US Small Business Administration questions proposed train crew size rule

Among the thousands of comments received by the Federal Rail Administration on a proposed rule requiring at least two crew members in the cabs of freight locomotives were those that the FRA “greatly underestimated” the cost and There was a comment from the U.S. Small Business Administration stating a number of potential businesses. .

The SBA’s Office of Advocacy has asked the FRA to revise and reissue its original regulatory flexibility analysis. This is because the FRA, he argues with the SBA, has vastly underestimated the cost of short-haul rail by regulation.

“[FRA] In a Dec. 21 letter to FRA administrator Amit Bose, SBA said it grossly underestimated the cost and number of small businesses affected by the rule.

In a fact sheet on proposed regulations in December, the SBA noted that the FRA’s revisions to its regulatory flexibility analysis included regulatory alternatives that could meet its objectives while minimizing costs for small entities. said it should be considered.

According to the American Association of Short-Haul and Regional Railroads (ASLRRA), some short-haul operators use two crews, but smaller short-haul trains typically operate locomotives. 1 person to use. At his December hearing on the proposed rule, ASLRRA said the cost of adding new crews on small, short-haul railroads could put them out of business.

The SBA’s December 21 letter stated, “It is very clear from the roundtable and public hearings that large Class I railroads are very different, both operationally and financially, from their Class II and III counterparts. was.” “The FRA is considering several regulatory alternatives in the proposed rule, but the alternatives could distinguish between large and small railroads, or whether short-haul railroads would be operationally and financially viable. They are unaware of the diverse and unique environment they face.”

Some alternatives include a more streamlined petition process, longer compliance times for smaller railroads, or performance-based standards focused on clearly established safety metrics that enable presumed approval or waivers. may be included.

The SBA said the FRA would allow “legacy operations” by one train crew and would allow the FRA to apply for and obtain permission to “start new train operations.” However, shortline operators point out that submissions require a detailed risk assessment and small businesses don’t have the bandwidth to produce, according to the agency.

According to the SBA letter, there are 696 short-haul railroads in the United States, which employ an average of less than 30 people, travel an average of 79 miles, and generate less than $7.7 million in revenue. On smaller, short-distance railroads, one person could be driving the locomotive, while he could be another person in the truck or utility vehicle doing changeovers and other operational tasks, the letter said. says.

The FRA held hearings in December to discuss ASLRRA, several short lines, Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC), the American Railroad Association, and the Brotherhood of Engineers and Railroaders unions. I heard testimonies from representatives. The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Aviation, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Transportation Trade Division of AFL-CIO.

The agency continued to collect public testimony until December.

Lines Drawn in Comments on Proposed Rules

Thousands of submissions to the FRA regarding train crewing regulations included both arguments for and against.

Politicians who expressed hesitation included Republican Congressman Rick Crawford of Arkansas and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“Finally, the FRA [notice of proposed rulemaking] It fails on several fronts to meet the requirements necessary for proper and effective rulemaking,” Crawford said in the FRA’s Dec. 21 letter to Bose. “Instead, it stands as an arbitrary, capricious proposed rule that simply fits into the president’s election promises. [Joe] Rather than meeting the standards necessary for rulemaking and achieving the goal of improving and ensuring safety,

At the time Crawford wrote the letter, he was a leading member of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

Wicker wrote in the letter that the FRA should have done more testing. He also pointed out that the proposed rule example does not account for recent technological advances.

“FRA also [notice of proposed rulemaking] Without developing any data, it thoroughly examines the operating state of the industry and assesses the level of burden that the proposed rule would impose. …” Wicker wrote. “The FRA could and should have rectified this lack of data before proposing a rule. It has allowed us to make a more complete assessment of the safety implications and trade-offs associated with mandating the size of our workforce.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of crew members have called on the FRA, along with trade unions and state groups, to push the rules, and mandates are safer because they allow conductors and train engineers to act as operational units for internal checks and balances. He argued that practice would be warranted.

“Technology can and should be used to make railway operations safer. In a December letter supporting the proposal, Tony Cardwell, president of the Road Maintenance Association, said: “The best way to ensure the highest levels of safety in the railroad business is to have a qualified crew on each freight train, just as each commercial plane has two qualified crew in the cockpit. is to place two people.”

Donald Roach, director of SMART-TD’s Michigan State Law Commission, said: The rail company has not stated how the restrictions on crew numbers will stifle innovation. There is currently no technology that can replace either crew member. ”

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has urged the FRA to not only adopt the proposed rule, but also to remove the condition that would allow it to exclude legacy single-crew operations. rice field. But where exclusion clauses remain, state agencies should have more power to make decisions.

“The FRA exemption process results in a weaker two-crew crew requirement than California’s strict two-crew mandate and does not provide exemptions for cargo operations,” the CPUC said in December. “If the FRA grants exemptions to freight railroads operating in California, it would be a return to pre-2015, when freight railroads were permitted to carry long-distance freight without at least two crew members. As a result, the FRA’s proposed two-man crew exemption process could make California’s railroad system less safe, and the commission asked the FRA to ensure that safety would not be compromised and that state law would not be compromised. We request that the proposed exemption process be removed in order to

Twenty Washington state senators also called on the FRA to pass the proposed rule. Washington state itself passed a state law requiring at least two train crew sizes for her in 2020.

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