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Pictured: BLET VP & NLR Vince Verna during a DOT press conference announcing the two-person crew regulation on April 2. In the background, from left, is David Hoagland, President, Washington D.C. Firefighters Association, IAFF, Local 36, and Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation. Photo by Fred Nye, Teamsters

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced its long-awaited two-person crew rule for most passenger and freight trains on April 2, a step forward for safety in the railroad industry. BLET had pushed for the rule against fierce opposition from the railroads’ trade group, the Association of American Railroads.

“As trains, many carrying hazardous material, have grown longer, crews should not be getting smaller,” BLET National President Eddie Hall told the Associated Press.

Joining Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and FRA Administrator Amit Bose at the announcement of the new staffing rule was BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative Vince Verna. Verna told the audience of government leaders, railroaders and the media, “The work that a two person crew performs is critical. I know it’s safer.”  In his remarks, Verna criticized industry lobbyists who opposed the regulation. “Teamwork with a two-person train crew has a real impact. And saying it doesn’t is either ignorant, misleading, or dangerous. Usually all three.” He also countered the industry’s position that no data exists to prove two crew members are safer than one. “Contained within all the railroads’ improving safety statistics is an operating crew with at least two people,” Verna said. “Without safety, the record profits will stop.”

A second crew member performs important safety functions that could be lost when reducing crew size to a single person. Administrator Bose said: “Today’s final rule acknowledges the important role both crew members play in the safe operations of trains, and it comes at a time when the latest annual data reflects some troubling trends that demonstrate the need to improve safety. FRA is taking proactive steps to protect the public, workers, and communities where trains operate across the country.”

The final rule announced this week codifies train crew staffing rules at a federal level, ensuring that freight and passenger rail operations are governed by consistent safety rules in all states. This is an on-going issue as New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado, among others, have recently considered or passed legislation to require two-person train crews.

In finalizing the rule, FRA reviewed over 13,500 written comments received during a 146-day public comment period — in addition to the testimony from a one-day public hearing. During the April 2 press conference, Administrator Bose said about 99% of those comments were in favor of a two-person crew minimum.

“The FRA rule, while a step in the right direction is not the last word,” said BLET First Vice President Mark Wallace. “We need to continue to push for legislation on safe staffing and against railroads that seek waivers from best practices or want to replace people with tech products that are poor substitutes for experienced professionals.”

The final rule will become effective in 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which will be on or around June 2, 2024. The rule can be viewed here.

Click here for a video of VP Verna speaking at the April 2 press conference.

Photo gallery of the April 2 press conference.