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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Class I roads make official their desire for one-man crews NEWSWIRE

Class I roads make official their desire for one-man crews NEWSWIRE

By Justin Franz | November 5, 2019

Opening move in labor negotiations likely to meet stiff resistance

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A crew member returns to the locomotive after lining a switch at Canadian Pacific’s yard in Bensenville, Ill. Class I railroads have formally introduced a proposal for one-man crews on road trains.
TRAINS: David Lassen

WASHINGTON — After hinting at it for months, Class I railroads have officially asked that single-person crews be part of a new national contract with a coalition of a dozen labor unions.

The request — formally outlined in the Section 6 notice issued last Friday [see “Freight railroads issue bargaining notice to unions to launch new rounds of labor talks,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 1, 2019] — will undoubtedly be met with stiff resistance from union officials who say single-person crews are a non-starter.

In the seven-page Section 6 notice, railroads call for conductors to be taken out of the locomotive cab to become a “ground-based” position. The Section 6 notice was issued by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, representing BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and the U.S. railroads owned directly or indirectly by Canadian National. The plan is similar to one that BNSF Railway negotiated with SMART-TD General Committee GO-001 back in 2014 that called for having a single-person aboard each train and a conductor in an automobile working with multiple trains on a specific territory. That proposal was later rejected by a 5-to-1 margin in a committee-wide vote.

In the new notice, the railroads argue that single-person crews are necessary for the industry to remain competitive.

“Perhaps the most glaring example of our need for modernization concerns the size and makeup of train crews,” the notice reads. “In order to take full advantage of new investments in modern technology, reduce human error and better align operational costs with other industries, railroads propose to redeploy conductors from the cab of the locomotive to ground-based positions on territories where PTC or equivalent technologies are enabled. Redeploying employees to ground-based positions in these territories will safely and more efficiently meet the industry’s operational and service requirements while providing those employees with higher quality-of-life jobs that allow more employees to spend their nights at home after shifts rather than at hotels.”

Unions counter that the push toward single-person crews is instead a way to eliminate jobs while increasing the dangers facing the employees that remain.

Earlier this fall, a coalition of railroads sued SMART-TD in federal court alleging that the union was refusing to negotiate on crew size at the national level. The union argues that crew size should be dealt with at the local level with individual union branches.

— Updated at 2:30 p.m. CST to clarify railroads involved in the Section 6 notice.

25 thoughts on “Class I roads make official their desire for one-man crews NEWSWIRE

  1. The concept all depends on MBTF (mean time between failure). I’d love to see the statistics on that as a function of train length, consist makeup, and whether DPU is used (those NS stringline incidents on Horseshoe has by all reports terrible consist makeup).

    Obviously, the lower the MBTF, the fewer roving conductors required and the better the service is. Long trains I maintain are more problematic for a lot of reasons. And MBTF increases with the number of em route “work events” also (but those are much easier to access and have a roving conductor in place for). And dispatching them to be “near where the trains are” in a given territory is also an interesting but solvable problem.

    I think radio contact in remote areas is solvable (the PTC 220MHz spectrum is overkill for what PTC needs even with IoT-style locomotive and train health telemetry flowing over it). And there is such a thing as prioritizing data traffic over channels (PTC and conductor incident VOIP coverage takes precedence over any health telemetry.

    And I also wouldn’t add terminal access for road freights to the list of responsibilities for roving conductors. Either power up the leads or have yard staff do that work expeditiously.

    Finally, there IS a competitiveness issue for railroads. And one big root cause is that truckers only pay a fraction of infrastructure costs, with zero financial risk if the “return on investment” doesn’t pan out. Another root cause is the “race to the bottom” on truckers wages. Another root cause is that their cash cow – coal – is going away. So now they have to scramble or die.

    But despite all of these points in favor of this idea, I’m aligned with the commenters who believe this is another way to extract more cash out of the business and direct it to shareholders and exec bonuses (which are tied to those short term returns). Customer service and growing the business would appear to be secondary. I don’t agree on the safety issue though, I think the railroads already have plenty of incentives to avoid very costly wrecks (but as the NS stringline incident seem to prove, execution is always a problem, automation or not).

