The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in a 41-page report released Jan. 13th by its Office of Research, Development and Technology said what railroaders already know.
Researchers at the Volpe Center over a period of years performed cognitive task analyses (CTAs) that examined the mental demands placed on rail workers, including operating personnel, as they engaged with technology and performed their jobs.

“Results from the locomotive engineer and conductor CTAs indicate that train crews, a primary example of an elemental team in railroad operations, exhibit characteristics of high performing teams that are found across industries,” the report said. “These include mutual performance monitoring — to catch and correct errors — and active support of each other’s activities.”
“These teamwork activities went beyond the requirements of formal operating rules and were not explicitly covered in training,” the report states.
The Volpe Center has even received accolades from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao herself, who praised its work at enabling safety and innovation for the nation in regard to transportation and infrastructure during the center’s groundbreaking in Oct. 2019.
“It has worked to reduce rail-grade crossing accidents, improve vehicle safety, and better manage the airspace…. The Volpe Center continues to provide important contributions to our national transportation system. Especially now, when we have entered a historic period of transportation innovation that promises to boost economic growth and improve quality of life. These innovations are occurring in all modes of transportation, including roads, rail, maritime, and aerospace…. All these innovations are exciting, but they can be disruptive. This is where Volpe’s contribution plays an important role. Volpe’s data and analysis provides trustworthy information that helps us distinguish between ‘High’ and ‘Hype’ performance innovations. Volpe’s data helps build confidence among stakeholders, including the public whose acceptance is critical to realizing the potential of ground-breaking innovations.”
So, when a facility respected for its research of transportation issues provides evidence in an FRA report saying that cooperative efforts and communications exhibited by the two operating crew members help keep railroad operations safe beyond the baseline training that every rail worker receives upon hire, it blows a hole in the argument that “rail safety data does not support a train crew staffing rulemaking” from FRA Administrator Ron Batory last May in withdrawing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on two-person crews.
There’s the old saying that “two heads are better than one.” Railroaders live this life, especially when coping with the unimaginable fatigue being an over-the-road crewmember brings. The ability of two people to work together and their collected experience helps them to react to unexpected and potentially dangerous situations as they happen, preserving the safety of the crew and others while crossing the country.
Earlier research from the Volpe Center released in December 2013 also proves this:
“The locomotive engineer and conductor function as a joint cognitive system, meaning that conductors and locomotive engineers jointly contribute to the set of cognitive activities required to operate the train safely and efficiently.”
“While each crew member has a distinct set of formal responsibilities, in practice they operate as an integrated team, contributing knowledge and backing each other up as necessary.”
“When operating on the mainline conductors not only serve as a ‘second pair of eyes’, alerting the locomotive engineer to upcoming signals and potential hazards (e.g., activity at grade crossings; people working on or around the track), they also contribute knowledge and decision-making judgment.”
“Conductors also serve an important, redundant check and backup role, reminding locomotive engineers of upcoming work zones and speed restrictions.”
“If necessary, they will also handle unanticipated situations and activate the emergency brake, in cases where the locomotive engineer has not responded quickly enough.”
“Conductors have developed a variety of skills and strategies that enable them to handle non-routine situations safely and efficiently.”
But whether FRA’s Batory and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) continue to cling to this argument that keeping two people on the train crew has no effect on the safe operation of railroads in America when FRA research reports and plain common sense say the opposite is anybody’s guess.
They’re fighting tooth-and-nail in court against keeping two people on freight rail crews when laws passed by seven states and public opinion have expressed that a reduction in crew size would add risk and danger to an industry that hauls hazardous and nuclear materials through our cities, suburban neighborhoods and rural areas alike.
It truly is puzzling. Both AAR and Batory’s agency tout safe operations as a primary goal on their websites, and they praise the efforts of railroad workers in keeping operations safe in public testimony. Then they simultaneously argue in court and in state legislatures against keeping those personnel working on America’s railroads because maintaining two on the crew might crack some fragile egg of future technological advancement.
By the way, Volpe research says Positive Train Control (PTC), will not provide all of the cognitive support functions the conductor currently provides to the locomotive engineer.
Technology does not need to be approached with the final goal of slashing a workforce to save costs and thus fill the pockets of those at the top in the form of higher share prices and lower operating ratios. The FRA Office of Research, Development and Technology report even suggests that new technologies can be layered atop current personnel configurations that carriers operate under, and that approach would make sense from a workers’ safety and public safety standpoint.
Technological advances will not deliver first aid to the person whose vehicle has been struck by a train and is trapped and injured after an accident at a rail crossing. Technological advances will not perform CPR on the co-worker in the cab who suffers a medical event while the train is being operated. Technological advances will not physically assist a co-worker in evacuating when a locomotive has derailed into a river.
That people have survived the above scenarios that have occurred on the nation’s railroads are examples of safe operation as well. Unexpected events and calamities do happen. But definitive data aren’t kept by the FRA or the railroads about accidents that are prevented by worker intervention or assistance that is provided. How can you really track what might have happened if the incident is avoided?
What we can look at what is in the here and now. The level of worker and public safety that the railroad industry has achieved is a result of the collaboration of engineers and conductors and all other employees out in the field. Yes, there are still fatalities — our union lost three members in 2019 — and safety performance can still be improved by adding technology without a further reduction of on-train personnel.
FRA’s research on rail worker teamwork, made and released by the agency in charge of regulating the nation’s railroads and performed by the Volpe Center, indicates cutting the in-cab crew to one person for the sake of profitability (the railroads continue to make billions, even with rail traffic down) jeopardizes the status quo of safe rail operations. If you ask the AAR, they’ll tell you that working on the railroad these days is safer than working at a grocery store.
So with rail carriers being profitable and safe and two on the crew, it looks like America’s railroad workers must be doing something right.
The full FRA report, “Teamwork in Railroad Operations and Implications for New Technology,” is available here.

