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The Rail System Needs a National Safety Standard | News, Sports, Jobs

Mirror readers, especially those with ties to the railroad industry, will no doubt recall the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision in 2019 to drop an FRA proposal to require two-person crews on freight trains.

Those same readers may recall a January 26, 2020 Mirror op-ed urging the federal agency to rethink its stance. The following quote from that editorial remains as true and relevant today as it was the day it was first published:

“The sobering possibilities as to what could happen if the sole person in charge of a train were to suffer a heart attack or stroke or other serious medical condition such as an aneurysm, unbeknownst to anyone , on a remote section of the railway or even on a section of track that is not in a remote area.

The editorial went on to say that “People here might wonder what the outcome would be if a medical emergency immobilized a crew as a train with many units came down the mountain from Gallitzin leading or continuing from the horseshoe curve.”

The Mirror stands by these points and the favorable opinions that followed.

Fast forward to an Associated Press article published by the Mirror last month on July 28. The article announced that the FRA, through a new ruling published in the Federal Register, had ordered that railroads continue to use two-person crews in most cases. as they transport all kinds of goods, including hazardous materials, across the country.

However, there would be an exception. Shortlines already using one-person crews would be permitted to continue using them. Meanwhile, the railways would be given the green light to seek permission to use smaller crews if they can prove the practice would be safe.

The public needs to know how providing such a guarantee would be possible, all things considered. A logical first reaction on the part of most people would seem to be deep skepticism.

The July 28 AP article noted that a rule requiring two crew members was issued in 2016, but that plan was scrapped under the Trump administration because the railroad administration said that there wasn’t enough evidence to show it was any safer.

According to federal officials, the recently announced proposed rule will replace the existing patchwork of state laws on railroad crew size with a national standard.

A national standard is only reasonable if it is better than what it replaces, and railway employees, customers and the general public deserve such assurance.

Although railroad executives are increasingly placing their faith in a system capable of automatically stopping trains under certain circumstances – the system is called Positive Train Control – it is hard to imagine there are still enough examples of PTC’s performance in emergency scenarios to justify such confidence. .

For places like Altoona and Johnstown with a long rail history, the issue of train crew size isn’t likely to go away without trust becoming more deeply ingrained about what’s on the tracks. It can be said with confidence that many people are still stunned when they learn that only two people could be at the controls of long, seemingly endless trains.

FRA’s latest decision is essentially correct, but it needs to be careful in how it reacts to new proposals and challenges that will most certainly arise in the months and years to come.

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