  2. It sounds like what management wants is someone in a vehicle who can drive to a train with a breakdown. This individual would have things like knuckles, drawbars and air hoses in the vehicle.
    Now why can’t management, like the CEO and CFO be automated with AI. Then shareholders would have a completely computer run company with no human involvement, where nothing can go wrong go wrong go go wrong go wrong ¿:-)

  3. Let me ad this per roving conductors.

    There’s a lot of rail lines out in the boonies with no direct road access, at all. So the ‘roads had better get ready to hire a helicopter service to get their roving conductors out there with any kind of replacement parts like knuckles or brake hoses that might be needed.

    I wonder what that’ll cost compared the the salary of a second crewman?

  4. If the railroads are truly going to be competitive in the 21st century, when are they going to expand their marketing departments? Probably never with this current crop of suits. I hear an industry going down the drain.

  5. With driverless trucks on the horizon, it is critical for railways to remain competitive by embracing new technology for one-person crews and driverless trains. This is how shipping and operating costs would be kept low for railways.
    In the 1950s, my paediatrician told me trains of the future will not require on board engineers. That time is approaching.

  6. Despite what the techies say, driverless trucks (and cars for that matter) are still a long way off. Commenters in the know on the Trains Forum have said so repeatedly. The reliability just isn’t there yet.

    And there’s the question of whether the rest of the driving public will put up with the idea. There’s great truck drivers, good truck drivers, and so-so drivers, but I’m not sure I like the idea of a big rig creeping up on me while I look in the rear-view mirror and see no-one in the cab.

    I spent 30 years working with electronics. Electronics FAIL. For various reasons. A printed circuit board can last for 20 years or it can blow tomorrow, and you just can’t tell.

  7. Re: 737MAX proves automation is bad

    I find this argument to be quite ignorant of how the system works to begin with, and more importantly, it expresses a viewpoint that some failures in technological progress should thus be a sign that such innovation and progress should stop. There have always been failures in new technology, but the net of technological progression has ALWAYS been a net drop in safety risk and net increase in productivity and capability in the mid-to-long term.

    If we were always so concerned about these sorts of failure, we would have cancelled Apollo after the Apollo 1 disaster. But instead we fixed the problem and made ongoing progress in safety. There has only been a single fatality in flight aboard US commercial airlines since 2009. And incredible record made possible by technological advancement in flight avionics and training. MCAS is just a small setback in a large stream of ongoing improvements to airliner safety.

    We can do things with technology right now that people 10-15 years ago had no idea of. Just 12 years ago Steve Jobs took the stage at Apple and blew people’s minds with a touchscreen smartphone. In those 12 years we’ve learned to land rockets, built AI which is generally safer at driving that humans, and more is on the way. It is just a matter of time before computers will be able to operate trains more safely than humans.

  8. In addition to Wayne’s comment, we have to change knuckles in blizzards too. Just try to get a helicopter, or even a van to take a “rover” to a disabled train.

  9. For those of you complaining that one man crews is just a way of giving money to wall street, please remember that without that wall street financing the railroads would simply disappear.

    For those of you complaining that two man crews are required for safety, please remember that all safety is a compromise. The safest thing to do is not operate the train.

  10. Management has their head up where the sun don’t shine with the one man proposal on a million pound missile of a train with millions in cargo valuation. “human error” will always be of concern when humans are working, but technology isn’t without it’s flaws either. What do they propose to do when one of these one-man trains plows through a school bus full of kids, or derails on a curve into a crowd of people? Will management accept the fact that they are personally culpable for having made such a decision?

  11. Why not get rid of engineers too while we’re at at it? Certainly the technology exists to operate a road job from point A to point B remotely just like a DCC model railroad operating system scaled up a bit. The “conductor-in-a-truck” could go push a reset button on the power if the train should stop. One “engineer” in a control center could operate several trains simultaneously. Just think of the $$ that you could save! (sarcasm alert)

  12. One man operated train crews makes no sense at all to me,think of the airlines having two members in the cockpit of an airplane where there is the captain and the first officer they take turns flying the aircraft,pic or pilot in command for an outbound flight is flown by the pic or pilot in command by the captain,let’s assume a flight duration across the pond let’s say JFK in new York to heathrow airport in London,the captain flies the airplane and the first officer takes commands
    And kind instructs the first officer the checklists he obeys,now inbound flight (return flight)the first officer flies the airplane he is now the pic or pilot in command. As an example and an actual fact on one occasion the pilot in command the captain had a heart attack and the first officer flew the aircraft.the question is if there was only one crew member in the cockpit who in the world would be flying the aircraft?this is an example and factual.i as a railfan say that two man crews in the locomotive cab is sensible and logical because a second set of eyes are a good safety margin.

