Robert Peterson, a BNSF conductor out of Local 951 (Sheridan, Wyo.), questions the cost and need for freight railroads to push into automated technology in an opinion piece published Feb. 12 on the Railway Age website.
Class I freight carriers are thriving with booming profits and record operating ratios, Peterson argues, and are doing so with two people in the cab and by supporting the efforts of crews with newly developed advances in technology.
In addition, he writes, Federal Railroad Administration data shows that the industry as a whole is going through a period of decline in accident rates.
“This data implies an improved safety trend is due in part to current operating rules that utilize two-person train crews and technological safety advances in train operations,” he writes.
And, while the fully autonomous Rio Tinto AutoHaul operation has drawn headlines, it cost the company upwards of $900 million, Peterson writes, and this kind of operation may not even be economically feasible in the United States with the differences in terrain, the 140,000 miles of Class I trackage and other considerations, including the type of materials hauled.
“Is the American public ready to gamble lives on a computer-run vs human-run freight train?” Peterson concludes.