Federal ruling on freight train crew size has states and unions up in arms

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief

On May 29 of this year, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrew from its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the issue of the number of crew members on a freight train.  According to the Federal Register, the FRA said “In withdrawing the NPRM, FRA is providing notice of its affirmative decision that no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate for railroad operations to be conducted safely at this time.”  Later in the notice of withdrawal, the FRA says ” . . . this notice of withdrawal provides FRA’s determination that no regulation of train crew staffing is appropriate and that FRA intends to negatively preempt any state laws concerning that subject matter.”

Several states have balked at the the FRA’s ruling, and according to a report in FreightWaves, Washington, Illinois, and Nevada have joined the legal battle against the ruling.  According to the report, Nevada has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse the FRA’s decision.  Aaron Ford, Nevada’s Attorney General, said “Nevada is aggrieved by the provisions [of the federal ruling] . . . because they infringe, without lawful authority, upon Nevada’s sovereign interest in enforcing its own health and safety statute on the subject of train crew staffing.”  Ford went on to say, “Additionally, the decision to preempt state and local laws was arbitrary and capricious and without an evidentiary basis.  Accordingly, Nevada requests that the Court set aside the FRA’s decision.”

Washington and California have also filed appeals to the FRA ruling, while Illinois passed its own law mandating two-person freight train crews last week.

FreightWaves reports further that The Smart Union – Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE-T), have both expressed their support for the state laws requiring two-person crews.  The BLE-T’s president, Dennis R. Pierce said that members had “Worked so hard to lobby for passage of this much needed safety legislation.  Legislation such as this proves that American citizens and their elected leaders have a great deal of concern regarding the safety of railroads that travel through our country.  They understand the need to have adequately staffed trains in order to maintain the highest levels of safety.”

The SMART-TD is also working to bring about a federal law on the issue.  According to SMART-TD president John Previsich, “There is going to be a big push coming.”

For more information, go to freightwaves.com.

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