Yet another attempt at legislating crew size

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.)

Two U.S. Senators, both Democrats, on June 26 introduced the Safe Freight Act of 2019, a bill whose intent is to mandate two-person crews on all freight trains in the U.S. The bill resurrects two previous, and failed, attempts at legislating crew size—H.R. 233, the Safe Freight Act of 2017, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska); and S. 2360, a Senate version introduced by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.Dak.). The current Senate bill has not yet been assigned a number.

The bill, introduced by Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is co-sponsored by seven other Democrats  and one IndependentRichard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Its sponsors say the legislation “would promote rail safety” by “correcting” the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent rollback of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mandating two person crews, “a necessary safety standard.” Requiring that all freight trains have at least one certified conductor and one certified engineer on board will ensure that they can “work together to protect the safety of both the train and people living near the tracks.”

“The FRA abdicated its responsibility as our nation’s rail safety agency when it withdrew the proposed two-person crew rule,” said Markey. “A series of tragic accidents have resulted in recent years from unattended and understaffed trains, making clear that we need enough crew on board to protect both property and the public.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

“The decision by the FRA to abandon its planned two-person crew rule makes no sense, especially in light of recent rail accidents,” said Wyden. “This is a matter of safety and security for rail crew and the public, and experts agree. It’s now up to Congress to step in and require freight trains have the staffing required to keep folks safe.”

The Senate legislation—which many observers agree will go nowhere and is merely a political stunt—closely follows a bill introduced into the Ohio State legislature to mandate two-person crews. Commented Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner, “There already is a mandate, nationwide, for two-person crews on every Class I railroad owing to labor agreements in force. Thus, the Ohio legislation is academic and will remain so until there is a labor agreement permitting one-person crews, or if the Class I railroads, after a breakdown in the next round of labor talks, choose to impose one-person crews unilaterally and spark a work stoppage.”

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