FRA will continue to push two-person crew rule, top safety official says

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FRA
NEW YORK — The Federal Railroad Administration will continue to move forward with its proposed rule requiring two-person locomotive crews despite the changing political climate in Washington and mounting criticism from the rail industry.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to reduce government regulations. But elections don’t change the FRA’s mission of improving safety, Robert Lauby, the FRA’s chief safety officer, said at a conference on Friday morning.

“Safety isn’t a partisan issue,” Lauby says.

This week, BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose told Trains that if the FRA imposes a rule requiring trains to be staffed by two crew members, the railway will sue the Department of Transportation – and win.

“The drafts we’ve seen on the rule don’t meet the giggle test of cost-benefit analysis,” Rose says.

The FRA “has a basic disagreement with where Matt’s coming from,” Lauby says in an interview.

The two-person mandate would not prohibit railroads from seeking exemptions if they want to reduce crew size to one person — or eventually to full automation without a crew aboard, Lauby says.

“We want to be ahead of the curve as railroads move toward one and zero” people in the cab, Lauby says.

The proposed rule would allow the FRA to have a seat at the table when railroads negotiate crew size with labor unions. The agency wants to be able to address any safety issues that may arise from one-person crews, such as how a railroad would respond to blocked grade crossings or other issues, Lauby says.

The FRA could rule on exemption requests within 120 days, he added.

Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, told Trains that he questioned whether the FRA would be able to meet a self-imposed 120-day deadline. The AAR hopes to be able to kill the proposal when the Office of Management and Budget takes up the matter as part of the review process.

Railroads say the FRA lacks the data to support its conclusion that having two people in the cab is safer than having just one person in the locomotive.

“We’ll work with the current White House to show that the cost-benefit analysis won’t work,” Rose told Trains. “And if the rule goes through anyway, we have the right to sue. And we will win.”

The proposed rule comes at the same time that the transportation department is encouraging the development of self-driving trucks. Technology is also under development that would allow the “platooning” of trucks. In this scenario, one driver would control several self-driving rigs that would follow closely behind the lead truck, saving both fuel and labor costs.

BNSF in 2015 hoped to win labor concessions in the Pacific Northwest that would have permitted just one person in the cab on certain through trains, with a master conductor supervising several trains simultaneously from a company vehicle. Labor unions squashed the idea.

In 2017, the FRA will continue to focus on the deployment of positive train control, crew sleep/rest issues, and its proposed rule requiring electronic braking systems, Lauby says.

Lauby was an invited speaker at the 2016 Rail Trends conference in New York City hosted by Anthony B. Hatch of ABH Consulting and Progressive Railroading magazine.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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