Nebraska lawmakers debate bill to require two crew members on trains
BEATRICE – Nebraska legislators Wednesday were debating a bill on the size of train crews, in the state. LB 31 is the priority bill of Senator Mike Jacobson of North Platte. It would require at least two crew members on trains traveling through Nebraska. He said it’s time for Nebraska to act to protect train crews and the public. He said neither labor nor ownership of major railroads have public safety as a primary objective.
"And, the class one railroads are largely controlled by major investors that are looking for stronger, better returns. As a result of that, we are seeing safety issues that are entering the problem."
Jacobson said a Federal Railroad Administration inspection this past year found more than double the number of normal safety violations at Bailey Yard in North Platte. He also cited a railcar explosion involving perchloric acid.
"I spoke with an individual who was there. Railyard workers saw this train...saw some steam coming from this particular car...drove closer to it, saw that it was leaking and immediately backed up to get out of the way, about the time this car exploded. Intense fire, perchloric acid fumes into the air...that part of town was shut down...these two individuals luckily were only injured, and not killed. But had they gone to the car itself, they clearly would have been killed. These are the kind of safety issues, that although the two-person crew bill is not going to fix the safety violations...I will tell you that the safety violations are what are leading to the derailments."
Jacobson said having a conductor required on trains would provide another set of eyes in helping to detect safety problems. He said an engineer cannot get out of the train, but a conductor can…to investigate possible safety issues.
"There was a situation in Hershey, Nebraska...here a few years ago, where the engineer and the conductor are coming from the west, back to Bailey Yard...coming through Hershey. The conductor saw something on the track, moving....alerted the engineer, did you see that? He immediately starting slowing the train. They got there about twenty yards from a toddler who had wandered onto the track. What if the conductor hadn't seen that? What if that extra set of eyes wasn't there"?
Jacobson asked colleagues to think about an airliner, asking, “would you climb on a plane that didn’t have two pilots”? Addressing opponents of regulation…Jacobson said when it comes to public safety, there are times we need to act. Senator Mike McDonnell, of Omaha said safety of the public should be the highest priority.
Senator John Lowe, of Kearney opposes the bill and says he doesn’t feel it’s the state’s responsibility to set train crew size….saying that’s up to labor and ownership. He cited autonomous vehicles as an example where technology is working.
The Federal Railroad Administration and Congress could act on a federal requirement for train crew size, but neither have done so.
LB 31 was at the first-round of debate, Wednesday.