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Senator introduces two-person crew bill; cites 2013 oil train crash NEWSWIRE

By Justin Franz | January 31, 2018

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has introduced the Safe Freight Act in the Senate today in an effort to require two-person crews aboard all freight trains in the United States. The bill is a companion to a piece of legislation previously introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

Two-person crew bills have been introduced a number of times in recent years, but have rarely made it to a vote, despite some bipartisan support. The Safe Freight Act has five cosponsors in the Senate and the House version has 74 bipartisan cosponsors.

In a news release, Heitkamp said that the BNSF Railway oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. in 2013 is what inspired her to introduce the legislation.

“When a disaster like the Casselton derailment sends shockwaves through our communities, we must do everything we can to prevent accidents and improve our ability to respond in the future,” Heitkamp said. “After the Casselton derailment, it was clear that having two crewmembers on board the train made all the difference to prevent the fire from escalating and threatening those living nearby.”

Unions quickly came out in support of the legislation.

“We are very pleased that Sen. Heitkamp has introduced this vital rail safety legislation. said John Risch, National Legislative Director of SMART Transportation Division. “We don’t fly passenger planes in America with only one pilot, and trains are no different. The only safe way to operate a train is with a minimum of two crew members.”

Although the legislation has languished in Congress, Young told Trains News Wire in 2017 that he was slowly but surely educating his colleagues on the matter. He called it “common sense” legislation.

The Association of American Railroads has previously spoken out against laws requiring two people aboard freight trains, adding that there is no evidence that the presence of a second person increases safety.

16 thoughts on “Senator introduces two-person crew bill; cites 2013 oil train crash NEWSWIRE

  1. The second person in the cab of the AMTRAK engine involved in the derailment in Washington state didn’t seem to make a difference.

  2. I seldom agree with anything a Democratic Senator or representative wants to push but this one just makes good sense. If you’re an engineer on one of these mile long freights out in the middle of nowhere when something goes wrong, it’s always a good idea to have another body along to help out/walk the train/replace a broken knuckle, or just help keep you awake because sometimes train handling/operation can be boring as well as dangerous. Also, there should always be someone in the cab to maintain safety.

  3. This one of those “Whose side are you on deals” IMHO. It seems that the railroad managements would be satisfied with only an Engineer (and maybe, that inward pointing camera?). The Unions, not so much..( in the camp of more jobs in the cab(?).
    Personally, If I had to be in one spot for a potential (16hr. shift?) I would think that there would be issues of time management, and those other sorts of ‘railroad related issues’ (?). Until they invent the robot who would be there to ‘help’ the engineer….I’d think it would be no argument about the need to have two in the locomotive cab?

  4. Meanwhile, trucks are moving towards driver-less operations. This won’t end well for railroads, they are about to be priced out of existence.

  5. Having worked in the railroad industry and am still doing work for many companies, the suggested requirement for a second person in the cab has little to do with a 10,000 foot train, it is much more complex than that. For example, a person in a vehicle would generally be able to help much more during an incident, especially toward the center or rear of the train. I’ve been involved a number of times where I responded to a train issue and got there faster by car than the crew did on foot. I’ve run shortlines where the conductor worked out of a vehicle to speed switching, and so that there was always a vehicle to run for an extra part or to get to the other end of a train in a hurry or emergency. Therefore, one size doesn’t fit all situations.

    However, that is not the real issue here. It is the imbalance in safety concern and regulation between various transportation modes.

    The excuse given for a second person on a train is safety. Railroads generally operate on right-of-ways that are isolated to only their use except at grade crossings. Yes, a second person can be a help at times. However, trucks operate on open right-of-ways, for the entire length of the road, with other vehicles where their actions greatly impact the general public, drivers, pedestrians, etc. Notice that here driverless vehicles are being promoted by the same people that say a minimum of two people should be required for the safe operation of a train. This certainly conflicts with their safety message.

    When you look at the push for driverless trucks, much of it comes from the highway lobby (government and non-government) and the technology lobby. It is recognized that the technology could greatly lower the cost of operating trucks, a major justification for various levels of government to spend a great deal of money helping the technology be developed. However, when it comes to a similar technology – PTC – railroads are required to make the investment and then there are efforts to prevent any economic advantage gained from the use of the system.

    It is very clear to see that if a second person should be required on a train to deal with something that rarely happens, the idea of having no one on a truck to deal with much more frequent events seems to be an issue. When you look at the news and the website of the sponsors of the required two-person train crews, I could find none of them who pushed against driverless trucks, or called for a minimum number of drivers on a truck. There may be a few, but none came up in a 15-minute internet search. Again, if it was truly a safety issue, you would see similar calls for staffing for all modes of transportation.