Jeremy R. Ferguson,
President, Transportation Division

Indiana Rail Road, with the backing of the major rail carrier organizations, has filed suit challenging a law requiring two people on freight crews in Illinois, the Courthouse News Service reported.
“The recent history of railroads confirms the wisdom of FRA’s expert determination that minimum-crew-size laws are neither necessary nor appropriate,” the carriers said in their filing. “In recent decades, technological breakthroughs have allowed railroads to gradually decrease average crew sizes—from about five in the 1960s to just two today—while compiling an ever-improving record of safety. Now, the nation’s railroads are poised to deliver even safer and more efficient service.”
The filing repeatedly referenced the Federal Railroad Administration’s withdrawal of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that occurred in late May. In the NPRM, FRA Administrator Ron Batory announced that his agency was acting with the intention to pre-empt any state laws regarding rail crew size. Indiana Rail Road, a regional railroad that operates over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, began using one-person crews in 1997.
The FRA’s NPRM withdrawal is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Nevada by SMART TD, Illinois and a number of other states. Illinois on Aug. 9 became the seventh state overall and third this year to enact two-person crew legislation. The Illinois law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
The lawsuit, which also lists the Association of American Railroads and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association as plaintiffs, was filed Sept. 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

A victory for safety was achieved in June when the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Board denied a request by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to lengthen the “off-air” restriction from four to 24 hours for required brake tests and inspections.
AAR had written to FRA in December 2017 seeking a petition for waiver, arguing that safety would not be affected and that lengthening the off-air restriction would bring U.S. requirements in line with Canada’s 24-hour off-air restriction.
However, SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and union leaders from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) and Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (TCU/IAM)’s letter in February urged FRA officials to deny the request.
The waiver would be unenforceable and too far-reaching, the unions argued.
“Despite the carriers’ safety assurances, the labor organizations have concerns with this far sweeping request for waiver given the fact that it will cover AAR’s entire membership,” the unions said. “To allow such a sweeping waiver request to go forward, each railroad would have to demonstrate that the cars on their railroad had state of the art brake valves, dryers and automatic moisture drainage. It is hard to imagine FRA granting such a ‘one size fits all’ waiver to each of AAR’s member railroads.”
The FRA board agreed with SMART TD and the other rail unions, with Robert Lauby, FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety, saying in the agency’s June 19 denial letter that the petition was better considered as part of the rulemaking process.
The board also said that AAR failed to prove that the changes would not have an adverse effect on safety.
“Based on its review and analysis, the board concluded that granting the requested relief would not be in the public interest or consistent with rail safety,” Lauby wrote.
Lauby also said in the letter that the data provided by AAR to support its petition did not cover the variety of real-world conditions encountered while running trains.
“Absent more detailed data demonstrating that safety would not be compromised, the Board concluded that the waiver request was not justified,” Lauby said.

WASHINGTON (Jan. 11, 2018) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued four railroad related safety recommendations in concert with the agency’s publication of two railroad accident briefs Thursday, Jan. 11.

The recommendations and briefs stem from the NTSB’s investigations of a railroad employee fatality in Kansas City, Kansas, and a derailment near Heimdal, N.D. The accidents are unrelated.

