Two arguments on two-person crews

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The Federal Railroad Administration, at a July 15, 2016 hearing regarding the agency’s proposed rule mandating two-person crews, heard two sharply contrasting arguments, one from freight rail management, the other from labor.

Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger, joined by CSX Transportation Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn; Indiana Rail Road Senior Vice President Operations and Development Robert Babcock; Genesee & Wyoming Chief Operating Officer David Brown; and Indiana School of Public and Environmental Affairs Dean and former Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator John D. Graham, urged FRA to withdraw its two-person-crew NPRM.

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Edward Wytkind, joined by SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch and BNSF conductor and SMART-TD member Mike Rankin, stated labor’s case for a two-person crew mandate and “a final rule that closes loopholes permitting freight railroads to deploy single-[person] crew operations.”

“The proposed rule is a textbook example of unnecessary regulation,” said Hamberger. “In fact, while perhaps well-intentioned, the proposed rule is actually misguided and will undermine the very goal of both the FRA and the freight rail industry—making a safe rail network even safer. There are no data supporting this proposed rule, and it will provide no safety benefit to railroads, their employees, or the public. With no data showing that one-person operations compromise safety, there is no basis—other than anecdotal storytelling—for enacting a general prohibition on crew size reductions. While the Department of Transportation is throwing its full support behind development of autonomous vehicles as a way to improve safety on our roadways, it is backing a rulemaking for the rail industry that goes in the opposite direction and would freeze rail productivity and chill innovation.”

Hamberger pointed out that in its NPRM, “the FRA itself admitted it had no safety data to support the proposal.” The agency “has not provided data suggesting that one-person crew operations are less safe than multiple-person crew operations,” he noted. “We have said time and time again that the FRA should conduct a fact-based—not emotionally driven—data-gathering process. “If a safety risk is identified, then a rulemaking might be appropriate. But we are confident that an independent, objective analysis will conclude that no regulation is needed.”

Hamberger pointed out that Oliver Wyman, “a leading global management consulting firm with worldwide expertise in railroad operations,” provided the FRA with an analysis of data on single-crew rail operations around the world “that proves railroads can safely operate with one-person crews, and have been doing so for years.” (The report, as well as key excerpts, can be downloaded at the links below.)

CSX’s Sanborn told FRA representatives that the railroad industry “has negotiated numerous reductions in crew size with its employees in the past, and the evidence shows that such reductions have been accomplished with continuous safety improvement. During the period of time that the industry’s injury and accident rates have declined to record lows, crew sizes have been reduced.”

Indiana Rail Road’s Babcock noted in his testimony that U.S. railroads using one-person crews “have consistently maintained exemplary safety records. INRD has been safely deploying one-person crews for nearly two decades, and there is no evidence that one-person operations are unsafe.”

Genesee & Wyoming’s Brown noted that railroads throughout Europe and Australia “have for years been safely operating with one person in the locomotive cab.” He said that, for 34 years, he has been involved in the transition of crew size from as many as six crew members down to the one-person crews that now comprise the vast majority of train crews in the U.K. and Europe and other operations in the U.S. and Australia. “During that time,” Brown noted, “rail safety performance has continuously and dramatically improved.”

John D. Graham told the FRA that its crew size proposal was “one of the analytically weakest regulatory packages [I have] ever reviewed,” among thousands of proposed federal regulations he reviewed in his former post at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. “There is no demonstration that crew size is a relatively significant factor in determining the number of railroad accidents, injuries and fatalities—or even near misses,” Graham said. “The reader is left wondering why the agency has focused on this factor, as opposed to the many other factors related to railroad safety.”

Graham also said FRA “currently does not even collect information on crew size.” The agency “offers no direct empirical evidence that operating with two crew members will produce better safety outcomes than operating with one. In fact, FRA acknowledges that its own accident database does not even contain information on the size of the crew associated with particular accidents. If it is not worthwhile for FRA to collect information on crew size of crew, it is hard to fathom why the agency would consider this issue to be important enough to craft a narrow, prescriptive regulation.”

Both the AAR and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) oppose a two-person crew mandate. ASLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr testified that the rule “fails to adequately consider the economic impact to [our] small business members. In addition, and more important, there is no evidence of a safety benefit generated by a second crew member in the locomotive.”

“There is no evidence that the proposed rule will address safety challenges in a way that is meaningful and operationally sustainable for our small businesses,” Darr said. “Of the 450 railroads that make up the ASLRRA membership ranks, more than 100 operate with fewer than four operations employees on as little as two miles of track. Margins on many railroads are sometimes thin, requiring them to embrace innovative practices that make them more efficient. We are truly a small-business industry and we do a lot of good work on a shoestring budget. This efficiency is the reason that many small railroads survive today. We operate efficiently and we operate safely. That’s how we make our livelihood and that’s how we keep our people going home safely to their families each night.”

Darr also noted “the disparity between the direction that the rest of the transportation community is taking toward technology-assisted operations to improve safety, such as driverless commercial vehicles, and the Positive Train Control mandate, which eliminates the need for a crew member to even be present in the locomotive to stop a train, and this rule, which requires additional personnel to be placed in the locomotive. Given this confused regulatory environment combined with the effects of the DOT’s current and pending regulations, we are creating an enormous disincentive to make investments in small railroads as viable businesses. That’s bad for transportation, that’s bad for railroading, and that’s bad for the safety of the traveling public.”

In sharp contrast, TTD’s Wytkind said, “It’s time to put to rest the absurd notion that operating a 19,000-ton freight train with a single crewmember is safe. The American public understands that having massive freight trains travel through their communities operated by one-person crews is a safety menace that should be barred by our government. We need a strong rule from the FRA mandating a certified conductor and certified engineer on all freight trains, and we need it this year. Transportation labor has long advocated for a strong federal minimum requiring two crew members on freight trains—a policy that the vast majority of Americans agree with.”

Editor’s observation: Most Americans know little or nothing about railroads and their operating procedures, freight or passenger, much less crew size.

Risch, a former locomotive engineer with 30 years’ experience, said, “Operating a freight train isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a complex task that requires at least two skilled, qualified individuals,. Conductors and engineers rely on each other to make sure operating procedures are completed correctly, and safely. Their teamwork is vital not only to their safety, but the public’s safety.”

Rankin’s testimony consisted of relating a personal story about how he and an engineer “were able to work together to help save a life after their locomotive collided with a vehicle. Ensuring that all freight trains are operated by two qualified crewmembers is about public safety. Conductors and engineers don’t just operate trains. In emergency situations, we’re first on the scene. Our presence and teamwork can mean the difference between life and death.”

SMART-TD also said that although FRA’s proposed rule “represents a strong step forward,” it provides “too much leeway for the railroads to evade the two-person mandate. And because the proposal does not specify that crew members be a certified engineer and conductor, the final rule should be strengthened.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Regulatory, Safety, Short Lines & Regionals, Switching & Terminal Tags: , , , , ,