Proposed Crew Size Mandate Is Unsupported By Data, As Safety Agency Itself Acknowledges The Association of American Railroads (AAR) urged the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to withdraw its proposed rule mandating two-person crews on railroads.
In comments filed with the FRA, the AAR said that the proposal not only lacks any data-driven justification but could also undermine efforts to improve freight rail safety.
"There is no greater priority for the freight rail industry than safety, but this proposed rule offers no safety benefit to railroads, their employees or the public," said Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the AAR. "There is absolutely no data to support the view that a second crewmember enhances safety. This regulation is trying to solve a problem that does not exist."
In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published on March 15, the FRA acknowledged that it lacks any data to support the assertion that two-person crews are safer than one-person crews. In fact, the FRA notes that "it is possible that one-person crews have contributed to the improving safety record" of the rail industry. The NPRM also largely ignored studies provided by AAR in January 2015 that quantify the strong safety record of single-person operations, which are used all over the world.
"With no evidence that one-person operations are less safe, there is simply no basis for enacting a general prohibition on crew size reductions," Hamberger said.
Historically, the FRA has treated crew size as a labor issue to be addressed through the collective bargaining process rather than as a safety issue. By mandating crew sizes, the FRA would be creating a new economic burden for rail operators that already operate with only one crewmember, as well as those that would be prevented from reducing crew sizes in the future. The FRA's move is ironic because it comes just as the Class I railroads are in the process of implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, which is designed to override human error in the cab.
The AAR also emphasized that unnecessary rules like this may stifle future technological innovations that could make the freight rail network safer and more efficient. New safety technologies often also provide productivity and efficiency gains to the railroads that implement them, and smart regulatory policy should be designed to encourage - not inhibit - railroads from investing in those technologies.
"This proposed rule is a textbook example of unnecessary regulation, and, if implemented, would have a chilling effect on the development of new technologies that could make the world's safest transportation network even safer," Hamberger said. "While the Department of Transportation is throwing its full support behind the development of autonomous vehicles as a way to improve safety on our roadways, it is doing the opposite with our railroads."