On Tuesday, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure plans to hold subcommittee meeting on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials called Examining Freight Rail Safety. The following is a statement by the American Consumer Institute (ACI) on Congressional efforts to impose a two-person crew size.
The meeting will examine rail safety but also congressional efforts to introduce an unnecessary “crew size” rule for Class I railroads, which would require trains to have not one but two engineers. In light of significant technological improvements over the last few years, including the introduction of automatic braking systems, it is not necessary to increase the level of human staffing. While train engineers, of course, continue to play a vital role in the operation of freight, it makes little sense to make personnel adjustments given recent trends and innovations in transportation. After all, human error, rather than automation, remains one of the primary drivers of accidents.
To be clear: there is no evidence to suggest that having additional train personal would add to public safety. Indeed, a 2015 Oliver Wyman study concluded that “Single-person crews are neither novel nor untested” and “appear to be as safe as multiple-person crew operations, even on complex systems…” It is also worth noting that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has recently voiced support for allowing autonomous trucks on the nation’s highways due to similar technological advancements. Therefore, it seems foolish to want to apply a different standard for freight rail.
“We believe that the issue of public safety is paramount, but a burdensome regulatory environment that mandates crew size will do nothing to improve people’s wellbeing, but will raise the costs of shipping goods, thereby adding to today’s spiraling inflation and supply chain problems,” says ACI president, Steve Pociask.
ACI recommends that Congress think carefully about what requirements are truly necessary to protect public safety.