Trial UP Program Shows How Railroads Might Make Crew Schedules More Predictable

A pilot program that Union Pacific is operating in Kansas may become a first step toward bringing more predictable schedules to train operating crews across the nation.

Trains magazine reported on its website that a UP vice president speaking at a transportation conference outlined the basics of the plan that would see locomotive engineers told which 11 days they would work and which four days they would be off.

Eric Gehringer, executive vice president of operations, said the “11 and four” plan would govern work assignments in 15-day periods.

He said the Class 1 carrier is working with its unions to oversee the 60-day trial plan.

“It’s something we have to do through the collective bargaining agreement. We can’t just instantly put that across the system,” Gehringer said.

Unpredictable work schedules are a primary grievance that unionized rail workers have had in recent years. The issue has hung over negotiations for a new contract for Class 1 railroad workers.

The railroad work environment also has been implicated in crew shortages that have hindered UP, BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Executives at those carriers have blamed crew shortages for several issues they’ve experienced in the past couple years that have drawn the ire of rail shippers.

Speaking at the Baird 2022 Global Industrial Conference, Gehringer said UP might seek to extend the practice being tested in the trial program to the rest of its system although there may be some variations in how it is conducted. The trial program began Nov. 1.

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