The Association of American Railroads (AAR), freight rail industry leaders and one of the nation's top regulatory experts at a hearing today with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) urged the safety regulatory agency to withdraw its proposed rule mandating two-person crews for freight railroads.
"For the freight rail industry, there is no greater priority than safety, but there are no data supporting this proposed rule and it will provide no safety benefit to railroads, their employees, or the public," said Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the AAR, in his testimony. "With no data showing that one-person operations compromise safety, there is no basis - other than anecdotal storytelling - for enacting a general prohibition on crew size reductions.
"The proposed rule is a textbook example of unnecessary regulation. In fact, while perhaps well-intentioned, the proposed rule is actually misguided and will undermine the very goal of both the FRA and the freight rail industry - making a safe rail network
Hamberger added: "While the Department of Transportation is throwing its full support behind development of autonomous vehicles as a way to improve safety on our roadways, it is backing a rulemaking for the rail industry that goes in the opposite direction and would freeze rail productivity and chill innovation."
Hamberger was joined at the hearing by Cindy Sanborn, Chief Operating Officer at CSX Transportation; Robert Babcock, Senior Vice President of Operations and Development for the Indiana Rail Road Company (INRD); David Brown, Chief Operating Officer of Genesee & Wyoming, Inc.; and John D. Graham, Dean of the Indiana School of Public and Environmental Affairs and former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Hamberger pointed out that in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FRA itself admitted it had no safety data to support the proposal. "The FRA has not provided data suggesting that one-person crew operations are less safe than multiple-person crew operations," he noted.
"We have said time and time again that the FRA should conduct a fact-based - not emotionally driven - data-gathering process," Hamberger said. "If a safety risk is identified, then rulemaking might be appropriate. But we are confident that an independent, objective analysis will conclude that no regulation is needed." Hamberger pointed out that Oliver Wyman,a leading global management consulting firm with worldwide expertise in railroad operations, provided the FRA with an analysis of data on single-crew rail operations around the world that proves railroads can safely operate with one-person crews, and have been doing so for years.
Cindy Sanborn of CSX Transportation told FRA representatives that the railroad industry has negotiated numerous reductions in crew size with its employees in the past, and the evidence shows that such reductions have been accomplished with continuous safety improvement. She noted that during the period of time that the industry's injury and accident rates have declined to record lows, crew sizes have been reduced.
Moreover, Indiana Rail Road Company's Babcock noted in his testimony that U.S. railroads using one-person crews have consistently maintained exemplary safety records. "INRD has been safely deploying one-person crews for nearly two decades, and there is no evidence that one-person operations are unsafe," he said.
In his testimony, David Brown of Genesee & Wyoming Inc. similarly noted that railroads throughout Europe and Australia have for years been safely operating with one person in the locomotive cab. Brown said that for 34 years he has been involved in the transition of crew size from as many as six crew members down to the one-person crews that now comprise the vast majority of train crews in the U.K. and Europe and other operations in the United States and Australia. During that time, Brown noted, rail safety performance has continuously and dramatically improved.
John D. Graham, who as former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs reviewed thousands of proposed federal regulations, told the FRA that its crew size proposal was "one of the analytically weakest regulatory packages" he has ever reviewed.
"There is no demonstration that crew size is a relatively significant factor in determining the number of railroad accidents, injuries and fatalities - or even near misses," Graham said. "The reader is left wondering why the agency has focused on this factor, as opposed to the many other factors related to railroad safety."
Graham also said the agency currently does not even collect information on crew size. "FRA offers no direct empirical evidence that operating with two crew members will produce better safety outcomes than operating with one crew member," Graham stated. "In fact, FRA acknowledges that its own accident database does not even contain information on the size of the crew associated with particular accidents. If it is not worthwhile for FRA to collect information on size of crew, it is hard to fathom why the agency would consider this issue to be important enough to craft a narrow, prescriptive regulation."