Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Two-Person Crew law’

District court rules Batory’s declaration of preemption stops Illinois 2PC law

In yet another example that elections have consequences, the Trump-appointed FRA administrator’s actions have potentially minimized both public and employee safety on the railroad.

In September 2019, after the State of Illinois enacted a law requiring that trains operated in Illinois be operated with a certified conductor and certified engineer, the Indiana Rail Road, which often operates with one-person crews over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, sued the Illinois Commerce Commission in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Backed by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the carrier challenged that newly signed state law.

In May 2019, just days after the Illinois Legislature had passed the law, Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory, who was appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, withdrew a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on crew size and declared that any state law regarding crew size was preempted.

In the Indiana Rail Road lawsuit, the carrier and lobbying groups repeatedly referred to “the wisdom” of Batory’s declaration of federal preemption. The Trump appointee has followed up with other FRA choices such as safety waivers for railroads during the COVID-19 pandemic and refusing to issue an emergency order on faulty air brake components.

“Ron Batory’s notice withdrawal absolutely paved the way for the district court to rule,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “We must keep in mind, however, that this issue is not yet settled. A larger discussion in court remains ahead, as the judgment states.”

Indeed, the district court noted that the issue of validity of the FRA’s action, which was raised by SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was not properly before it and as such, the action stood for the time being.

The court went on to note that those issues are currently pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving a challenge by the states of California, Washington and Nevada, along with SMART-TD and BLET, as to the FRA’s compliance with the required APA procedures and its ability to declare state law preempted.

Oral argument was heard in that case Monday, October 5, 2020. The court has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision hopefully in the near future.

“It is worth noting that if the Ninth Circuit later holds that the FRA Withdrawal Order is invalid, then the Illinois Commerce Commission may move to vacate the judgment,” the district court ruling stated regarding the Illinois case.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which would have enforced the law, was joined by SMART-TD and the BLET in defending the two-person crew law.

The court’s ruling effectively voids enforcement of the law, which took effect in January.

Read the ruling.

Illinois governor signs two-person crew bill into law

Illinois Gov. Pritzker (left) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with SMART TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy (right).

On Friday, August 9, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 24 – the state’s two-person crew bill – into law.

“I want to thank and commend Governor Pritzker for honoring the commitment he made as a candidate to sign legislation requiring a crew of at least two individuals on a freight train, and that’s just what he did in signing Senate Bill 24 into law,” Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy said.

Illinois State Sen. Terry Link, who sponsored the bill, had this to say about the bill signing in a press release: “With federal bureaucrats failing to act to protect public safety, it is clear states must act on their own. This is simply a matter of protecting the general public. Two-person crews can react more efficiently to mechanical failures or equipment malfunctions and can potentially save lives in a serious situation.”

“With the FRA abdicating its safety oversight duties and choosing to protect railroad profits over public safety, it’s now more important than ever for states to take over that role to protect its citizens from corporate greed,” said Guy. “At a time when freight trains are increasingly longer and carrying the most hazardous of chemicals through our communities, common sense tells us that response time to critical incidents involving trains is surely enhanced when a safe and adequate train crew size of at least two individuals are deployed, which is already the industry norm today and should be well into the future.

“On behalf of our Illinois SMART TD members, I say thank you, Governor, for seeing through the opposition’s tired arguments and FRA’s unprecedented submission that flies in the face of public safety. Your signature on S.B. 24 sends a clear message that Illinois, the rail hub of the nation, is not ready to jeopardize its citizens’ safety while railroads continue their pursuit of the almighty dollar,” Guy said.

The new law goes into effect January 1, 2020.