Some railroads have proposed cutting back to one person crews on trains.
BNSF had proposed it during contract negotiations with unions – but the unions rejected that. Now, a bill has been introduced in Congress to make the tw person crews mandatory.
The two person crews consist of an engineer and a conductor. The proposal was to have only an engineer on the train. But union officials say that could compromise safety.
"By federal law, we have to stay in the cab of the locomotive," said Ronald Hoff, who is with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. "We cannot go back to render any kind of first aid, to cut the crossings to let emergency vehicles through, or anything like that."
Hoff says that’s true for engineers even if the train derails. He says that's why you need a conductor or trainman on that train.
"As a conductor or trainman, they have a list of the train," said Hoff. "Once they start getting in the vicinity of cars that are on the ground, they can see the stuff, and we can report this, if there is some toxic waste or anything like that. We can make sure first responders are aware of what's on the ground."
And Hoff says there are other situations that could arise.
"We had an engineer headed to Dilworth (Mn)," said Hoff. "And he had a stroke. Had the conductor not been on that train, it would have gone through downtown Fargo at very high speeds. They were able to get the train stopped and the gentleman to medical help."
The bill in Congress was introduced by an Alaska Representative. North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer says he hasn’t yet seen the bill.
"In the United States, I think pretty much all the trains do have two person crews," Cramer said. "I'm not big on mandating two person crews."
And Cramer says railroads are installing new “Positive Train Control” technology – which should help improve rail safety.
An effort in the North Dakota Legislature to require two person crews failed earlier this year.