Efforts to require at least two-person crews, including via regulation, lack a safety justification; ignore the decades of safe and successful use of single-person crews at some U.S. freight railroads and in passenger and freight rail systems throughout the world; upend meaningful collective bargaining; and undermine the rail industry’s ability to compete against less climate-friendly forms of transportation.

Existing regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements. For Class I railroads, recent industry practice has been to have two-person crews (a certified locomotive engineer and a certified conductor) in the locomotive cab for most over-the-road mainline operations. However, some non-Class I railroads have long operated with one person in the locomotive cab, and thousands of Amtrak and commuter passenger trains, carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers, operate every day with just one person in the locomotive cab.

Over the last 15 years, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and other safety regulators have extensively evaluated the crew size issue. They have never found any data showing two-person crews are safer than one-person crews:

  • In 2009, the FRA stated there was “no factual evidence to support [a] prohibition against one-person crew operations.”
  • In 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that “There is insufficient data to demonstrate that accidents are avoided by having a second qualified person in the cab. The NTSB has investigated numerous accidents in which both qualified individuals in a two-person crew made mistakes and failed to avoid an accident.”
  • In 2016, the FRA stated that it could not “provide reliable or conclusive statistical data to suggest whether one-person crew operations are generally safer or less safe than multiple-person crew operations.”
  • In 2019, the FRA concluded that “Accident/incident data does not support a train crew staffing regulation.”

Crew staffing — the number of persons in the cab of a locomotive — has always been established through collective bargaining, a longstanding process used by railroads and rail labor organizations to negotiate wages, benefits and work rules. Railroads believe crew staffing issues should continue to be addressed in the collective bargaining process. Railroads are committed to good faith negotiations with the rail labor organizations. The railroads and unions are best positioned to balance the complex competing interests underlying the debate over crew size, including the purported safety concerns the unions have routinely raised as a reason for resisting any railroad staffing changes prompted by improvements in technology.

Railroad safety has dramatically improved in recent decades due to freight rail’s massive investments in infrastructure and technology. Freight railroad crew sizes have been reduced from five to three to two people pursuant to collective bargaining agreements with labor unions under the procedures outlined in the Railway Labor Act. These reductions have coincided with technological improvements that have improved safety and reduced incidents caused by human error.

Recent technological advancements present a new opportunity for railroads to safely and effectively manage railroad operations while deploying conductors from ground-based positions. This change is expected to improve efficiencies in railroad operations, but it also has the potential to improve scheduling predictability because ground-based conductors would typically work regular shifts and be able to return home at the end of their shifts. However, regulations that mandate crew size are blunt instruments that impede the ability of the railroads and unions to resolve the complex issues surrounding staffing and scheduling predictability in a way that is in the interest of the parties to the collective bargaining process.

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