  13. Two miles of double-stacks and they’re worried about one conductor ruining their image on Wall Street. I remember back in the 70s, it cost $5,000 to ship one load of produce from CA to MA. Think of the revenue these monster trains generate today. This isn’t about staying competitive; it’s just pure, unadulterated greed.

  14. So they say they need this to compete with these supposed driverless trucks, (provided they even work). Okay, so let us say we give the railroads this one. The trucks that have one man crews will be at zero and the trains that have two man crews will be at 1. So each has eliminated one person, so we should be even right? WRONG. They will still try to push for the elimination of the engineer…eventually. That is why the unions need to grow a backbone and stand up to this crap. We ALL do. If you are enthusiastic about AI and automation of jobs and smart appliances and smart homes and the like, you are part of the problem.

  15. Unfortunately, the railroads are going heads up against a labor culture that says it can’t be done because “we’ve always done it that way.” The fact is that reducing the cost of labor is necessary just to attempt to stay alive in today’s competitive environment. At a time when driverless trucks and automobiles are coming on line, there is no reason to assume that railroads won’t do the same thing just to keep from going under. In fact, it makes more sense for railroads that operate on a guided and essentially closed right of way to lead in such autonomous operation. The unions are lucky that the railroads are willing to keep anybody on the payroll.

  16. “Cost Containment” is a primary fiduciary responsibility of any business management. A business has no control over revenue. But, costs are controllable. It all depends on how far you are willing to go. In all cases, “Cost Containment” (just like “efficiencies”) directly impact employees by job elimination, either yours or someone else’s. Only when the affected employees are direct customers of the company, is any employee impact usually considered. (You usually don’t want to layoff customers! (Although some companies have…!)) So for a railroad, that’s a moot point. As for viability, IIRC, one of the Australian mining railways built to AAR standards has successfully run several mile long trains with zero crew members. Thus, you have an argument for zero crew on a train. As for safety? Look at Lac Megantic. What were the penalties? All were financial. Criminal charges were laid against the train’s crew and their immediate leadership/management. No convictions and nobody went to prison. Barring the most extreme of circumstances, few states, provinces, or nations are going to put any employee let alone a member of the leadership of a major corporation behind bars, except for perhaps the most egregious of “white collar” crimes. Sort of puts out a job and tax revenue-killing “Unwelcome” mat The argument of MTBF is a valid one where lives are not at stake. But, all it takes is one failure or one “productivity” shortcut at the wrong time or place before people die. The argument about conductors not being aboard every train is a valid one. But, there should be a second operation qualified person aboard the locomotive. To sum up… Unless and until there’s a catastrophe which causes corporate heads to go behind bars for serious time for loss of life in a disaster, one-person crews will inevitably give way to crewless trains.

  17. I worked for Union Pacific Railroad for more than 20 years and the last 5 years was unloading & loading Continuous welded Rail on the entire UPRR system . I had to ride the trains when loaded with rail . Therefore I can say I saw a lot of railroad and area’s that there was not access to trackage on at least 75 % of right of way . There is places that are 20 to 30 miles between road crossings and some that are farther than that . There are Open Deck bridges that are impossible to safely cross , much less get to the problem area of a train that has separated or derailed . The roving conductor would have to walk back to his vehicle and approach the train from the opposite end . All the time wasted while doing so when a conductor on the train would know his territory and would know how to get to the problem area of the train . Walking the right of way is very dangerous and there are area’s that are extremely dangerous due to wild animals and especially in the desert area’s where I had worked that had rattle snakes bigger than my arms and they aren’t afraid of anything , much less a conductor stepping over a rock and getting bit and probably dieing before they could get help . Just a couple of examples I encountered . What about in the case of a derailment and Hazardous Chemicals released from a punctured car leaking Deadly Chemicals being blown toward the roving conductor and him inhaling said chemical and dying immediately and not being able to radio the engineer before he dies . Weather is another factor , ICE , SLEET , rain and SNOW that make the ballast and right of way almost impossible to walk on . Having worked in all these conditions and worked on so much of UPRR system I believe no one can disagree with what I’m saying . Railroad management could care less about their employees and their safety . There’s so many things that can go wrong on a train to stop it and doing away with a conductor onboard is just asking for trouble and the first person they are going to want to blame is the engineer . No matter what anyone says , the engineer has his hands full of responsibility constantly and the loss of a conductor will make his stress level skyrocket . One more thing , what is the engineer supposed to do if he has to go to the restroom if he doesn’t have a conductor , stop his train to do so . I could go on and on but I’ll shut up now and let others post their thoughts .

