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Today, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations do not require a minimum number of employees to operate a locomotive. All major freight railroads in the United States do operate with two or more crew members — a certified locomotive engineer and a certified conductor — on all mainline train operations.
However, with the imminent deployment of
Positive Train Control (PTC) — highly advanced technology designed to automatically stop a train before certain types of accidents occur — along with other technological advancements and changes in operating practices, railroads may at some point seek to use one-person crews where PTC is in use.
Crew size regulations have always been — and should continue to be — a collective bargaining issue.
There is no data showing a one-person crew would negatively impact railroad safety. In fact, some non-Class I railroads have long operated with just one person in the locomotive cab, and thousands of Amtrak and commuter passenger trains, carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers, operate every day with just one person in the locomotive cab.
A recent AAR review of the FRA train accident database found no evidence that trains with one-person crews have accidents at a higher rate than trains with two-person crews. The FRA itself, after its own review, stated in 2009 that it found no “factual evidence to support the prohibition against one-person operations.”
Freight railroads believe that once PTC is implemented, there will be adequate safety redundancies allowing for maximum crew flexibility.