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Reps. Sheehy, Lepore-Hagan provide sponsor testimony on rail worker safety bill

Legislation would require two-person crews on freight trains
April 13, 2021
Michael Sheehy News

COLUMBUS- State Reps. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) and Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) today provided sponsor testimony before the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee on House Bill (HB) 194, legislation requiring freight train operating crews to consist of at least two people.

“In my 40 years of experience in the rail industry, I have learned to never take safety for granted. I witnessed many tragic accidents that were due to poor timing or simple equipment failure,” said Rep. Sheehy. “Two alert and quick-thinking crew members are essential to avoid distractions, effectively deal with emergencies and safely operate the train to protect the safety of rail workers and the public.”

The lawmakers say passage of the bill will help cut down on operator fatigue, reduce the likelihood of fatal accidents, and improve the safety of rail workers and the general public.

“As the wife of a 50-year locomotive engineer, I worry constantly about him coming home safely. This is a dangerous job,” said Lepore-Hagan. “Maintaining two-person crews on all freight trains will cut down on accidents caused by mental fatigue and can save lives. We need to support this legislation so crew members, their loved ones, and the community at large can breathe a little easier knowing everyone is safer.”

The two-person crew legislation has been introduced in several General Assemblies, receiving several committee hearings but never making it to the governor’s desk despite widespread, bipartisan support. It was first introduced in the 131st General Assembly in response to several train accidents involving one person crew, including the Lac-Megantic tragedy – considered one of the worst rail disasters in Canadian history, destroying a town center and killing 47 people. 

Furthermore, a recent 9th Circuit ruling in favor of labor unions representing rail workers and personnel, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Association of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART), in TRANSP. DIV. OF INT’L ASS’N-SMART V. FRA affirmed the two-person crew safety practice after an order by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) attempted to adopt a nationwide maximum one-person crew rule and preempt any state laws concerning that subject matter.

In its ruling, the 9th circuit found the FRA Order to be “arbitrary and capricious” and that the FRA’s basis for the order – that two-member crews were less safe than one-person crews – “did not withstand scrutiny.” Finally, the court found the FRA’s explanation that similar safety objectives could be achieved with fewer personnel lacking, going as far as to say that it was “not clear there is a sound factual basis for the Order’s suggestion that two-member crews are less safe than one-person crews,” and that it failed to address multiple safety concerns.  

HB 194 awaits further hearings in the House Transportation Committee.