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California Governor signs two-person crew law

CLEVELAND, September 10 — California Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown signed a two-person crew bill into law on September 8, signifying a significant boost to railroad safety.

The bill reads in part: “This bill would prohibit, on and after February 1, 2016, a train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight, as specified, from being operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 individuals.”

Primary sponsors of the bill are the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the SMART Transportation Division (former United Transportation Union).

“This represents a major victory for all of organized labor, especially our hard working engine and train crews,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “While the advancement of technology has made the workplace safer, a machine cannot replace the trained eyes and ears of experienced professionals inside the cab of the locomotive.”

The law provides for civil penalties against the railroads for willful violations of the law, ranging from $250-$1,000 for the first offense and up to $10,000 for a third offense and each subsequent violation within a three-year period.

“Technology can only go so far,” President Pierce said. “In the event of an emergency situation, a lone crew member cannot properly assess the situation, secure the train, and notify all necessary emergency responders in a timely manner. It is our hope that this legislation serves a model for other states.”

President Pierce noted that at least 14 states have introduced minimum crew size legislation this year, including Washington, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah and North Dakota.

California legislators analyzed possible conflicts with Federal law regarding minimum crew size. The state’s analysis of the issue validates their passage of the law, and reads in part: “According to the Federal Railroad Safety Act, it is the policy of Congress that rail safety regulations be nationally uniform to whatever extent practicable. However, a state is permitted to continue to regulate with respect to any rail safety matter until such time as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation issues a rule covering the same subject matter. Also, a state is permitted to adopt additional or more stringent standards than the federal standards if the state rule does not create an undue burden on interstate commerce, is not incompatible with federal standards, and is necessary to eliminate or reduce local safety hazards (Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970).”

President Pierce thanked Brother Tim Smith, Chairman of the California State Legislative Board, and everyone else involved, for their tireless work in securing passage of this major legislation.

Thursday, September 10, 2015
bentley@ble-t.org

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