  18. Paul – It’s not just the MTBF that’s the issue, it’s the cost of each failure will get much worse with “roving conductors”. Rail equipment is pretty reliable. It’s been honed over 100 years to a pretty sharp point, but it is pretty outdated and “stupid”.

    One man crews are coming and are generally a good idea, but the RRs have spend some bucks up front to get ready – more than just PTC. They haven’t done that.

  19. FROM ALL THE ARTICLES I HAVE READ ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT CLASS 1 RAILROADS GOING TO ONE PERSON TRAINS IS SIMPLY THIS. IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO ONE THING IF THEY WANT TO CONTINUE DOWNSCALING EVERYTHING IN THE RAILROAD INDUSTRY THEN SIMPLY HIRE ROBOTS THAT CAN DO ALL THE WORK FOR THEM INCLUDING THE MAINTAINING OF THE RAILS, BRIDGES, CROSSINGS, LOCOMOTIVES, CARS, OHH AND YEA REPLACE ALL UPPER MANAGEMENT WITH COMPUTERS AND ROBOTS THERE NOT NEEDED ANY LONGER AS WELL.

  20. ITS LIKE THIS WHEN FINALLY THE DUM STOCKHOLDERS WAKE UP TO LATE TO THE FACT THE RAILROADS ARE HEADING STRAIGHT DOWN THE WALL STREET TUBE TO FINANCIAL DISASTER BECAUSE OF THIER SO CALLED WEALTH THEY MADE OFF THE BACKS OF THE SKILLED WORKERS IN THIS COUNTRY GOT THEM THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. LETS FACE IT WHEN THEY ARE DONE FINALLY WIPING OUT THE SKILLED WORKERS IN THIS COUNTRY THEN YOU WILL SEE THE COLLAPSE OF WALL STREET AS YOU KNOW IT. THIS IS WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO FINALLY WAKE THE BIG CORPORATIONS THE HELL UP. OHH AND THIS WILL BE THE END OF THE OVERPAID CEO’S AS WELL NOBODY AROUND TO MAKE THEM WEALTHY AS WELL.

  21. This is the first generation of railroaders that shrinking the business and in doing so eliminating job positions is a recipe for success. I hear business swirling down the drain.

  22. 1. Protect the TWO MAN CREW BILL (HR 1748 Safe Freight Act) It’s about public safety and jobs.
    2. Go to SMART-UNION.org/td
    Click on the Red button support two person crews on the right side of division home page.
    2. Enter contact info ( this is needed to direct the email to your member of congress.
    3. Click Send. The pre-drafted my essage will be sent directly to your member of congress.
    4. This effects railroad retirement, retired railroaders, current railroaders there’s even a spot for the general public to make there voice be heard. Please take action there is 175,000 conductors and 59,000 engineers that need this support not to mention public safety at risk.
    5. safety of the crews and the public must come first!

