Nebraska lawmakers fail to end filibuster on bill requiring two-person train crews
BEATRICE – Nebraska lawmakers today failed to shut-off debate on a bill about train crews, likely signaling the end of the line for the bill, this session.
A lengthy filibuster was wrapping up this week for Nebraska lawmakers on the bill that would require two crew members on major railroad trains in the state.
LB 31 ran into opposition from Senators such as Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, who feels it’s not the state’s role to delve into.
"The idea that we're interjecting ourselves into a huge private company...with one of the strongest unions in the country...and that it's somehow any of our business....I don't think that's right."
The bill was the priority measure of Senator Mike Jacobson of North Platte, who’s district is home to the largest rail installation in the U.S., the Union Pacific Bailey Yard. He has promoted the bill as a public safety issue in an era where trains are extremely long.
"I'm not telling you...and I haven't said from the beginning...I've not told you...that two people on the crew are necessarily going to stop the derailments. That's more of a maintenance issue...and a technology issue. But there will be somebody there, to deal with the derailment, when it happens. When I talk three-hundred car length on a coal train, you know what the length is on an Amtrak train in Nebraska? Three. Three cars...and there is a conductor on board the train at all times, who is in contact with the engineer."
Senator Carolyn Bosn, of Lincoln cited an Arizona court case as a reason lawmakers are wading into territory they should avoid. "And if you look at Southern Pacific vs. Arizona Ex Rel Sullivan...it's a 1945 case. It talks about Arizona doing this exact same thing...regulating trains. And, the fact is the federal government came in and said, you cannot do that, because it affects interstate commerce. They wanted to limit the number of train cars you can have."
Senator Carol Blood, of Bellevue described Thursday’s debate as a slow-moving train wreck…with accurate and inaccurate statements. "I think we have to remember this debate isn't about negotiations. It isn't about trying to push something forward that isn't needed. It's about public safety. The positive train control, which you've heard is a safety overlay system. But, it is incapable of performing the cognitive functions and the tasks of a conductor or conductors. And, this was identified, by the way...and you can find it online...by the FRA...and it further noted that it cannot provide the benefits of two humans working together, in collaboration."
The federal government has not acted to require at least two-person train crews. One senator said the state has the right to act in the name of safety, until the federal government sets a crew-size standard.
Senators adjourned floor debate for the week, with a 24-19 vote to cease debate on the bill. But 33 votes were required….and the motion failed.