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U.S. issues rule requiring at least two people on longest freight trains


U.S. issues rule requiring at least two people on longest freight trains

The Biden administration on Tuesday required the largest freight railroads to operate their trains with at least two people on board, seeking to improve rail safety with a new mandate that immediately drew stiff industry opposition.

The new rules arrive more than a year after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, spilling toxic chemicals into the air and soil. While the roughly 150-car train had three people on board, the incident still triggered new interest in rail safety in Washington, where lawmakers proposed sweeping legislation that remains stalled on Capitol Hill in the face of sustained lobbying by rail companies.

“Common sense tells us that large freight trains, some of which can be over three miles long, should have at least two crew members on board — and now there’s a federal regulation in place to ensure trains are safely staffed,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “This rule requiring safe train crew sizes is long overdue, and we are proud to deliver this change that will make workers, passengers, and communities safer.”

The Biden administration first proposed rules requiring two-person crews in 2022, seeking to ensure that the nation’s largest railroads — known as class-one operators — did not whittle down staffing to dangerous levels in a bid to cut costs in a tight economy. Rail industry workers flooded the Transportation Department with supportive comments, stressing they needed the extra help, especially in the case of emergency.

Nationally, more than 289 derailments and other accidents occurred on main freight lines last year from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, according to a Washington Post review of federal transportation data in February. Despite that record, freight railroads still fought vigorously against new federal rules. Their opposition at the Federal Railroad Administration mirrored their lobbying in legislatures around the country, where they argued there is no evidence that extra staffing would make trains safer.

“FRA is doubling down on an unfounded and unnecessary regulation that has no proven connection to rail safety,” Ian Jefferies, president of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead of prioritizing data-backed solutions to build a safer future for rail, FRA is looking to the past and upending the collective bargaining process.”

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