Transportation Rail State laws

Defying federal agency, Illinois governor signs bill requiring two-person crews on freight trains

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Springfield, IL — Legislation signed into law Aug. 9 by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) requires freight trains operating in the state to have at least two crew members, challenging the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent effort to prevent states from regulating train crew sizes.

Scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, S.B. 24 (to be known as Public Act 101-0294) “will increase railroad safety and the safety of the people of Illinois,” bill sponsor Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) told Safety+Health. “It is inherently unsafe to have a train with only one crew member. That is why this legislation has been passed in several states.”

In May, FRA withdrew a 2016 notice of proposed rulemaking that would have established a minimum crew size of two members on most railroad operations. According to a notice published in the May 29 Federal Register, the NPRM withdrawal supplants minimum crew size laws in nine states, including California, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“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.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, according to FreightWaves.com, on July 29 filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit asking the court to review the agency’s decision to withdraw the NPRM and its effort to stop states from passing mandatory train crew size legislation.

 

Hoffman argues that FRA is overstepping its authority.

“The recent action of the FRA is usurping the power of the states,” Hoffman said. “I believe that it is clear that regarding train crew size, you cannot preempt state law. That is why I believe their actions will ultimately be struck down by the courts.”

An FRA spokesperson declined to comment to S+H when asked about the new Illinois law, citing the current litigation. The spokesperson reiterated a previous statement from the agency on crew sizes, which states, “FRA notes that rail has maintained a strong safety record in the absence of regulation on this issue and that regulating train crew staffing is not necessary or appropriate for railroad operations to be conducted safely at this time.”

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