Unions Back FRA 2-Person Crew Rule

Two railroad labor unions are supporting a proposed rule by the Federal Railroad Administration that would require a two-person crew aboard trains in most circumstances.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have long argued that having a second crew member in the locomotive cab enhances railroad safety.

BLET“Our view is that one-person operations are unsafe under any circumstances and we believe issuing this proposed rule is a critical first step in helping to ensure that our nation’s trains are operated fully staffed with two qualified crew members,” says SMART President John Previsich. “Airplanes are not allowed to fly with just one pilot, and for sound safety reasons trains, many hauling hazardous materials — should be no different. The check, double check, and extra set of eyes and ears watching both sides of the train and the division of tasks are safety measures that cannot be replaced by rules or technology.”

At the same time, the unions are concerned about certain provisions of the FRA rule.

Specifically, the unions are critical of the phrase “loss of situational awareness,” which an FRA report said is what occurs when a crew member is distracted by multiple tasks.

“The words ‘loss of situational awareness’ are merely management code words for blaming the employee who has been bogged down with too many tasks, duties, and distractions,” the unions said in a news release. “Task overload does lead to increased fatigue and attention capture that pose genuine and quantifiable safety risks in the railroad industry.”

Another concern raised by the union is that the FRA rule would allow single-person crews on some trains on long-haul runs.

The unions said the proposed rule would allow railroads to use one-person crews provided that they take extra steps to protect employees, the public and the environment.

The FRA has said that it is likely that railroads that already have single-person crews would be able to get approval to continue them.

The FRA is currently accepting public comment about its proposed rule. The comment period will end in 60 days.

The single-person rule has been in the works for more than two years.

Earlier this week, the Association of American Railroads said it opposes mandating two-person crews. The AAR said there is no safety case to be made for such a rule and that positive train control systems will lead to safer railroad operations, even with one-person crews.

Unions continue to promote the Safe Freight Act, which would require all trains to have at least two people in the cab.

“Technology will never be able to safely replace the eyes and ears of our highly-trained, experienced and professional two-person train crews,” said BLET President Dennis R. Pierce.

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