Legislators Should Embrace Railroad Innovation, Not Hinder It

The House of Representatives will consider the massive $547 billion surface transportation bill this week. Instead of focusing on improving the use of existing infrastructure (e.g. reducing regulatory barriers), the legislation will actually increase regulatory barriers that would limit the use of existing facilities. One of the most egregious regulatory barriers in the bill is a ban on having less than two persons in a freight train locomotive cab. One freight railroad has been able reduce the number two-person locomotive crew to just one. Even passenger rail like Amtrak has reduced the number of locomotive crew members from two to one. This is because accidents are more likely to result in death than freight rail. Despite the claims, evidence does not support the claim that two-person crews are safer than one-person ones. For decades, one-person crews have operated trains safely all over the globe, especially Europe. The Federal Railroad Administration acknowledged in a 2016 proposal rule that would have required a minimum of two-person crews. It also admitted that it could not provide reliable or conclusive statistics that single-person crews are more or less safe than multi-person crews. The agency withdrew its proposed rule in 2019, explaining that it still believes this statement today. It explained that the agency does not believe that regulation of train crew staffing at this point is necessary or appropriate. Positive Train Control technology makes it impossible to have a minimum of two people. This technology is similar to automatic avoidance systems in cars and can take action, such as slowing down trains, to prevent them from colliding. It is also important to note that while crew sizes have decreased over the years rail safety has improved. The new bill, however, includes a provision that would ban one-person crews from freight trains. There are limited exceptions. This legislation ignores all evidence and innovations in the railroad industry. This regulation seems to be unjustified. However, it's not clear if this regulatory scheme will achieve its goal. Even though freight railroads may reduce the number of locomotive crew members from two to one it doesn't mean that a particular position will be lost. The largest railroads may simply want to redeploy the locomotive conductor into a ground-based role. However, such a regulatory move would be both shortsighted and inexcusable. Congress should not be in the business to dictate staffing decisions for private railroads operating on privately-owned infrastructure. If legislators try to regulate a particular type of job, they would hinder the innovation and technology that could benefit the railroad industry, its customers and its employees. Protecting one type of job today will likely limit railroads' ability to invest in new jobs and create more. This is also limiting railroads' ability to move freight more efficiently and creating stable supply chains. Legislators should be aware of this in light of the pandemic. When Congress is considering our nation's infrastructure, it should consider how government at all levels (federal and state) hinders the development of new infrastructure or best utilize existing infrastructure. Congress should eliminate regulations that are based on a misguided attempt to create a protectionist scheme to protect a particular job, and not create them. Do you have a comment about this article? Send us an email at [email protected] with your comments. We may publish them in our We Hear You section. Include the URL of the article or the headline, along with your name and the town/state.


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