Recommendation to Union Pacific concerning employee fatality

A Union Pacific Railroad (UP) foreman died after being struck by a remote-control train during switching operations at the east end of Armourdale Yard, Kansas City, Sept. 29, 2015. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was the foreman being in the gage of the track, for unknown reasons, while a train switching movement was being performed by another crew. The report also states inadequate radio communications and inadequate work coordination between crews working in the yard contributed to the accident.

In the course of the investigation the NTSB learned Union Pacific employees received frequent, non-critical, man-down alarms which the NTSB believes likely reduced the attention and reaction crewmembers made to actual critical alarms.

A man-down alarm is an audible warning transmitted of the yard’s radio channels from a remote-control unit (used to remotely control locomotives in the yard) indicating the remote-control unit is not in a vertical position and its operator may be in danger. As a result of the investigation the NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the Union Pacific Railroad to develop and implement a modification to the man-down alarms that would allow workers to differentiate between legitimate and non-critical alarms.

Recommendation to BNSF concerning derailment

A broken wheel led to the derailment of six of the 107 loaded tank cars carrying crude oil in a Burlington Northern Santa Fe crude (BNSF) oil unit train May 6, 2015, near Heimdal, N.D. No injuries or fatalities were reported in connection with the derailment, however five of the derailed tank cars breached, releasing about 96,400 gallons of crude oil. A fire ensued, forcing the evacuation of about 30 people from Heimdal and the surrounding area due to the smoke plume.

The NTSB determined the left wheel, in the second position on car 81 was broken due to a vertical split rim which led to catastrophic failure of the wheel due to multiple overstress fractures.

As a result of the investigation the NTSB issued two safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to research and evaluate wheel impact load thresholds and to mandate remedial actions for railroads to avoid or identify mechanical defects identified by wheel impact load detectors.

A third recommendation was issued to both the FRA and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) seeking collaboration in evaluation of safe peak vertical load thresholds to determine remedial actions for suspected defective wheel conditions in high-hazard flammable train service.

The Heimdal, North Dakota, railroad accident brief is available online at and the Kansas City, Kansas, railroad accident brief is available at

Last week, the SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Office submitted comments to the Department of Transportation (DOT) seeking input on existing rules and other agency actions that are good candidates for repeal, replacement, suspension, or modification. In our comments, we remind the DOT that many rules and regulations in the railroad industry were written in blood and that the reduction in overall accident rates are thanks to the various safety regulations issued by agencies like the Federal Railroad Administration.
Furthermore, we urged the DOT to continue to engage the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) for future rulemaking — a collaborative process that has been successful for nearly 20 years. Alternatively, the Association for American Railroads has called on the DOT to issue rules “based on a demonstrated need, as reflected in current and complete data and sound science; and non-prescriptive regulatory tools, like performance-based regulations…” while listing a number of existing federal requirements. We believe this approach would only undermine critical safety needs in the rail industry such as the need for two-person crews and ECP braking systems.
Here are SMART TD’s comments and comments submitted by AAR.

PHMSAOn May 8, 2015, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), published a final rule entitled, “Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains,” which adopted requirements designed to reduce the consequences and, in some instances, reduce the probability of accidents involving trains transporting large quantities of Class 3 flammable liquids.

The Hazardous Materials Regulations provide a person the opportunity to appeal a PHMSA action, including a final rule. PHMSA received six appeals regarding the final rule, one of which was withdrawn.

The five remaining appeals were submitted by the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council (DGAC), American Chemistry Council (ACC), Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and jointly the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce tribes (Columbia River Treaty Tribes) and the Quinault Indian Nation (Northwest Treaty Tribes).

Dangerous Goods Advisory Council

The DGAC contends that the applicability of the final rule should be limited to the transportation of crude oil and ethanol trains, which, it says, was the stated intention of the rule. DGAC argues that, if the Department wishes to pursue enhanced tank car standards and operational requirements for other Class 3 (flammable liquid) materials, it should do so in a separate rulemaking.

American Chemistry Council

ACC believes that the scope of the final rule will inadvertently affect nearly 40,000 legacy DOT-111 tank cars that transport Class 3 flammable liquids that were not accounted for in the accompanying RIA. ACC states that because a shipper cannot know how a carrier will assemble a train, the possibility that a shipper’s tank car will be placed into an HHFT will force all shippers of Class 3 materials to retrofit or purchase tank cars to meet the DOT-117R or DOT-117 specification. ACC believes that, coupled with a retrofit timeline that does not match the Canadian timeline, the final rule will fail to properly address the risks associated with hazardous materials offered and transported in unit trains.

