Louisville lawmaker pushes for two-person freight train crews in - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville lawmaker pushes for two-person freight train crews in Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A state lawmaker from Jefferson County once again is pushing for freight trains traveling through Kentucky to have at least two crew members on board.

Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Fairdale, has pre-filed a bill for the 2017 General Assembly that would set minimum staffing levels for trains and light engines that carry freight loads. He sponsored a similar measure that stalled in a House committee this year.

Donohue, who faces Republican Mark Wilson in the November election, said he wants to “start the conversation” about rail safety, especially as some trains get longer and rail traffic shifts in the Louisville area due to a line upgrade in Indiana.

“It’s a safety issue, it’s a first responder issue,” Donohue said.

CSX Corp. has been running some freight trains that are more than two miles long through parts of Kentucky, according to documents reviewed by WDRB News. The railroad declined to discuss specific trains, but acknowledged that it is increasing “train lengths in many areas of the network, including routes through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.”

Donohue said his bill is partly in response to a 2013 accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people when an unattended crude oil train operated by a one-person crew rolled down a hill and derailed.

The legislation proposes initial fines between $250 and $1,000 and maximum penalties up to $10,000 for three or more violations.

And it comes as railroads work to add technology called “positive train control,” which would monitor speed and track signals and activate brakes if a collision is imminent. The goal is to prevent accidents that involve operator error, such as excessive speed. 

Some rail-worker unions fear that railroads will use the new technology to ultimately reduce the size of their crews.  

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers unions have pushed for legislation for two-person crews in other states. They championed a law in California that took effect this year.

(Political action committees for the two organizations have donated $2,300 to Donohue’s campaigns for the Kentucky House since 2010.)

The groups also support a proposal by Federal Railroad Administration to make two-member crews mandatory. In June, they said in a joint statement that single-person crews are unsafe and “must be prohibited.”

“A two-person minimum crew size is needed in light of public statements by the freight rail carriers that they want to implement one-person operations and will continue to pursue this dangerous course in collective bargaining,” they said.

The Association of American Railroads has opposed the rule. In prepared remarks at a Railroad Administration hearing this summer, association president Edward R. Hemberger called it a “textbook example of unnecessary regulation.”

"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," he said.

CSX uses two-person crews on all of its “mainline revenue” trains, spokeswoman Laura Phelps said in a statement. She said the railroad company is against any mandatory crew-size rule, noting that future technology may “promote different practices over time.”

“Crew size should be governed by what is required to provide safe, efficient service; the issue has historically been addressed within the collective bargaining process,” she said.

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