Market Matters Blog

Federal Railroad Administration Proposes a Two-Man Crew Rule

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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The Federal Railroad Administration recently proposed a new rule that would, in effect, lock in two-person crews into the future, angering the railroads but pleasing rail workers. (DTN photo Mary Kennedy

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), on July 28, announced a proposed rule requiring a minimum of two train crewmembers for over-the-road railroad operations. The FRA last tried to implement this rule back in 2016, but it was later shot down by the Trump administration in 2019.

The FRA said it would allow current one-person operations to be grandfathered in, like short lines or passenger trains, and would let railroads petition for new single-person operations following a federal review. They said there are some exceptions for certain "low risk operations" and circumstances where "mitigating measures" are in place to protect railroad employees, the public and the environment.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, "For the past few years, our rail workers have worked hard to keep people and goods moving on our nation's railroads, despite a global pandemic and supply chain challenges. This proposed rule will improve safety for America's rail passengers and rail workers across the country."

According to the FRA, this proposal would also "enhance safety nationwide by replacing the existing patchwork of state laws regarding crew size with a uniform national standard." Without consistent guidelines, railroads may be subjected to different requirements in every state in which they operate, resulting in potential safety risks, operational inefficiencies, and significant costs.

This issue is one rail workers have been fighting for during their ongoing contract negotiations. Rail unions have made it clear they want a permanent end to managements' campaign for one-man crews, while workers want at least two person crews as a permanent norm. Labor agreements have required two-person crews for nearly 30 years at the major railroads, but many short-line railroads operate with one-man crews already.

The Notice of Public Rule Making (NPRM) also proposes requirements for the location of crewmembers on a moving train and would prohibit the operation of some trains with fewer than two crewmembers from transporting large amounts of certain hazardous materials. The risk assessment and annual oversight requirements in the NPRM are intended to ensure that railroads fully consider and address all relevant safety factors associated with using less than two-person crews, noted the FRA.

Not everybody is on board with this idea, however. Chuck Baker, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), said in a statement, "With no safety data to support its proposal, the FRA has proposed an ill-conceived, ill-timed and unnecessary crew-size mandate that would hinder the efficient operations of some small business railroads, snarl the supply chain and stifle innovation well into the future.

"ASLRRA looks forward to formally responding to the proposal and outlining the many negative impacts it will impose on the short-line freight industry. Short lines operate safely today with a variety of crew sizes, including single-person crews in some instances, that suit the work being performed. Broadly, safety in the freight rail industry has improved over the decades, even as crew sizes have dropped. The proposed rule remains a solution in search of a problem." Here is a link to his entire statement:…

The Association of American Railroads said in a press release on July 28 that the FRA proposed rolling back the clock on train crew staffing with no safety justification, taking steps to lock in two-person crews into the future. "Though the rule proports to offer a path toward single-person operations, the FRA's proposal effectively reserves to itself unfettered discretion to disapprove such proposed operations, which removes any regulatory certainty or predictability and may make it nearly impossible for carriers to move beyond the current staffing paradigm." The proposed rule "prioritizes politics over sound, data-driven safety policy," said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. Here is a link to more information about freight rail and crew size on the AAR website:…

"We are committed to data-driven decision making," said FRA Administrator Amit Bose. "In cases where railroads wish to operate with fewer than two crew members, we are proposing that they perform a rigorous, thorough and transparent risk assessment and hazard analysis, and FRA will provide an opportunity for public comment on these submissions." Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted to the docket FRA-2021-0032 via and must be received by Sept. 26. The NPRM is published in the Federal Register:…

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