Association of American Railroads

AAR contests the scope of the final rule because it permits shippers to continue to package Class 3 flammable liquid materials in tank cars that do not meet the new DOT-117 tank car standard. AAR states that PHMSA has created two pools of tank cars, those that meet the heightened standard for HHFTs and those that do not. As a result, AAR asserts, shippers may continue to offer Class 3 flammable liquid materials in DOT-111 tank cars as long as the DOT-111 is not placed in an HHFT. According to AAR, this places an unjustified burden on the railroads to continuously analyze the composition of each train transporting Class 3 flammable liquid materials in DOT-111 tank cars. AAR claims that PHMSA’s argument, that through fleet management the railroads can avoid this issue, is baseless. AAR believes that PHMSA should harmonize with Canada by banning the use of DOT-111 tank cars for transporting any Class 3 flammable liquid materials. By failing to harmonize with Canada in this respect, AAR contends that the U.S. market will become flooded with legacy DOT-111 tank cars, which will further exacerbate the fleet management challenges U.S. railroads will face to construct trains to avoid meeting the definition of an HHFT. To support its appeal, AAR submitted waybill data from its subsidiary Railinc showing numbers of flammable liquid shipments tendered in smaller groups of cars that do not by themselves meet the definition of an HHFT. Data from the first quarter of 2015 illustrate that 37,000 cars of flammable liquids (other than crude oil and ethanol) were tendered in blocks of 20 cars or fewer. During the same period, 37,576 tank cars of other flammable liquids (other than the 25,009 tank cars of crude oil or 39,956 tank cars of ethanol) were tendered in groups of fewer than 35 cars. According to AAR, had the final rule been in effect, a total of 102,541 cars of flammable liquids could have moved in existing DOT-111s. AAR contends that PHMSA should specify a sunset date for discontinuing the use of DOT-111 tank cars for hazardous materials not in an HHFT.

 Summary of PHMSA and FRA response

PHMSA denies the appellants’ (DGAC, ACC, AAR, AFPM, and Treaty Tribes) appeals on Scope of Rulemaking, Tribal Impacts and Consultation, Retrofit Timeline and Tank Car Reporting Requirements, Thermal Protection for Tank Cars, and Advanced Brake Signal Propagation Systems. We conclude we reasonably determined how to apply new regulations and provided the regulatory analysis to support those decisions. While we understand that shippers, carriers, and tank car manufacturers for Class 3 flammable liquids will face new challenges in the wake of these regulations, we maintain that they are capable of complying with the final rule. We also deny DGAC’s appeal to eliminate or provide further guidance for the Sampling and Testing program. The sampling and testing program is reasonable, justified, necessary and clear as written. Additionally, we disagree that a delayed compliance date of March 31, 2016 should be provided for implementation of the requirements in § 173.41 for shippers to implement changes for training and documentation.

With respect to Information Sharing/Notification, PHMSA announced in a May 28, 2015, notice that it would extend the Emergency Order applicable to the topic of Information Sharing/Notification indefinitely, while it considered options for codifying the disclosure requirement permanently. Furthermore, on July 22, 2015, FRA issued a public letter instructing railroads transporting crude oil that they must continue to notify SERCs of the expected movement of Bakken crude oil trains through individual States. While the treaty tribes and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to comment on these future regulatory proposals in the course of that rulemaking proceeding, PHMSA will continue to seek opportunities to reach out to the tribes and consultation from tribal leaders.

Click here to read the full ruling. 

triple_trailerWASHINGTON –  A congressional proposal that would see much heavier trucks on the nation’s highways will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in damaged roads and bridges while further straining already depleted federal coffers, one of the nation’s top transportation representatives said Wednesday.

The proposal, offered as an amendment to a bill that funds the nation’s highways, would increase the current weight limit for a tractor-trailer from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds – adding the equivalent of two large SUVs to every truck.

Many trucking companies, business trade groups, highway safety organizations, citizens’ groups, as well as the Truckload Carriers Association, oppose the measure.

“The added truck weight will further destroy precious national infrastructure and cost taxpayers dearly,” said Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “Allowing trucks to be 14 percent heavier would be a fundamental change to national policy. Lawmakers should strike this amendment before sending a final highway bill to the White House for the President’s signature.”

A June 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Transportation found that the added stress of bigger trucks would require engineering and repair work – or even a complete replacement – of nearly 5,000 bridges. The DOT analyzed only 20 percent of the nation’s bridges for its report, so the true cost of allowing larger trucks would be in the billions of dollars.

