The Federal Railroad Administration may not be as well known as other agencies driving the Obama Administration’s regulatory agenda, but it appears to have elevated its profile through a newly proposed rule.
At issue is a regulation regarding crew size proposed in March and set for public hearing July 15. The FRA, an agency within the Department of Transportation, is calling on the freight rail industry to have at least a two-man crew for all trains, but for passenger rail, that second crew member can be the person checking tickets.
Critics from the freight rail industry, as well as conservative commentators, have fired back at the rule as a gift to unions that does nothing to improve safety.
“Under the guise of safety, the FRA would require railroads to run every train with at least a two-person crew unless special permission is granted based on unspecified criteria,” explains Edward Hamberger, CEO of the Association of American Railroads, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Crew size has never before been considered a matter for safety regulation, and instead has been addressed between the railroads and their employees under collective bargaining.”
“It effectively freezes the evolution of railroad operations that might affect crew size,” Hamberger concludes. The industry has spent billions of dollars to develop technologies that automate safety features.
InsideSources recently hosted an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Association of American Railroads. A study unveiled by the industry association found that the seven largest railroads “created $274 billion in economic activity, generated nearly $33 billion in state and federal tax revenues and supported nearly 1.5 million jobs nationally in 2014.” Industry groups argue the rule would have a negative economic impact and there is no statistical evidence to show two-person crews would enhance safety.
Conservative columnist Brian McNicoll, a former communications aide on the House Oversight Committee, wrote last week for Townhall.com, arguing, “Safety is not the issue. The agency has freely admitted it ‘cannot provide reliable or conclusive statistical data to suggest whether one-person crew operations are generally safer or less safe than multiple-person crew operations.’”
“Taxpayer-funded bureaucrats should not be able to operate in back rooms, neglecting their obligations to regulate wisely. But that is exactly what’s happening in this case,” Drew Johnson, senior scholar with the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, tells InsideSources.
The FRA has pushed back hard against criticism of the proposed rule. “If the railroad industry is looking for ways to innovate, it can start by implementing [Positive Train Control] as quickly as possible and upgrading the brake system technology on crude oil trains that dates back to the Civil War era,” FRA spokesman Matthew Lehner told Politico.
Union leaders support the rule from the FRA. “The safety arguments support a two-person crew standard. The public supports a two-person crew standard. Now it is time for our government to bar most one-person train operations,” wrote representatives of two unions in an op-ed for The Hill.
Liberals have also been highly critical of the freight rail industry in recent years. President Obama was recently heckled by protesters wishing to block oil train shipments.
The two sides are expected to clash at the July 15 hearing.