Union Pacific (UP) is once again trying to break free from the practice of having a minimum of two people operate a train. The railway is planning to run a one-person crew test in the upcoming months. The idea, however, sparks safety concerns.

Tests for One-Person Crew

In August and September of this year, UP will renew its push for a one-person crew by testing out the idea of having a conductor in a truck respond to problems on trains. The pilot program will run in western Nebraska between North Platte and Morrill and in Colorado and Wyoming between Denver and Cheyenne.

UP’s Jason Pinder recently confirmed the program when he testified against a proposed rule in Kansas State that would mandate two-person crews. Union Pacific has been a long-time proponent in the railway’s push to reduce crew sizes from two to one.

The railway’s idea is to determine how quickly a conductor in a truck can respond to a problem in comparison to how quickly a conductor on a train will be able to walk back along the train to find an issue. UP still has to work out exactly how big of a territory a ground-based conductor might cover.

Safety Concerns

The idea of a one-person train crew raises safety concerns among railway employees, unions, legislators, and more. The move to a one person crew is a product of Precision Scheduled Railroading, which is a relentless push to reduce labor at the expense of safety. Rail unions, in particular, have long opposed moving conductors out of locomotives. They argue that conductors help:

  • Monitor track conditions and radio communications,
  • Ensure that engineers remain alert and respond to any emergencies or mechanical problems on the train.

Further, in the case of a derailment or a collision, conductors are the first ones to respond before any additional help can arrive.

Please note that nine states in the U.S. have passed laws requiring two-man crews on trains. These states include California, Wisconsin, Arizona, West Virginia, Minnesota, Washington, Nevada, Colorado and Ohio.

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