In addition to damaging infrastructure, bigger trucks with bigger loads will increase fuel consumption by millions of gallons a year, generate increased greenhouse gas emissions and divert more freight to the country’s already gridlocked highways.

The issue underscores important differences between freight trains and trucks. Not only are railroads four-times more fuel efficient than trucks and more environmentally friendly, but, freight rail and its vast coast-to-coast network is funded by private funds. Taxpayers must foot the bill to maintain and upgrade highways and highway bridges. 

“At a time when federal spending on infrastructure is essential, this proposal would create a massive additional cost borne by the U.S. taxpayer, a cost that is entirely avoidable,” Hamberger said.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports that a homemade knife was found in a chock in the storage bin (pictured below), with the blade facing in toward the railcar at a Subaru facility in Vancouver, Wash.
The knife was found when a rail loader went to remove a chock from the storage bin on the side of the rail car, when he noticed the homemade knife sticking out of the chock next to the release handle. Fortunately, no one was injured.
“Please give this information widespread distribution to coworkers, contractors, customers and all who deal with freight cars and be on the lookout for any similar acts of vandalism. We also ask that anyone who makes any other such discoveries report it to me or any other AAR employee, including MID inspectors. This will enable us to broadcast alerts to all who may be affected,” AAR Assistant Vice President, Technical Services James P. Grady said.

railyard, train yard; trainsU.S. freight railroad traffic continued its ongoing slump last week, with U.S. railroads reporting a total 562,884 carloads and intermodal units for the week ending Aug. 8, down 0.9 percent compared with the same week last year, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

U.S. railroads logged 288,460 carloads for the week, down 4.4 percent compared with a year ago. However, the upswing in intermodal business — an ongoing trend this year — also continued last week, with U.S. railroads reporting a total of 274,424 containers and trailers, a 3.1 percent increase compared with 2014’s numbers.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases for the week: miscellaneous carloads, up 14.2 percent to 9,117 carloads; farm products, up 8.4 percent to 16,854 carloads; and grain, up 1.5 percent to 21,587 carloads.

Read more from Progressive Railroading.



WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Association of American Railroads (AAR), leaders from its member railroads and economic experts today urged federal regulators to beware of upending numerous national economic goals if they choose to pursue re-instituting revenue caps on freight rail companies.

Speaking before a Surface Transportation Board (STB) hearing on railroad revenue adequacy, AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger told the Board that misapplying regulations would have far-reaching impacts on the freight rail industry’s ability to sustain the billions of private funds spent by railroads each year to build, maintain and upgrade the nation’s 140,000-mile rail network.

“As you take up the issue of revenue adequacy, you are painting on a much, much larger canvas than just the inside of this room,” Hamberger said. “What you are considering and may decide here in this hearing room a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol will ripple across the economy and ultimately impact most every American.”

Hamberger, and others testifying before the Board, ran through many examples of how earning sufficient revenues has allowed railroads to make massive private investments in rail infrastructure – nearly $29 billion in 2015, and $575 billion since 1980. This is in contrast to other modes of transportation, such as highways, which are funded by taxpayers.

Regulation of railroads’ overall revenue levels would run counter to Congress’s goals in the Staggers Act of 1980 that partially deregulated the freight rail industry to allow railroads to earn sufficient revenue to meet their long-term needs without having to rely on the federal government.

As Dr. Roger Brinner, chief economist with SandPointe, LLC testified, the concept of revenue adequacy should be a goal, and not a directive to constrain revenues; railroads should not be penalized for improved financial performance.

“Now comes a handful of interest groups that want you to cut their transportation costs by direct government intervention at the expense of the greater good. Let’s call it what it is: they want you to institute a regime of wide ranging price controls on freight railroads,” Hamberger testified.

Hamberger outlined the many national goals that would be at risk, should the STB decide to relapse into 1970s-era regulatory policies. Doing so, he noted would undermine the industry’s ability to: continue to improve rail safety, efficiency and reliability; increase U.S. exports; support U.S. energy independence, and effectively provide a healthy rail network relied upon by millions of daily Amtrak and commuter rail passengers.

“Freight rail success today is due to the foresight of the government leaders in 1980 who unleashed the transformational power of the market place through partial deregulation,” Hamberger said. “Subsequent federal involvement in rail economics both in the legislative and regulatory arenas honored the belief that a developed nation requires a top-notch freight rail system and that system is best provided by private companies in control of their resources rather than through the government.”