Transportation and Telecommunications

Bill would require two-person freight train crews

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony March 6 on a bill intended to improve train safety in Nebraska.

Sen. Mike Jacobson
Sen. Mike Jacobson

Under LB31, introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson, a train or light engine used in the transportation of freight would be required to operate with a crew of at least two individuals. The Public Service Commission would enforce the bill’s provisions.

Jacobson said two-person crews currently are required under the collective bargaining agreement between railroad unions and their employers but state law does not require it. Because engineers must remain in the cab at all times, he said, conductors serve a necessary role in addressing any incident that occurs outside of the train.

“[Two-person crews] provide for the second crew member to immediately respond to any problems that may arise, including collisions, derailments and blocked crossings,” Jacobson said. “Conductors are a necessity for the safe, efficient operation of the railroad.”

Locomotive engineer AJ McAphee testified in support of LB31, emphasizing that a two-person crew could be the difference between life and death.

“There have been several instances in Nebraska where prompt actions by crew members have saved my coworkers’ lives,” he said. “Had those individuals been alone during those emergencies, they may not [be] alive today.”

Also speaking in support of the bill was Chris Bruns of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners. Recent advancements in railroad technology have made the industry more economically competitive, Bruns said, but technology cannot decipher every scenario that could transpire over the course of a trip.

“It is in the best interest of all Nebraskans to advance this important public safety bill that maintains having two, independently thinking human beings able to supersede technology … and quickly react to any potential emergency that may arise,” he said.

Pat Pfeifer, chairman of the legislative board for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, also testified in support of the proposal. Pfeifer noted similar concerns about recent developments in the industry, and said he worries that current regulations are not enough to protect workers.

“Rules and regulations can be replaced,” he said. “We need laws.”

Testifying in opposition to LB31 was BNSF Railway representative, Jeff Davis, who said innovation is the driving force in rail safety.

“Infrastructure and technology investments have been essential to reducing the number of train accidents,” Davis said. “More than 400 shortline railroads in the United States, and at least two or three in Nebraska, have been safely operating with one engineer in the cab for two decades or longer with no reported accidents.”

The committee took no immediate action on LB31.

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