Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signs A.B. 337, a law that sets a minimum two-person crew and establishes hefty fines for freight carriers who violate the law.
The advocacy and hard work of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees, the Nevada State Legislative Board and a coalition that included Sheet Metal brothers and sisters, other rail unions and safety-conscious members of the public has paid off.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed A.B. 337 on May 15. Two-person crews are now required on Class I and II freight trains being operated in the state or the carriers will face steep fines.
The bill’s signing caps a massive effort by SMART TD members that spanned years in the face of carrier opposition.
“This law didn’t pass by accident. It was the hard work of Jason Doering, our Nevada state legislative director, and others that made it happen,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “We all owe Jason and others who worked on this our thanks for keeping train operations safe in Nevada, for not just those who operate trains but for the public as well.”
Doering and his board assembled a group of dedicated advocates who helped to spread the important message about how crew size is, first and foremost, about keeping communities safe.
“Many people helped to get the word out about the public safety ramifications of this legislation,” Doering said. “Those concerted efforts paid off, and now we’ve ensured that the state’s railways stay safe with two crew members in each freight train’s cab.”
The legislation was sponsored in the State Assembly by Susie Martinez, a Teamster who, Doering said, “treated him like family” and whose staffer, Carlos Hernandez, assisted in the early stages of getting the bill passed.
Additional backers included Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, also a primary sponsor of the legislation, as well as Assemblywoman Shea Backus, who testified before the state Senate and expressed strong support during an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee hearing, and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, another co-sponsor whose father was a United Transportation Union member.
“Really — all of the Nevada Assembly and Senate Democrats, as well as the governor, receive my thanks for their understanding of the important protection to public safety that this law provides,” Doering said. “There is too much risk involved in transporting hazardous materials and goods across our country and through our communities to have a single crewmember on trains that are a mile long or even longer.”
The law establishes fines of $5,000 for a first offense, $10,000 for a second offense within three years and $25,000 for a third and all other offenses for Class I and II carriers that operate freight locomotives without at least two people in the cab. Hostling and helper services are not covered by the law.
Doering and his board were stung by the 2017 veto by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, of S.B. 427, a prior try at two-person crew legislation that had passed both houses of the Nevada state Legislature.
But a change in leadership brought a new opportunity with Sisolak’s election last year.
“No doubt we were disappointed in 2017, but this is a prime example of how elections matter,” Doering said. “We cracked open the door with our previous effort and laid the groundwork. With that change in leadership in the state Capitol, it was opened even wider.”
The Nevada State Legislative Board especially wanted to thank members from SMART’s Sheet Metal Local 88 out of Las Vegas, who helped to amplify the message.
“They were an extraordinary help!” Doering said. “Jeff Proffitt and Alfonso Lopez — we couldn’t have moved anything without their support. Sheet Metal put rail labor on the map in Nevada.”
Also advocating for the legislation was Fran Almaraz, who helped set up meetings and facilitated a relationship with legislative leadership, Doering said.
Assisting the cause as well were TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, who provided guidance after succeeding earlier this year in getting two-person legislation made into law in his state, Dean Mitchell, who helped in researching and targeting the message and the TD Public Relations Department, which helped to compose an op-ed published by the Nevada Independent and put together print material to get the word out about the legislation.
And, as he did with S.B. 427, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen’s Nevada State Legislative Board Chairman Matt Parker mobilized BLET members to advocate loudly in favor of the legislation.
“It truly was a team effort,” Doering said.
A.B. 337 was approved April 23 by the State Assembly by a 29-12 vote and in the state Senate on May 7 by 13-8 margin. Both votes were party line with Democrats voting in favor of the legislation.
Nevada now joins Arizona, California, Colorado, West Virginia and Wisconsin as states that have legislation requiring two people to operate freight trains.
“This successful passage in Nevada proves that our persistence pays off,” Risch said. ”Concerning two-person crews, the message of public safety did not change from two years ago and will not change going forward. It’s that simple. Two crew members are vital to ensuring that these trains are operated safely and that our communities are secure.
“Legislators in Nevada knew this before, and they know it now. As a result of the 2018 election, the leadership in the governor’s office changed and now this safety-focused, common-sense bill has been made law.”
The Nevada State Legislative Board reports that A.B. 337, legislation requiring two people in the cab of freight trains in the state, passed in the state Senate on Tuesday by a 13-8 party-line vote.
The bill is in the process of enrollment — receiving signatures from both the Senate and General Assembly leadership — and is expected to be on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s (D) desk for his signature in the coming weeks, Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering said.
A bill in Maryland (H.B. 66) has successfully passed both houses of its Legislature and is awaiting action by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Two-person crew legislation also is progressing in Minnesota (part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill) and in Illinois (S.B. 24). The support of members in both states is important for both pieces of legislation to be passed.
Minnesota residents can contact these legislators to show support for the Minnesota bill.
Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering and his BLET counterpart Matthew Parker explain why two-person crews are necessary in an op-ed on the website of The Nevada Independent.
