The incident earlier this month in which a two-person crew helped to save a 5-year-old girl in his state reminded SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy of a letter his state’s legislative board submitted in 2018 in response to a federal Department of Transportation request for comment about autonomous rail operations.

Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy
After a discussion he said he had last summer with FRA Administrator Ron Batory, Qualy said he had reason to believe that his communication over the safety a two-person freight rail crew provides might have been overlooked by the DOT and Batory and his agency. After all, there were about 1,545 comments in favor of the FRA establishing a two-person crew rule that were outweighed in the agency’s eyes by the 39 comments in favor of the May 2019 withdrawal of the proposed rule.
“This was a good letter that our members should read and be aware of,” Qualy said. “This spells out the essential argument of why having two people on the crew is important.”
In the letter, Qualy reminds Batory that technology does not always reduce the tasks involved in operating a train, citing crew duties such as:

  • Throwing manual switches and dual control switches, coupling cars, coupling air-hoses, setting hand brakes, pulling pin­ lifters to switch cars, replacing failed hoses, gaskets, replacing couplers, mechanical and air-brake inspections remain constant work tasks of any operation. Any ATT, PTC, and/or aerial drone cannot do these train tasks.
  • When ATT and PTC programs fail en route, standing or delayed trains must not be permitted to block public roadways as a practice. The uncoupling of a standing train to open a grade crossing to allow vehicles to pass requires two persons.
  • After grade crossing collisions with the public, immediate Samaritan response to help the injured is an essential and moral responsibility within the fabric of our society. Two persons on all trains are necessary to assist the public after grade-crossing and other accidents.

“The railroad carriers and their associations claim two persons will not be necessary on trains with ATT and/ or PTC,” Qualy wrote. “These technological control features have nothing to do with the necessary and essential tasks of the train-machine behind or ahead of the locomotives.”
The Feb. 1 incident in East St. Paul, Minn., in which a missing girl was found by a two-person train crew after they alertly stopped and provided aid is a perfect example of why two sets of eyes are needed in the cab.
“Railroad carriers have a moral responsibility to provide for the right of Samaritan response,” Qualy wrote in his letter.
The questions need to be asked. Would the girl have been seen if it were a one-person operation that night? Would the sensors of an autonomous train have detected her, stopped the train and invited her into the cab of the locomotive for warmth and protection and then contacted authorities so she could be reunited with her worried family?
Here’s a little reminder that some on the railroad believe in moral responsibility over innovation.
Read SLD Qualy’s letter.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ruled in favor of safe train operations in June by denying a request by Canadian National (CN) that sought a waiver allowing an extinguished intermediate signal aspect to provide a signal indication.
The SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Board filed comments in opposition to CN’s waiver request in a letter submitted in February.
“Apparently, CN seeks to avoid the expense of repairing and improving a defective signal system rather than recognizing the importance of a red signal aspect and the information that indication conveys to a train crew,” SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy said in the letter. “CN’s application seeks to normalize a dangerous and non-compliant operating practice.”
FRA received numerous comments, including a joint submission by SMART TD’s National Legislative Department, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (TCU/IAM) in opposition to CN’s request, and it was announced June 25 that FRA sided with the opposition.
“Had (CN) been successful, this would have set a precedent and been a nightmare for train crews,” Qualy said. “This denial is also a very significant application denial that is in our favor.”
Qualy said SMART TD Local 1292 Legislative Representative Dan Archambeau and Local 1067 Legislative Representative Nick Katich and others were thanked by FRA officials for bringing the issue to the agency’s attention.
Earlier in the month, FRA denied a request by the Association of American Railroads to lengthen the amount of permissible off-air time from four to 24 hours for rail brake tests.


The Minnesota State Legislative Board is hosting a meeting Monday, December 21, 2015, in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Education and Economic Development (MN DEED). The meeting will be held at the South St. Paul VFW 295, 111 Exchange St., St. Paul, from 5:00 pm. through 6:00 p.m.

MN DEED will be focusing on emergency assistance (mortgage help), job training, job counseling and much more.

“I would like to stress that furloughed members should not resign from their positions on the railroad,” Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy said. “These meetings are designed to provide our furloughed members with skills and training while they are on furloughed status and are in need of other temporary employment.

“We have over 200 furloughed workers across Minnesota from BNSF, CP and UP properties. Looking forward to 2016, we do not see an economic trend line that will lead to a large recall of furloughed workers at this time. With the recent passage of a federal highway construction bill and the weakening of a strong dollar, we hope our industry will recover.”

If you have been furloughed, it is highly recommended that you consider attending this meeting.

A holiday party will immediately follow the meeting at the same location, hosted by locals 650 (Minneapolis) and 1614 (St. Paul). All are welcome to attend.

Minnesota_mapIn light of the recent furloughs by BNSF and Union Pacific railroads, and since many locals are experiencing difficulty reaching the members who have been furloughed and dislocated, the SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Board is hosting, in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Education and Economic Development (MN DEED) a free informational meeting to assist those furloughed workers on Monday, August 17, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. in the Minneapolis United Labor Center, Room 218 (located at 312 Central Avenue, S. E., Room 218, Minneapolis, MN 55414). Parking is free.

MN DEED will be offering many free services at the meeting including: emergency assistance (mortgage help) for those who need it, job training, job counseling, help with updating your computer skills and much more.

The Minneapolis Labor Center is also the location of your SMART TD Minn. Legislative Board. The board has activated the Brakemen’s Register with the names of SMART TD members who are looking for work. If you have been impacted by these furloughs, it is highly recommended that you consider attending this meeting.