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Freight railroads must keep 2-person crews, according to new federal rule

staticwire | April 2, 2024
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In a landmark decision, the Federal Railroad Administration has finalized a new rule that mandates major freight railroads to maintain two-person crews on most routes. The rule comes after two years of deliberation and is seen as a significant step towards improving railroad safety in the wake of the fiery February 2023 derailment in eastern Ohio.

The Transportation Department’s Federal Railroad Administration unveiled the details of the rule on Tuesday morning, following intense scrutiny and debate over railroad safety measures. While there have been some incremental changes made by the railroads themselves, such as adding trackside detectors and implementing new response protocols, the new rule marks a crucial milestone in ensuring the safety of railroad operations.

Rail unions have long advocated for two-person crews, citing safety concerns and job security as key reasons for their support. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union president, Eddie Hall, praised the FRA for taking this important step, emphasizing the critical role of having two crew members in the cab of a locomotive, particularly as trains have grown longer and more complex.

The issue of crew size has been a contentious one in the railroad industry, with railroads seeking the flexibility to operate with only one person on certain routes, especially where automatic braking systems have been installed. However, arguments by the railroads that two-person crews are not necessarily safer have been met with skepticism, as the norm on major railroads has traditionally been two-person crews.

The East Palestine, Ohio derailment, which resulted in hazardous chemicals spilling and catching fire, highlighted the potential dangers of rail disasters and the importance of having adequate crew members on board. While investigators have not found fault with the crew on that particular train, concerns over crew size and response capabilities have spurred at least 11 states to pass rules requiring two-person crews.

Despite the industry’s challenges to state regulations on crew size, the new federal rule is expected to set a uniform standard for crew requirements across the country. The debate over crew size and safety in the railroad industry is likely to continue, but the recent decision by the FRA to mandate two-person crews represents a significant victory for rail unions and advocates of safer railroad operations.

Overall, the new rule is a positive development for railroad safety and underscores the importance of maintaining adequate crew sizes to ensure the well-being of workers and the communities they serve.

This report was contributed by Ashraf Khalil in Washington. Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Written by staticwire

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