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.