WASHINGTON — Congress is pushing to mandate a specific crew size on trains following a series of dangerous incidents. But the legislation leaves out a type of train that regularly carries hazardous chemicals in major metropolitan areas with no licensed engineers onboard.
Union Pacific, among other rail companies, operates remote-controlled locomotives (RCLs) for short distances in and around rail yards in places like Houston, Denver and Tucson, Arizona. The trains can carry chemicals like acidic poison, ethanol and sulfuric acid. And the Railway Safety Act of 2023 won’t stop the practice because of the bill’s exceptions for trains that “do not travel farther than 30 miles from the point of origin,” among other exceptions.
Union Pacific has for 20 years used workers who are not licensed engineers or conductors to operate these trains using remote joysticks. The workers are required to have only two weeks of remote operation training, as opposed to six months or more for conductors, to move these trains between rail yards.
The company became the second major railroad this week to drop a longstanding push for one-person crews aboard trains, joining Norfolk Southern, as a group of bipartisan lawmakers eyes an overhaul of the rail industry, which includes mandatory two-person crews on long-haul trains.