Another state is making a two-person freight crew the law of their land.

On July 27, the Kansas State Department of Transportation proposed a regulation that requires railroads that operate in the state to maintain a two-person crew in the lead locomotive.

“Kansas now joins a growing list of states that believe federal inaction on this issue is too great of importance to public safety and our members’ safety,” SMART Transportation Division Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo said in an email to TD members in his state. “The work we have done, the years of relationship building, the local, county and regional meetings where we have presented our case, and above all else, your efforts in your communities have finally paid off.

“Today is the proudest day of my career and, indeed, my tenure as a member of this great union.”

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said the proposed rule was a needed step to preserve safe functions of the rail industry in the state in a news release announcing the regulation.

“Kansas has faced issues ranging from crew member fatigue to derailments which pose a threat to our safety and security – but by maintaining the current practice of requiring a two-person crew we can ensure the health and safety of Kansas workers,” she said. “This proposed regulation is a commonsense, necessary measure to protect our state’s railroad crew members and keep every community along the tracks safe.”

Exceptions to the Kansas regulation include switching operations, brake testing, safety inspections, or while performing setouts in conjunction with road service.

“The benefits of the proposed rule and regulation is railroad and community safety, including the role two-person crews can play in helping to prevent potential accidents or derailments and in emergency situations,” the state said in its release.

The persistence of Dragoo and the state’s legislative board paid off after more than a decade of work. Dragoo previously helped to persuade legislators to introduce a two-person crew bill, H.B. 6057, back in 2016, but it died while in committee.

“All the outreach by Brother Dragoo, the Kansas SLB, SMART-TD members and other rail workers and concerned parties was instrumental in proving the point that a safe operation is one with a certified conductor and a certified engineer working in tandem with technology playing a supporting, not a supplanting, part,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “This realization is one that transcends partisanship and ensures the continued safety of Kansas residents and rail workers.”

Kansas becomes the second state in 2020 to move ahead on a two-person-crew regulation. Washington had a state two-person crew law signed March 30th that took effect June 11th. If the rule goes ahead in Kansas, it would become the 10th state with a two-person crew regulation.

At the federal level, a number of states and rail labor unions continue to engage in a lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit. The federal agency, led by Donald Trump appointee Ron Batory, has attempted to prevent states from passing laws mandating a minimum train crew size.

A hearing in that case is likely later this year.

Read the Kansas State Legislative Board’s statement on the proposed regulation. (PDF)

Read the Kansas DOT release announcing the proposed regulation. (PDF)

By Calvin Studivant
Alternate vice president, Bus Department

Newly manufactured motorcoaches would be required to have lap-shoulder seat belts – and older motorcoaches might be required to add them – under proposals from the U.S. DOT that are open for public comment.

The federal proposals do not include city or school buses. Only a handful of states require seat belts on school buses.

The DOT said that, between 1999 and 2008, there were 54 fatal motorcoach crashes resulting in 186 fatalities, most of them passengers ejected from buses. The majority of motorcoach trips – 65 percent – are made by children and senior citizens.

Wearing lap-shoulder belts on motorcoaches could reduce the risk for passengers of being killed in a rollover crash by 77 percent, says the DOT.

Separately, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the UTU is a member, has added bus issues to its Washington lobbying responsibilities. Alternate Vice President Bonnie Morr and I are working with the TTD and other AFL-CIO transportation unions to advance a successful agenda before Congress and regulatory agencies.

At our initial meeting we discussed:

  • The growing privatization of school bus transportation.
  • The increasing number of school bus drivers considered part-time or seasonal and ineligible for health care insurance, sick leave, paid vacations and retirement plans.
  • A need for improved driver training to handle challenges of students with physical and mental disabilities.
  • A need for on-board monitors, uniform disciplinary procedures and driver training to control to control unruly students.
  • A need for training in the dangers of distracted driving that affect situational awareness, and providing medical-benefit assistance to diagnose and treat sleep apnea.
  • A need for more uniform background checks and equitable standards for disqualifying drivers.
  • The drafting of a modal labor agreement for school bus districts.

If you have suggestions for other agenda topics, please contact me.