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Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 2021

At first glance, the casual observer from outside of the rail industry is prone to say that single employee train operation sounds dangerous. “What if the engineer has a heart attack?” is an often heard question. And while this question has merit, there are many other and far more complex and unanswered questions about just how single employee train operations could be accomplished safely and efficiently for the train crew, the railroad and the general public. How will the train make a back-up move? What happens when the train hits a vehicle or pedestrian? How will the train crew member deal with “bad-order” equipment in his/her train, or make pick-ups and set-outs en route? What about job briefings and calling signals, copying mandatory directives and reminders of slow orders? These are just some questions that we take up in this article.

Remote Control and “Utility Conductors”

In recent years, the Class I rail carriers have been biding their time, slowly but surely inserting language into recent contracts with both unions of the operating crafts that will facilitate their schemes to run over the road trains with a lone employee. They have made arrangements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET) to allow the BLET represented crew member to make use remote controlled locomotives. With this scenario, the lone operator would strap on a belt pack, dismount from the locomotive, and run the locomotive by remote control operation (RCO) using radio control from the ground. And the carriers have also made deals with the United Transportation Union (UTU) to allow for “utility conductors”; i.e. a conductor who can “attach” to one or more over-the-road trains during the course of a single tour of duty. Between the two arrangements, the rail carriers apparently believe they can safely and efficiently operate road trains with just one employee aboard as opposed to the current standard of two. We disagree.

Train Cars Carrying Undocumented Hazardous Materials Pose Risks

By Minnesota Public Radio News - Prarie Business, September 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At least 18 times in the past three years BNSF Railway freight trains rolled west out of Minneapolis pulling cars filled with hazardous chemicals that were not on the trains’ official cargo list, according to train crew complaints.

That’s contrary to federal regulation because in case of an accident, local firefighters can be left in the dark, unable to take quick action to protect vulnerable residents.

In one case, a train traveled more than 20 miles through the western suburbs with six carloads of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic corrosive gas used as a farm fertilizer, before the train crew knew the chemical was on the train, a complaint said. In another, a complaint said a train traveled about 90 miles west to Willmar before its cargo list — called a manifest — was corrected to show an extra car of ammonia.

The complaints were filed with the Federal Railroad Administration, the federal agency that regulates railroads, and they provide a snapshot of one rail line across Minnesota, a BNSF Railway line from Minneapolis to Willmar. BNSF is the largest rail operator in Minnesota. Provided to MPR News by railroad union members, they are evidence of a problem the FRA said poses “unreasonable risks to health, safety and property.”

Hauling hazardous material without proper documentation is a problem federal officials have been aware of for years. When federal inspectors checked manifests of all rail haulers in Minnesota over a three-year period, one in five contained inaccurate information about cars hauling hazardous materials, according to FRA records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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