In the article, Doering and Parker refute some of the carriers’ most common arguments as to why two-person crews should not be legislated. They specifically mention a letter in support from Larry Mann, who helped to draft the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 and is SMART TD’s rail safety coordinator to the designated legal counsel.
“‘The FRSA has been in existence since 1970, and no court has ever ruled that collective bargaining agreements or any rights under the Railway Labor Act preempted a safety law,’ Mann wrote. … Mann pointed out that Wisconsin enacted two-person crew legislation in 1997 and had the law challenged by four rail carriers. The law was upheld in 1999 by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The Assembly Growth and Infrastructure committee recently voted on April 11 to send Assembly Bill 337, the state’s two-person crew bill, to the Assembly floor and recommended that it be passed as amended.
Survey results released by SMART Transportation Division’s Nevada State Legislative Board today show that voters in the state overwhelmingly side with the passage of regulations that require freight trains to be operated by crews consisting of a minimum of two people.
After being asked questions and given information on railroad safety, a staggering 89 percent of respondents to a phone survey, conducted Jan. 28 to 31, 2019, said they would vote for a two-person rail crew law in the interest of keeping their communities safe.
Just 13 percent of survey respondents had known that just two people serve on freight train crews, while 57 percent thought that three or more people operate a train.
A second crewmember on the train allows for better monitoring of traffic at rail grade crossings, investigates incidents such as grade crossing collisions or derailments when they occur and can communicate or supervise as needed with the engineer to avoid mistakes during the train’s operation, including when the train is secured (tied down).
The catastrophic Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013 devastated a town in Quebec, Canada, and occurred when a lone crewmember left his train unattended. The oil-carrying train then rolled into the town with no one aboard, and the resulting blast and inferno leveled a portion of the town center and killed dozens of people.
“A second crewmember could have made all the difference in that tragedy,” said Jason Doering, director of the SMART TD Nevada State Legislative Board.
When asked in the survey, Nevada residents agreed:
“Nearly nine of 10 respondents to this poll came out with the understanding of the safety benefits of having more than one person operating a freight train. Safety is a top priority for them, and they want it made law. Requiring all trains in the state to be operated by a crew of at least two people, no exceptions, makes perfect sense, despite what industry interest groups say,” Doering said. “When the duties of each crewmember were spelled out, poll respondents recognized that running a freight train with a single crewmember was a safety risk they would not want to see taken, even with future enhancements in rail technology.”
Nearly 75 percent said that they did not trust advanced technology to serve as a replacement for a crewmember. More than eight of 10 (81 percent) of those surveyed expressed at least some concern of a single-person crew train derailing in their community, and more than half (51 percent) said they were “very” worried that a freight train with one crewmember would derail. Just 19 percent of respondents thought the replacement of a crewmember with advanced technologies would be sensible.
“Those surveyed did not want the safety of where they live left to chance,” Doering said. “They want more than one person on the trains that roll through our communities, carrying goods and hazardous materials through our state at all hours. There is absolutely no question in their minds that two-person crews are safer for all — workers and community members.”
Respondents expressed favorable views of passenger rail, with 55 percent in support of the creation of a high-speed rail line linking Las Vegas and southern California and 61 percent saying that Amtrak should increase available passenger rail service in the state.
The poll, taken by DFM Research of St. Paul, Minnesota, was of 500 random Nevada residents using both cell phones and landlines. The total margin of error of this poll is ±4.4 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence.
Nevada Senate Bill 427 (S.B. 427), sponsored by Nevada State Senator Mark Manendo (D – Dist. 21), seeks to restore a requirement in Nevada’s laws regarding the minimum number of persons operating freight trains in the state.
The bill comes in response to interest expressed by freight railroad carriers nationwide in reducing the current crew size for most cross-country freight trains from two persons to a single operator. Railroad workers oppose such action, citing what they see as a compromise in safety with regard to further crew size reductions.
“In an incident such as a derailment resulting in the release of hazardous materials, the elimination of a crew member from freight trains would cause delay in notification to emergency responders. That creates an unacceptable risk to the public,” said SMART TD Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering.
“The desire to pursue single-person operations of freight trains clearly represents placing cost reduction and profits ahead of responsibility for ensuring that movement of freight by rail through the communities of Nevada takes place in the safest possible manner,” added Matt Parker, chairman of the Nevada state legislative board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
Nevada law previously specified a minimum crew size for freight trains in the state. The crew size requirement in that law was repealed in 1985 to accommodate changes to collective bargaining agreements negotiated between rail carriers and the labor unions representing their transportation craft employees.
“Had we foreseen the day that rail carriers would seek single-operator crews, we most certainly would not have supported repeal of Nevada’s previous crew consist requirements, instead insisting upon a modification to the law,” said retired UTU Nevada State Legislative Director Rodney Nelms, who participated in the 1985 legislative action.
A special thanks goes out from Doering to Sen. Manendo for sponsoring S.B. 427. Doering asks that members contact their Nevada state senators and ask them to support S.B. 427. Members can contact their state senators directly by visiting the Nevada State Senate website.