The Federal Railroad Administration proposed a rule imposing a federally mandated crew size of at least two persons absent an extraordinary showing.
The proposed rule also would further require that certain existing rail operations that already are using only one crew member to provide a rationalization for the safety of those operations.
Some railroads currently operate with only one person in the cab of the locomotive. Over the years, others have looked seriously at resorting to one-person operations, a change that has been rigorously opposed by rail unions.
The rail companies argue that single-person crews would not negatively impact the industry’s track record of consistently improving rail safety, notes Charles W. Shewmake, an attorney with the law firm of Holland & Knight.
They also claim such operations don’t conflict with their collective bargaining agreements regarding crew size, which they term “crew consist.”
Because 28% of the freight ton-miles shipped in the United States is moved by rail, Shewmake says the issues around crew size “could have a further reach regardless of the competing (and contradictory) positions of the federal government concerning the effect of crew size on rail safety.”
A similar two-person crew rule was imposed during the Obama administration but was later withdrawn by the FRA under President Trump.
Shewmake argues that this proposed rule is needed for FRA to proactively protect railroad employees, the public and the environment.
He asserts, “By requiring railroads to petition FRA for approval of existing (legacy) or new one-person crewmember operations, this proposed rule would allow FRA to closely examine the safety of legacy operations in accordance with established, minimum safety requirements, and prohibit the initiation of one-person crewmember operations that would not be consistent with railroad safety.”