety,” Jefferies said in a May 23 press release. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a union that represents more than 57,000 railroad workers, said in a May 24 press release that FRA’s decision was “not surprising.”

“What is shocking, however, is the degree to which FRA has chosen to subordinate the safety of [union] members, other railroad workers and the American public to the interests of the nation’s major railroads,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said in the release. “Railroad safety has taken a giant step backward, but [we] do not intend to let this development go unchallenged.”

In the notice, FRA states that the comments in support of two-person crews only made “indirect connections between crew staffing and railroad safety,” adding that a requirement on train crew size would hinder innovation and new technologies from being implemented.

The Department of Transportation’s “approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation,” the agency states.


After a pair of railway incidents in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and Casselton, ND, in 2013, FRA submitted a task entitled “Appropriate Train Crew Size” to the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, which then formed a related working group. Despite meeting five times between October 2013 and March 2014, FRA said the group was “unable to reach consensus on any recommendation or identify conclusive, statistical data to suggest whether there is a safety benefit or detriment to crew redundancy.”

In March, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced the Safe Freight Act, which would require at least two certified crew members on all freight trains operated in the United States. It was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee on March 14.

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