  6. Yes, I’m all for safety at whatever the cost. The safest way to operate a train is not from the US Senate in Washington, but from the railroad itself. Professional train crews, railroad operations supervisors, railroad risk managers, and underwriters of liability insurance, can decide how many crew it takes to operate a train. By the way, the good Senator should know the world is changing. Her own state’s BNSF could tell her that it’s not the number of men and women in the locomotive cab, it’s the entirety of the effort including crew in pickup trucks on nearby highways, dispatchers in North Fort Worth (Texas), etc.,

  7. I wish this legislation were about safety, but it’s not. It’s about protecting jobs because the unions see what could happen with PTC. This won’t end well for the railroads or the unions, because driverless trucks — imagine one driver in a tractor/trailer with four robotics tractor/trailers behind him — will eat the railroads’ lunch. I want jobs and good wages for T&E crews, but again, this won’t end well.

  8. Show me the science. I don’t actually know which is safer. We’ve had high profile accidents with just on engineer in the cab. And we’ve had big accidents with two crew members in the cab… and at least one where both crew members likely fell asleep…

    A full accounting of which is safer should take into account traffic on the margins of cost that might be diverted to the roads—and whether any safety gains (if any) of 2 person crews are offset by more road accidents…

  9. Here in Alaska I’ve flown on plenty of planes with just one pilot… this includes scheduled commercial flights and charter flights. So the flight statement is factually incorrect.

  10. Whenever a legislator labels legislation as “common sense” beware! Railroads have always been required to operate with one hand tied behind their backs in an effort to compete in the marketplace. I’m not an expert in either operations or safety, but I can see a future where the trucking industry starts to field driverless trucks and nearly zeros out it’s labor costs while the railroads are required to maintain labor intensive two man crews. Those same “common sense” legislators will have little problem with that. Or take the airline industry. The military was the first to field large numbers of airplanes. Then they pioneered use of jet engines. Now they are using drones in more and more areas. The airlines have always picked up on these things in time. Only a fool would say pilotless aircraft are not in the future for airline use. I’m betting those “common sense” legislators will favor that as well. But they’ll continue to insist that trains be operated by two crew members.

  11. If I recall correctly, the accident at Casselton, ND, occurred when some cars in a westbound grain train derailed directly in front of (or into) an eastbound crude oil train. No matter how many people might have been in the cabs of both trains, nobody would have been in a position to prevent that. As far as containment of the ensuing inferno, again there is little if anything that crewmembers on either train could have done to mitigate its spread. Especially as this bill is being introduced about 4-1/2 years after the incident, this is little more than political grandstanding, and – as some have more eloquently posted – listening to the unions’ crying over loss of jobs.

  12. Listen folks, these driverless trucks being pushed is going to be a disaster. Imagine the carnage when one or more goes out of control. Unions have nothing to do with it as most truckers out there now are not teamsters. They are steering wheels holders. It will not happen in our lifetime so don’t worry about it too much.

  13. One person operation is pretty common now in today’s transportation world. We see that not only in trains but some short and small planes and trips, trucks and even ships and boats. This is fine when things are running smoothly and the operator is healthy and alert. However when that one person suffers a heart attack or a seizure or some other life threating attack , then what ? Most equipment don’t have a system or as the New York transit system has “dead man’s control” that brings the train to a stop. Imagine a train or even road vehicles
    like trucks careening down the track or road with a dead or unconscious operator and nobody else in the cab to
    bring the the train to a stop or a system built in that would automatically bring it to a halt once the operator’s hands slip off the controls. If you want to expand upon the one person operating concept, fine but there will be a need to either incorporate or create a system that canbring the operating vehicle to a stop in the event
    of an operator being incapacitated. As an example of the dangers of one person operation. Here in New York in 2003 there was a horrific accident of the Staten Island Ferry crashing into a concrete pier ripping the ferry open on its side resulting in 11 people getting killed. This happened because the captain left the pilothouse and there was only one man steering the ferry the first mate who blacked out due to his forgetting to take his blood pressure medicine creating a dangerous situation where he lost control of the ferry. When he came to, it was too late. Had there been another person in the pilothouse, this could have been prevented. Now as a result the law requires three people to be in the pilot house at all times upon docking

    So whether its a computerized set of eyes or a another human, a safe dependable system will sitill have to be employed in any operating vehicle

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