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Union Pacific becomes second railroad to phase out one-man crews

OMAHA, Nebraska (AP) — Union Pacific became the second major freight railroad in the past week to abandon a long-standing industry push to reduce train crews to one as legislators and regulators increasingly focus on railroad safety in the wake of last month’s fire. . crash in Ohio.

The Omaha, Nebraska, railroad said in a statement Saturday that it reached an agreement with a union representing conductors to drop its proposal to remove these workers from locomotive cabs just months after it pushed to test the idea of ​​placing conductors in trucks. in parts of its 23-state network. Norfolk Southern made a similar announcement a few days earlier.

The Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment, forcing the evacuation of about half of an East Palestine city near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border after officials released and burned toxic chemicals, sparked renewed interest in railroad safety. The bipartisan bill, which gained support in Congress, would require railroads to maintain two-man crews and make a number of other changes designed to reduce the likelihood of future derailments. And regulators, who are also pushing railroads to reform, were already considering a rule that would require two-person crews.

The major freight railroads have long argued that technological advances — especially the automatic braking system they have had to install in recent years — have made it unnecessary to have a second person on every locomotive. Railroad executives have said they believe removing conductors from trains will improve their quality of life, as they will have more predictable schedules and will not walk on the roads.

But the Transportation Department of the International Sheet Metal, Aviation, Railroad and Transport Workers Association and other rail unions have long refused to agree to cuts in train crew numbers because they believe train conductors play a critical role in ensuring safety and they want to keep workplaces.

The unions say conductors help monitor track conditions and radio communications while ensuring that engineers stay alert and respond to any emergencies or mechanical problems on the train. In the event of a derailment or collision, conductors are the first to respond before any further help can arrive, and they provide emergency services with key information about what the train is carrying.

Union Pacific executive vice president Beth Whited said the railroad will now focus on other ways to deal with the busy schedules workers expressed during difficult contract negotiations last fall. The railroad industry was on the brink of a strike that could cripple the economy before Congress stepped in in December and imposed a contract to prevent the strike.

“We are pleased that Union Pacific is focusing on the quality of life of our conductors,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD.

Railroads have also been under pressure over the past year to improve their services because they have struggled to keep up with all the traffic the companies want them to deliver. And the industry is defending its safety record after cutting nearly one-third of all railroad jobs over the past six years as railroads overhauled their operations. Unions say all these cuts have left workers too dispersed, making it harder for them to do all the necessary checks and maintenance.

Railways claim they remain the safest way to transport hazardous chemicals and all sorts of other cargo overland because almost every cargo arrives safe and sound, but the East Palestine derailment has once again proved just how devastating even a single hazardous wreck can be. chemicals.

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