The Federal Railroad Administration is considering a rule that would require most trains to have a minimum number of crew members.
During a Friday public hearing on the proposal, union groups, policymakers and stakeholders weighed in on whether most rail operations should be staffed with at least two qualified workers.
The regulation, proposed in March, would establish crew-size standards for most main line freight and passenger rail operations. Currently, only a two-member crew is required for trains carrying crude oil.
The FRA reopened the public comment period in order to get feedback from Friday’s hearing.
Union groups argued that the step is essential for protecting against the human error and fatigue that can lead to deadly accidents, pointing to an Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia last year and a deadly oil train explosion in Quebec in 2013.
“Safely operating a train is no easy task. In fact, operating a train has long been the job of a team of workers,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. ‘This team also works together during emergencies, such as dangerous rail accidents, when timely action and quick thinking can save lives and prevent destruction.”
The trade group supports the proposal but called on the FRA to make the final rule stronger by requiring that two-person crews consist of a certified engineer and certified conductor.
Industry leaders say that there is no evidence that having an additional crew member on board would improve safety. Instead, they maintain that the rule would stifle innovation and harm productivity.
“The proposed rule is a textbook example of unnecessary regulation,” said Edward R. Hamberger, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Railroads. “The Department of Transportation... is backing a rule that would freeze rail productivity and chill innovation.”
But Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (D-N.D.) testified that her state witnessed the benefits of a multiperson train crew first hand during a derailment in Casselton in 2013, when several crew members on board were able to help pull crude oil cars away from the fire.
“Having two crew members on board won’t necessarily prevent derailments, but it will help mitigate accidents when they occur,” she said.