State Reps. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) and Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) today renewed the fight to improve rail safety in Ohio by introducing House Bills 194 and 195, legislation requiring freight train operating crews to consist of at least two people and revising other railroad safety measures.
“Having spent more than 40 years working in the railroad industry, I can attest to the importance of requiring two-person crews on all freight train operations,” Rep. Sheehy said. “Raising safety standards in our state will help protect our freight operators and keep communities safe.”
This legislation has been introduced in previous General Assemblies, receiving several committee hearings but it has never made it to the Governor’s desk despite widespread, bipartisan support. It was first introduced in the 131st General Assembly after several train accidents involving one person crew, including the Lac-Megantic tragedy - which destroyed a town center and killed 47 people.
The lawmakers say passage of the bill will help cut down on operator fatigue, reduce the likelihood of fatal accidents, and increase safety for rail workers and the general public.
“The safety of locomotive crew members and our communities must be our top priority,” said Rep. Lepore-Hagan. “Getting rid of a crew member just to improve a rail company’s bottom line puts all Ohioans at risk. Maintaining two-person crews on all freight trains will cut down on accidents caused by mental fatigue and save lives.”
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 lacking the FRA’s explanation that similar safety objectives could be achieved with fewer personnel, going as far as saying 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.
House Bills 194 and 195 have been referred to the House Transportation and Public Safety committee.