IAFF backs new federal rule mandates two-person train crews to enhance safety

April 3, 2024

USDOT introduces two-person crew requirement for freight trains

On April 2, 2024, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the implementation of a new federal regulation requiring all major freight railroads to operate with a minimum of two crew members on board.

This rule aims to address safety concerns by ensuring that large freight trains, which can extend over three miles in length, are adequately staffed.

“Common sense tells us that large freight trains, some of which can be over three miles long, should have at least two crew members on board – and now there’s a federal regulation in place to ensure trains are safely staffed,” Buttigieg stated.

The decision to implement this rule followed the consideration of over 13,500 written comments and testimonies from communities and railroad workers by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

FRA Administrator Amit Bose emphasized that the feedback highlighted significant safety concerns that railroads had not successfully addressed independently.

“The volume of comments from rail workers and their families, as well as comments from the general public impacted by long trains and other issues, raised legitimate safety concerns that railroads, on their own, have not been able to adequately address,” Bose remarked.

Rail safety and emergency response

The rule’s introduction was significantly motivated by the safety of firefighters and first responders to rail emergencies.

David Hoagland, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 36, underscored the importance of crew presence in emergency situations.

Hoagland said: “Trains are essential to our national economy and provide critical freight and passenger transportation in all 50 states, but they can also pose a severe hazard when they are understaffed and poorly prepared for emergencies.

“Quick decisions during emergencies depend on crew presence.”

The call for enhanced rail safety has been amplified by incidents such as the 53-car derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, early in 2023.

Following this event and over 1,500 derailments since then, the need for a mandated two-person crew has been described as a ‘critical safety feature’ by stakeholders.

Jeremy Ferguson, President of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART), highlighted the importance of safety for communities and first responders.

“When I talk about safety, I talk about the safety of our communities, I talk about the safety of our first responders, including our firefighters that are here with us today,” Ferguson said.

Future safety initiatives and congressional support

Secretary Buttigieg also emphasized the role of President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in funding this initiative and called for further congressional support for railway safety measures.

“We are going to keep pressing Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act, and that’s the bill that was introduced by bipartisan leaders in the wake of the East Palestine incident,” Buttigieg noted, underscoring the critical stakes of transportation system safety.

The IAFF is collaborating with the USDOT and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ensure that members can access the necessary training for responding to hazardous materials incidents and other emergencies, further reinforcing the commitment to rail safety.

FSJA Comment

The introduction of the two-person crew rule by the USDOT signifies a proactive approach to enhancing rail safety across the United States.

By requiring a second crew member on all freight trains, the regulation aims to improve the overall safety and efficacy of emergency response to rail incidents.

This measure, rooted in the feedback from rail workers, their families, and the public, addresses longstanding concerns over rail safety and the adequacy of current staffing levels.

As rail transportation continues to play a crucial role in the national economy and the movement of goods across states, the emphasis on safety is paramount.

The continued efforts to secure congressional support for additional safety initiatives highlight the ongoing commitment to safeguarding the lives of those directly involved in rail operations and the communities and first responders who face the immediate impacts of rail emergencies.

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