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Two-person crews are required on freight railroads under federal rule.

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The Federal Railroad Administration of the Transportation Department has completed a new rule mandating large freight railroads to maintain two-person crews on most routes, which is a big breakthrough for railroad safety.

After two years of consideration and increased scrutiny in the wake of a significant derailment in eastern Ohio in February 2023, this directive has been issued.

The rule answers the train unions’ long-standing worries about job security and safety. Due to labor unions’ assertion that conductors are essential to train operations, helping engineers and acting as first responders in an emergency, labor agreements have historically mandated two-person crews.

The rule, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is an essential step toward guaranteeing the safe manning of trains, especially since the sector is depending more and more on longer trains that travel greater distances.

Railroads, on the other hand, have disputed the need for these rules, contending that contract talks should set crew levels rather than government action. They contend that the evidence supporting the idea that two-person crews are intrinsically safer is lacking.

The new federal regulation, in spite of opposition from the industry, shows that safety precautions will be strengthened in the wake of tragedies such as the Ohio crash in 2023 and the Canadian Lac Megantic disaster in 2013. To avert such fatalities, legislators—among them Senator Sherrod Brown—continue to push for comprehensive train safety legislation.

The industry has frequently contested these laws in court, despite the fact that some states have independently moved to require two-person crews. The federal rule’s implementation could cause changes in the way that railroad safety regulations are interpreted as stakeholders work through the practical and legal ramifications.

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