Public concern regarding railway safety has recently been on the rise in the wake of derailments in East Palestine, Ohio, Raymond, Minn. and states across the country. One issue of paramount importance to increased safety measures is the use of two-person crews. While there has been a push towards single person train crews in recent years, the risks and legal implications of this shift make it clear that multiple workers on trains are necessary for ensuring the safety of both employees and the public.

Benefits of Two-Person Crews

There are at least four key reasons why two-person crews are better for the industry than a single-person crew:

  1. Improved Safety: Perhaps the most important concern with single person train crews is the increased risk of accidents and fatalities. According to a report by the Federal Railroad Administration, “two-person crews may reduce the risk of accidents resulting from human error or health-related incapacitation.” Having a second crew member can help ensure that all necessary safety protocols are being followed and that there is someone available to respond to any emergencies that may arise. Railroad operations are dangerous, and more experienced, trained, and skilled personnel on board these trains can help keep communities and employees safer.
  2. Legal Requirements: The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA)requires railroads to “provide for the safety of employees involved in the movement of their trains” and “provide for the safety of the public”. By reducing crew sizes, railroads are knowingly putting their workers and the public at risk, potentially opening themselves up to liability in the event of an accident. In fact, some states have already taken steps to prohibit single person train crews. California, for example, passed a law  in 2020 that requires all freight trains and light engines operating in the state to have a crew of at least two people. While there are lobbying efforts by industry to undo these responsible state regulations, policymakers at all levels of government should continue to examine ways to impose improved safety requirements on railroads. This starts with having an appropriate crew size to safely and efficiently operate trains.
  3. Increased Efficiency: While it may seem intuitive that single person train crews would be more cost-effective, this short-sighted view ignores the potential savings that can be achieved with two-person crews. With two workers on a train, tasks can be divided and completed more efficiently, resulting in the most important operational savings of all: time. This can help prevent delays and improve overall efficiency, ultimately benefiting the bottom line. Similarly, better operational safety will save railroads money on injury and environmental claims which result from slap-dash operations like crew cutting.
  4. Employee Well-Being: This ought to be a key motivator for railroads, though corporate behavior often suggests otherwise. Single person train crews can put a tremendous amount of pressure on the lone worker, who may not have the capacity to respond effectively to all situations. Fatigue, training gaps, and job familiarity are all negatively impacted in situations where a single employee is left in charge of a huge piece of machinery moving through the nation’s communities at speed. In contrast, two-person crews can provide technical and emotional support and help mitigate the stresses of the job. By prioritizing employee well-being, railroads can foster a safer and more positive work environment, ultimately benefiting both workers and the company as a whole. This would lead to better employee retention, which also develops a positive cycle for better operational efficiency and safety.

The bottom line is that two-person crews (at a minimum) are essential for maintaining a safe and efficient railway system. By providing increased safety, meeting legal requirements, improving efficiency, and prioritizing employee well-being, two-person crews offer a range of benefits that cannot be achieved with a single person crew. All those connected to railroad operations, from the rank-and-file employee, to union leadership, to Designated Legal Counsel like the attorneys at Rossi Vucinovich, must continue to advocate for the retention of multiple workers on trains and prioritize safety above all else.

Contact Rossi Vucinovich for Help!

If you sustained a railroad injury, please contact our law firm for help. Rossi Vucinovich PC has been helping railroad employees and people injured in railroad accidents recover from railroad injuries for over 50 years. We are dedicated to helping you obtain the benefits you need to treat your injuries, pay your bills, and continue supporting your families. Do yourself a favor and contact a Rossi Vucinovich attorney now!

Written by Benjamin Nivison