Washington’s H.B. 1839 vying to become the first state law limiting train length since 1940s

February 28, 2023

The state of Washington and its State Legislative Director (SLD) Herb Krohn have had legislative victories in the past. Washington is one of the states that has succeeded in passing a two-person crew regulation into law, with their state crewing law being the most stringent in the nation. Now Washington state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-District 37) has sponsored a bill in the state Legislature that may end up being the first of its kind.

Herb Krohn

With HB 1839, Tomiko Santos is seeking to limit the length of trains in the state to 7,500 feet.

This bill would go a long way toward the safety of our crews traversing the state and create additional trains for our members to operate.

HB 1839 also has a provision in it that states rail carriers in Washington can seek permission from the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to run trains up to 10,000 feet in length on specified routes. However, carriers would have to add at least one additional crew member to all trains between 7,500 and 10,000 feet under this provision, the state UTC can require additional crewmembers if it determines doing so is in the interest of reducing risk, such as on key trains. These 10,000-foot trains would not be as advantageous as their 7,500-foot counterparts in terms of train handling, but the addition of a third or more crew members would prove to be an advantage when yarding trains of this size. The requirement for railroads to request UTC approval to run larger trains and the restrictions on what subdivisions they can run on will also serve to discourage carriers from trying to work around the 7,500-foot restriction.

This bill seems to have momentum, making its way from initial introduction through the House Transportation Committee in just four days and passing out of committee with a do-pass recommendation Feb. 23 by a vote of 15-9. (Five members voted do not pass, and four members voted that they did not have a recommendation on the bill. One committee member was absent and did not vote).

HB 1839 has the potential for rail labor and common sense to regain a foothold in an industry that carriers have corrupted with Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The effort to get this bill signed into law is being led by Rep. Tomiko Santos with strong support by SMART-TD and SLD Krohn.

“The prospect of imposing reasonable train length limitations and eliminating the dangers of monster length trains will increase public safety as well as reduce the risks on train crews across the state of Washington,” Krohn said. “This legislation will go a long way toward reintroducing rational, common-sense regulatory oversight of how trains are operated.”

SMART-TD and our National Legislative Department are very proud of Brother Krohn and the work he’s doing in his state. The next step in the process for HB 1839 is to pass it forward from the House Rules Committee onto the House floor calendar. If it’s successful there, it will advance to the state Senate for committee hearings and votes.