Maine House rep introduces two-person-crew bill

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Me.) on Aug. 2, 2013 introduced “The Safe Freight Act,” a bill requiring a minimum of two-person crews for freight trains. Fellow Maine Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree is an original cosponsor of the bill.

“Following the rail accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada recently issued an emergency directive implementing several safety enhancements, including requiring a minimum of two-person crews for trains carrying hazardous materials,” said Michaud, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittees on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials and Highways and Transit and has also launched a campaign to become Maine’s Governor in 2014. “However, no such requirement exists in the United States.”

“After meeting with federal agencies and hearing from Mainers and experienced train operators, it’s clear to me that there is a significant safety advantage in having two or more people operating a freight train,” said Michaud. “Trains can be a mile or more long and carry volatile shipments such as ethanol and oil. With a single-person crew, what if the operator suffers a heart attack or another health related problem? What if there is an accident and the operator is unable to perform his or her duties? I’d hope technological backups would work, but to me it’s commonsense that having another person on that train is going to be better than just one.”

“This legislation is a good first step in addressing some of the safety concerns that we have heard in meetings with officials since the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic,” said Pingree. “With freight trains’ potentially hazardous cargo and sheer size, it makes sense on many levels to have at least two people on a crew at all times. Having only one person onboard who is responsible for a train’s safe operation simply allows too much room for errors to go uncorrected.”

Prior to introducing the bill, Michaud and Pingree met with the heads of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to request a safety review of Maine’s rail infrastructure in the wake of Lac-Mégantic.

“After hearing the serious safety concerns raised by the NTSB over DOT-111 tank cars, which were among the ruptured cars in Quebec, we urged PHMSA to issue a new rule enhancing the design of these cars as soon as possible.”

Railroads and tank car builders have been adhering to voluntary new safety standards for DOT 111 (hazmat) cars developed by the industry and implemented in late 2011. Among the enhancements are double-walled shells, stronger head shields, recessed valves, and shelf couplers. All tank cars constructed since approximately October 2011 have been built to these new standards; there is currently a backlog of more than two years. The FRA has been working on a rulemaking to make such improvements federal law, and is expected to issue an NPRM within the next six to 12 months.

It is believed that the tank cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic wreck were of an older design.

Said one industry observer about the The Safe Freight Act, “I won’t debate the substance of what obviously is not going to become law anytime soon, but these folks have pretty much destroyed the rail business they already have by allowing extra-large trucks to be permitted on Maine highways. Now they want to tamper with fundamental economics and under the guise of ‘safety’ tell railroads how many employees they must carry.”

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