    You have all got this wrong when it come to 2 man crew verses one man
    crew. The airlines have had autopilot for years but still have two and 3 people in the cockpit. If Boeing has taught us anything technology fails. It’s all the workers do is worry about losing jobs.  Its common sense thousands of railroad workers will lose their jobs if all the railroads are allowed to go to 1 man crews. That’s an issue you need to take up with Politicians !  They claims they are creating jobs then let him do something
    about people keeping the ones they have!
    This is about safety. This is about saving lives. Not just crew lives
    but the American people as well. Don’t forget about the rule-making process that was invoked by then-FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo after an unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil ran downhill and crashed in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 49 people in 2013 that had just one man on the train! Hunter Harrison said on the record those extra set of eyes in the cab are valuable. PTC will not detect track issues
    or mechanical issues like bad order cars. Or prevent crossing accidents. So if engineers are busy pushing buttons on a screen and reading train orders his eyes are in the cab. If they remove the
    conductor, it would be counterintuitive. So in my opinion one safety system cancels out the other. Now with ptc and full crew in the cab increases the safety of of train movement. Just plain old common sense.
    Railroads preach safety every single day.
    Its in their rule books and in their advertising. Its 24 hour a day
    safety…safety….safety. Well let them put their money where their mouths are. Pay for safety. Keep 2 men in the cab.
    Just like GM shutting down 5 plants putting 15,000 people out of work and pay there CEO 22 million. CSX on the other hand lost 41% of the business once Hunter Harrison took over cutting out almost half the work force from 27893 people down to 15,362 people system wide and they paid him 385 million only to pass away 8 months later!
    With everything going automated from self check out lanes does anyone profit except share holders and CEOs!!!!
    The public has no idea what we deal with. Tell your neighbors about how
    many cars we hit and people are killed every year when they are hit by
    trains. Explain to them how the engineer is in the cab calling the dispatcher and getting 911 called. He is taking care of anything that may be wrong with the locomotive. He stays with the train. Tell them how the conductor gets down and rushes to the vehicle to see if he can
    possibly save a life. Maybe a baby is in the car and needs to be helped
    or maybe the parents can be removed and need CPR. Maybe he can comfort
    someone who is dying or in shock or screaming because they are severely
    injured . Tell them about how we hit live stock and large deer. Tell them how people love to put junk on the tracks. Shopping carts, bicycles, steel barrows, wheelchairs and even abandoned cars. Tell them about how many trees we hit a year and do extensive damage to the
    locomotive. The engineer stays with the locomotives and assess the damage and does what is necessary to radio dispatchers for help while
    the conductors gets down and removes debris and check the rest of the
    train for any damage or signs of derailment. Tell them about the
    territory that is in the middle of TIM BUCK TWO!  The places where no
    one can get to you fast unless you have a helicopter. How will they go bathroom now without two people to keep the train going down the tracks unless they have to stop not blocking crossings or take lunch. Tell them how radios don’t always work in remote locations. Telemetry drops out and communication is lost. How many times does a conductor have to go back
    and trouble shoot another unit after alarms are going off. The engineer
    keeps the train rolling the best he can while the conductor checks the
    computers and checks to see if it is loading. Tell them about the blind
    curves that only one crew member can see around when your approaching
    public crossings or trees that block signals so that only one crew
    member can see them until you get the train right on top of them. Tell
    them about wash outs from floods, and heat warped rail and fog so thick
    you cant see a foot in front of you. SO WHAT IF YOU GOT PTC!!  PTC does
    not tell you if a car in stopped on the tracks or a tree is across it
    or a person is walking in the tracks or there is 5 inches of water over
    the rail! Tell them how crew members have been attacked and some have
    even been killed by gang thugs and trespassers. A single man has no
    chance in  these situations. It is better to have someone else
    with you to keep watch when working in bad areas and ghetto rail yards.
    The list goes on and on. Tell them how the company took away the right
    of the crew members to take a power nap. One crew member is supposed to
    call stopped every 15 minutes while they are waiting on line of road. As
    long as someone is awake and doing this and paying attention there is no
    reason on god green earth while a tired crew member cant take a 20
    minute power nap. Tell them how crews are run into the ground and some
    are called out every 10 hours around the clock. They work all hours of
    the day and night and most have no weekends off. The company wont even
    let them have a power nap. What is going to happen when there is only 1
    man on the train by himself and he is just plain worn out or is sick and
    afraid to take a day off because of the companies new attendance policy
    which is just absolutely insane. People come to work sick all the time.
    Vomiting, diarrhea, fevers and the flu doesn’t stop them because they
    are in fear of losing their jobs. How is a sick man who is all by
    himself going to be able to make a full run safely and without risking
    his life or the publics when he doesn’t have his other crew member to
    help keep him alert. The engineer has many roles and duties as well as
    the conductor. There are times when something happens that it is a must
    for an engineer to be on board and ready to take instructions while the
    conductor handles the rest of the responsibilities.  There are so many
    things that go into railroading and running trains that the public
    doesn’t know a thing about. 
    THIS ONE MAN CREW IDEA IS THE MOST UNSAFE AND IRRESPONSIBLE IDEA that
    has ever been brought forward in the history of the railroad industry. 
    And for what? To save a dollar. To line someone’s pockets. To make
    someone rich. Who care who gets killed. If you think crossings are blocked now imagine if there was only one man and had to wait on someone to cut a crossing!Who care about the destruction
    to family lives. I don’t know about you but I sure do and so should every person in America!
    Also if you haven’t seen it check out this YouTube video
    https://youtu.be/atfY4tiyMz8

    ?Railroadworkersunited.org?

  23. Until a freight train has a $5B one man accident and the effect on stock prices becomes apparent will stockholders have their attention. Also what about insurance companies ? How will they assign liability ?

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