A confusing scenario has played out in the Midwest this week involving the Union Pacific Railroad and its intention to create a new position in Kansas and Nebraska.

The truth of the matter is that UP is creating new positions; however, the positions being created are in addition to their current road and yard crews, not as a replacement for road conductors.

These utility positions will have the ability to assist road crews in addition to the standard utility role of working within yards. The utility jobs pay well and are additional scheduled positions that are not replacing the role of the traditional conductor on road trains.

The Associated Press (AP) ran a headline this week stating these utility jobs were the enactment of the UP’s now-infamous nomadic “Expediter” position which was the plan they made public last December before FRA to take conductors off road trains. Ironically, the recent article the AP ran was based on comments made by a member of UP management at a hearing in Topeka, Kansas that was making the state’s 2PC regulation the law throughout Kansas.

With this as the backdrop, it is difficult to understand how some have interpreted the statement of the executive as an announcement that UP was ready to come out of the world of poorly made YouTube videos and into the reality of American railroading and that the union had suddenly changed its position on a minimum crew size, but that is apparently what happened in some’s minds.

UP officer Jason Pinder’s imprecise statements during Monday’s public hearing on the Kansas Administrative Regulation that finalized our union’s successful efforts to bring 2PC to Kansas caused all this. Coverage of Pinder’s take on the new utility positions reasonably made railroaders in the region ask themselves the question, “Who do I trust the least, rail executives, or the media?” The answer is that you should check the sources for both!

Luckily for all involved and for accuracy’s sake, SMART-TD was well-represented at this hearing and is able to give first-hand details of what went on from not only Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo, but also Luke Edington, general chairperson of GO-953, who negotiated the UP crew-consist agreement for SMART-TD. These two leaders are intimately aware of what UP can and cannot do with these new utility workers. They are among the men who put in the time and effort to guarantee UP cannot, under any circumstances, remove conductors from the cab of the locomotive.

Brother Edington took the quotes from Pinder personally and did not appreciate the confusion the words of the ill-informed “railroader” caused for his members. Responding to what the AP published, Edington fired off a letter to UP’s CEO Lance Fritz. In his correspondence, Brother Edington pointed out that this new utility position “may only assist Conductors and Foreman with duties.” He added that his office has “not agreed to a ‘pilot program’ for redeploying conductors as Mr. Pinder alleges.”

Edington wants it to be clear to all involved, including Lance Fritz, that SMART-TD agreed to expand the utility assignment so it could assist road conductors as well as conductors and foremen on local and yard assignments. We stand firm and continue to maintain that two on the crew is the safest course of operations. We did not and will not agree to give away our members’ jobs!

See below the letter GC Edington sent to Fritz.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Sept. 22 that the public comment period for the two-person crew size Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) has been extended.

Stakeholders now have an additional 60 days to show their support for the minimum crew size of two in the cab of trains nationwide. The previous deadline was Sept. 26.

“This extension was requested by congressional Republicans on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was granted by the FRA,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said.

He also pointed out that extensions are normal under rules of this magnitude: “It allows concerned members of the public and railroad workers alike to continue to support the truth — that safe train operations in this country are best maintained by following the Rule of Two.”

A public hearing on the matter also will be scheduled in the near future, FRA said in its Federal Register notice.

The deadline for the public to comment is now Dec. 2, according to the notice published.

As of midday Sept. 22, the NPRM had nearly 10,500 comments.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) of Illinois again has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with rail workers in the battle for national two-person crew legislation.

SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, left, meets with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 16. Pritzker issued a comment in support of the Rule of 2 on Sept. 27.

SMART Transportation Division members and the people of Illinois have even more evidence that Gov. Pritzker has their safety as his priority. The governor’s office submitted comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Sept. 27 in support of legislation requiring a two-person crew be in the cab of a number of passenger and freight trains. 

“We want to extend our appreciation to Gov. Pritzker for his support for two-person train crews,” said Bob Guy, SMART-TD Illinois state legislative director. “When the governor was a candidate, he visited my office, and we discussed this important employee and public safety need. Then he followed up that commitment by signing legislation (S.B. 24) in 2019 that requires at least two individuals to operate trains in Illinois.

“Now the governor has furthered that commitment by issuing a letter of support for FRA’s current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for crew size safety requirements. Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly have made it clear that they support public safety by requiring a two-person crew on trains, and we thank them for that.”

In his submission to the FRA, Gov. Pritzker stated that “adequate railroad operating personnel is critical to ensuring railroad operational safety and security and in supporting first responder activities in the event of a hazardous material incident, grade crossing incident, or mechanical failure.”

The support from Gov. Pritzker is appreciated by the labor community, yet does not come as a surprise. His track record of respect for this issue is clear —  in 2019, he signed S.B. 24 into law, mandating two-person crews for freight trains operating within the borders of Illinois, even when then-FRA Administrator Ron Batory was attempting to quash states’ efforts to regulate train crew size.

In anticipation of today’s House hearing on the U.S. supply chain, an “exclusive” pro-carrier piece in the Washington Examiner on freight crew size says that keeping two people on freight crews is making the problem worse, neglecting to mention the massive cuts in rail labor and workforce retention issues the carriers have created through Precision Scheduled Railroading that have contributed to the supply chain problem.

Read the article.