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Rail News: Labor

California enacts two-person crew legislation

California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. on Tuesday signed a bill that requires trains and light engines in the state to be operated by a minimum of two qualified crew members.

The legislation — which was introduced by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) — prohibits a freight train or light engine from being operated in the state with a crew of less than two individuals, beginning Feb. 1, 2016. The law also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to assess civil penalties for any violations.

Among all the industries subject to the CPUC's oversight — namely energy, water, telecommunications and transportation — rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year, according to the commission.

"Today's freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gas and acids, that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” said Wolk in a press release. "With more than 5,000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever-present danger. This new law will provide greater protection to communities located along rail lines in California, and to railroad workers."

The legislation is supported by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET), SMART Transportation Division, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, California Labor Federation/AFL-CIO and California Teamsters Public Affairs Council. Several railroads — including BNSF Railway Co. and the Indiana Rail Road Co. — are in favor of using one-person train crews in certain situations.

BLET officials hailed the new California law.

"While the advancement of technology has made the workplace safer, a machine cannot replace the trained eyes and ears of experienced professionals inside the cab of the locomotive," aid BLET National President Dennis Pierce in a press release. "Technology can only go so far. In the event of an emergency situation, a lone crew member cannot properly assess the situation, secure the train and notify all necessary emergency responders in a timely manner."

BLET officials hope the legislation serves a model for other states. At least 14 other states have introduced minimum crew-size legislation this year, including Washington, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah and North Dakota, they said.

SMART Transportation Division officials also welcomed the new state law.

"I am very pleased that California has joined Wisconsin, Arizona and West Virginia in adopting these sensible requirements. This is a matter of public safety, plain and simple," said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch in a statement. "Freight railroad operations are complex and often entail the transport of highly hazardous materials, such as crude oil, chlorine gas and many other chemicals; two crew members are vital to ensuring that these trains are operated safely and our communities are secure."

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) earlier this year introduced the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1763), which would require all freight trains in the nation to be operated by a minimum of two individuals: a certified conductor and engineer. In April, the bill was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Meanwhile, the BLET yesterday announced it reached a tentative contract with Canadian Pacific's U.S. railway (the Soo Line) governing pay rates and work rules for about 400 locomotive engineers.

The union mailed ratification ballots and instructions, and a copy of the agreement to members. Ratification voting ends on Oct. 9.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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