Q:        What is the current status of crew redeployment negotiations?

A:        The railroads served proposals on the union to redeploy the conductor from the locomotive cab – where technology has supplanted the duties they used to perform – to locations where they can more efficiently perform the sort of “ground service” duties that conductors have traditionally performed when not riding in the cab.

SMART-TD claimed that the proposals were barred by so-called “moratorium” provisions in decades-old collective bargaining agreements, and so refused to bargain. After an arbitrator ruled last year that with only minor exceptions, the moratoriums do not bar the railroads’ proposals, several railroads and SMART-TD have been negotiating on a “local” basis to discuss the terms of a new agreement on train crews. Two of the railroads, BNSF and Norfolk Southern, are now requesting that the National Mediation Board assign a mediator to assist the parties in reaching a voluntary agreement. A third railroad, Union Pacific, has not filed for mediation and remains in direct negotiations.

PEB 250 recommended, and the agreements closing out the national bargaining round provide, that these negotiations will continue even though the national bargaining round is over.

BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern currently are in mediated negotiations with the assistance of the National Mediation Board.

Q:        What are the railroads proposing?

A:        For approximately three decades, the collective bargaining agreements between the railroads and the union that represents train service employees generally have required a minimum of two employees – one conductor and one engineer – to be assigned to trains engaged in through-freight service. Since those minimums were established, however, the railroads have developed and deployed new Positive Train Control (PTC) technology that allows through-freight operations to be safely conducted with only a single person in the cab of the locomotive. With this advancement, the railroads seek in the current round of bargaining to modernize rules relating to the size and makeup of train crews.

Q:        Is it safe to operate a train without an onboard conductor?

A:        Yes. While the statement that “two is better than one” has emotional appeal, it is not supported by the facts and data. Many passenger and freight railroads around the world already operate with only a single person in the cab supported by others who are deployed on the ground. Studies have shown that these operations – which in many cases are not backstopped by technologies as advanced as PTC – are just as safe as operations with more than one crew member in the cab of the locomotive.

Q:      What is the impact of the FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding two-person crews on the ongoing crew redeployment negotiations?

A:      It remains the industry’s position that train crew redeployment should be determined through collective bargaining – just as it has in the past. The regulatory proceeding recently initiated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – which largely recycles the two-person crew rule that the FRA proposed in 2016 and withdrew and 2019 due to a lack of a compelling safety justification– is separate from and does not impact the collective bargaining process. We continue to believe that existing agreements should be modified to allow for redeployment of conductors to ground-based position in PTC-enabled territory, and we expect local negotiations with SMART-TD to continue.

To read the industry’s comment on the most recent NPRM, click here.

Q:        Why did BNSF, UP, and Norfolk Southern request mediation?

A:        Mediation is a normal part of the collective bargaining process and has been used in many of the recent national bargaining rounds to help the parties reach agreements. The railroads and SMART-TD have entered into mediation in the ongoing national bargaining and BNSF and Norfolk Southern believe the NMB may similarly help the parties bridge their differences and reach an agreement on the crew redeployment issue. At all times, the railroads remain committed to the negotiations process and look forward to reaching fair and reasonable agreements that satisfy the interests of all industry stakeholders, including employees.

Q:        What is PTC and how does it work?

A:        PTC is an advanced system designed to automatically stop trains before accidents caused by human factors can occur. PTC systems share real-time information regarding train movements, speed restrictions, and the state of signal and switch devices. The system provides the locomotive engineer with advance warning of movement authority limits, speed limits and track conditions ahead, thereby giving the engineer time to react and bring the train to a safe speed or a controlled stop. If corrective action is not detected within the warning period, PTC automatically applies the brakes and brings the train to a controlled stop without the engineer’s assistance. In this fashion, the PTC system mitigates human error and prevents accidents and incidents.

Q:        What do you mean by “modernizing” rules?

A:        Over the last 30 years, the conductor served two primary roles in freight operations: first, as a ground service employee to assist with planned or unplanned work events; and second, as an in-cab observer/recorder to call out signals, record directives from the dispatcher and ensure that the train does not exceed its authority limits. PTC technology has supplanted the conductor’s in-cab observer/recorder role and ensures safe engineer-only operation of trains. While there is some variation in the proposals offered by each railroad, the general theme is the same: the railroads seek the right to redeploy conductors to ground-based support roles when operationally appropriate.

Q:        Are all freight rail operations impacted by the proposal?

A:        The railroads’ current proposal applies to operations on routes with PTC or equivalent technology.

Q:        How will the railroads perform ground service work?   

A:        Ground service work falls into two general categories: planned and unplanned. The overwhelming majority of ground service work is planned and can be effectively performed by a redeployed conductor who is pre-positioned at the work location before the train arrives. In many cases, a pre-positioned ground employee will be able to complete the work more efficiently than an onboard conductor because of the time it takes for the onboard conductor to walk between the locomotive cab to the work location. This means that stopped trains can get underway more quickly, and there will be less disruption in the communities where railroads operate.

Q:        How does the railroads’ proposal enhance employees’ job security and quality of life?   

A:     Rail customers operate in highly competitive environments in which their shipping decisions – the type of transportation and which carrier is awarded the business – are also very competitive. By improving overall network efficiency without sacrificing safety margins, the carriers’ redeployment proposals are designed to ensure that the railroads can maintain their ability to compete effectively in this broader market for transportation services – and, in doing so, provide long-term job stability to railroad employees and their families.

Additionally, conductors currently have unpredictable schedules and spend much of their time away from home.  As much of the ground service work will be shift based, conductors who are redeployed to ground-based roles will spend more nights at home and will have a far more predictable schedule than they do today.

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