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AAR and ASLRRA to FRA: Withdraw proposal to mandate two-person crews

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) is urging the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to withdraw its proposed rule that would mandate two-person crews on trains.

In comments recently filed with the FRA, AAR officials claimed the proposal not only lacks any data-driven justification, but could undermine efforts to improve freight-rail safety.
"There is no greater priority for the freight-rail industry than safety, but this proposed rule offers no safety benefit to railroads, their employees or the public," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger in a press release. "There is absolutely no data to support the view that a second crew member enhances safety.”
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in March, the FRA acknowledged that it lacks any data to support the assertion that two-person crews are safer than the one-person variety, AAR officials said. In addition, the NPRM largely ignored studies provided by the AAR in January 2015 that quantify the strong safety record of single-person operations, which are employed all over the world, they said.
"With no evidence that one-person operations are less safe, there is simply no basis for enacting a general prohibition on crew size reductions," said Hamberger.
By mandating crew sizes, the FRA would be creating a new economic burden for rail operators that already operate with only one crew member, as well as those that would be prevented from reducing crew sizes in the future, AAR officials believe. Moreover, such a rule could stifle future technological innovations that promise to make the freight-rail network safer and more efficient, they said.

American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) officials also urged the FRA to abandon its call for two-person crews, citing a lack of consideration for the economic impact to small railroads. The cost impact to short lines was based on inaccurate assessments of operations, including a reliance on Class I average speed, which for various reasons is much higher than the average short line speed, ASLRRA officials believe.

"We are aligned with the FRA in the commitment to the safe operation of America's freight-rail network. However, there is no evidence that the proposed train crew staffing rule will address safety challenges in a way that is meaningful and operationally sustainable for our small businesses," said ASLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr.

However, several rail labor unions staunchly support efforts to require two-person crews. Requiring a minimum of two crew members on trains not only makes it safer for those who work at the railroads, but helps to protect people in communities where trains travel, SMART Transportation Division leaders believe.

Division and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen officials submitted joint comments to the FRA about the proposed rule, suggesting that it be made stronger before becoming final.

"We firmly believe that the only safe way to operate a train is with a crew of at least two people — a federally certified locomotive engineer and a federally certified conductor," they said. “Our comments provide a clear rationale for the FRA to finalize a rule this year and to close loopholes included in the agency’s initial proposed rule that could permit the limited use of one-person crew freight operations.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/16/2016