Four more state legislatures introduce train crew bills

A photograph of a person at a driving console.

Virginia, Missouri, New York and Wyoming state legislators are considering whether to require freight trains to have a minimum train crew size, which they say would make operations safer.

In Virginia, the debate over crew size has been steadily progressing through the General Assembly. On Jan. 22, the House of Delegates passed a bill on a 61-31 vote, with one abstention, requiring a minimum train crew size. The bill, HB 440, is now in the Senate, where it has been referred to committee. Virginia Delegate and Democrat Steve Heretick, who represents an area that includes portions of Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake, introduced the bill.

In other states, the bills addressing train crew size have just been introduced. New York State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy earlier this month introduced Senate Bill S7151, which would require Class I and Class II railroads operating in the state to have a crew size of no less than two people. New York State Assemblyman William Magnarelli introduced similar legislation, A9090, in the State Assembly.

Both Kennedy and Magnarelli are Democrats and chairs for the Committee on Transportation for their respective legislative chambers.

“This bill is intended to protect not only the public, but railroad workers as well. In recent years, new technology has made railroads safer; however nothing can replace an extra set of eyes and ears when it comes to public safety,” reads a justification of Senate Bill S7151. “It is nearly impossible for a single operator in an emergency situation to properly assess the situation, secure the train, and notify police, fire and other necessary officials all at once.”

The bill’s justification continues, “Currently, the federal government and other states are working on ways to increase railroad safety, and at this point, nearly 20 states have introduced or enacted minimum crew legislation. Requiring two-person crews is a straightforward way of ensuring the safety of our railways here in New York State.”

Both bills are in committee.

In Wyoming, Democratic Rep. Stan Blake, who is also a train conductor, introduced HB0079, which would require trains and light engines operating within the state to have at least two crew members.

A similar bill in 2019 failed.

In Missouri, Republican Rep. Jim Neely introduced HB 2229, which also would require a train crew of at least two people.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, Democrats’ efforts to override a May 2019 veto by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan were thwarted over reported concerns that an override would discourage CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) from helping to fund an expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, according to Capital News Service.

State efforts to require minimum train crew sizes come amid ongoing debate at the federal level on the issue. Under former President Barack Obama, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) had begun a notice of proposed rulemaking on train crew size.

But last May, the agency withdrew the proposed rule and issued an order declaring that states cannot mandate a minimum crew size. FRA said the railroads have maintained a strong safety record in the absence of regulation and that regulating train crew staffing is not necessary or appropriate for rail operations to be conducted safely at this time. The agency also said a crew staffing rule would have posed an unnecessary obstacle to future innovation in the rail industry, whose crew staffing matters have been well-served by the Railway Labor Act since 1926.

But several states had enacted laws requiring a minimum train crew size, and those states have sued FRA in the federal court system. State lawmakers are also continuing to introduce legislation on the issue.

Meanwhile, the issue of crew size is also being carried into contract negotiations between the rail unions and the freight railroads. Those negotiations began last November. The Association of American Railroads has said the issue of crew size is best suited for discussion during labor negotiations.