2-person minimum crew now mandated on all freight trains

WASHINGTON — New regulations were just approved Tuesday, requiring a two-person minimum crew on all freight trains. The announcement comes from the Biden-Harris Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

This comes just over a year after a train hauling hazardous materials, including carcinogenic vinyl chloride derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, putting a national spotlight on rail safety.

Unions representing rail workers say this is long overdue. They have argued that a two-person crew is necessary to ensure safety. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg spoke publicly Tuesday, saying these minimum staffing requirements are especially important for long trains. Some of those trains are three miles in length - a story 11 Investigates has covered extensively in the year since the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

“For perspective, if you put the Empire State Building on its side then added 11 more Empire State buildings, that’s how big some of these trains would be, and they want to operate that with one person,” Secretary Buttigieg said.  “It defies common sense and that changes today.”

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) says the volume of comments from rail workers, their families and the general public raised legitimate safety concerns that railroads alone have not been able to adequately address.

Congressman Chris Deluzio, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s 17th district, including Beaver County and part of Allegheny County, says locally this will have a huge impact. Rep. Deluzio says 95% of his constituents live within five miles of freight rail tracks. He says Congress must do more, including passing The Railway Safety Act, a bill he introduced in March 2023, in the wake of the East Palestine disaster.  The Railway Safety Act is the House companion bill to the Senate bill introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The Association of American Railroads, an industry trade group representing major freight railroads, expressed frustration saying:

“The Federal Railroad Administration is doubling down on an unfounded and unnecessary regulation that has no proven connection to rail safety.”

There is an exception to the two-person crew for smaller railroads that do not pose a risk to the safety of the crew or communities they roll through, as long as they notify the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) and comply with federal safety standards.

This is new rule takes effect 60 days after being entered into the Federal Register.

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