A bill requiring at least two crew persons on most freight trains operating within Washington State was recently signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee (D). The effective date of the bill is June 11.
The minimum freight train crew size has been the subject of debate between railroads (particularly Class 1 roads) and unions for the past few years. Unions argue that a freight train, particularly one carrying hazardous materials, requires at least two sets of eyes to ensure the train is operating safely, and two crew members are needed in case of a derailment or accident.
Railroads argue that PTC and other automation technology in use now eliminates the need for a second crew member because computers, in most instances, will operate the train safely.
Language of the big includes the following: “The legislature finds that adequate personnel are critical to ensuring railroad operational safety, security, and in the event of a hazardous material incident, support of first responder activities, as well as in the interest of the safety of passengers and the general public. Therefore, the legislature declares that this act regulating minimum railroad employee staffing to reduce risk to localities constitutes an exercise of the state’s police power to protect and promote the health, safety, security, and welfare of the residents of the state by reducing the risk exposure to local communities and protecting environmentally sensitive and/or pristine lands and waterways.”
Most rail carriers are covered in this bill, with the exception of Class III roads that operate their trains at less than 25 mph.