Curtis Tate Published

New Federal Rule Says Trains Will Have Minimum Crew Size Of Two

A man in a dark blue suit and a light blue tie, seated at a table, presses a pen to his face as he listens to someone else speak.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg listens to local government and business leaders in Wheeling on July 18, 2023.
Curtis Tate/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Federal Railroad Administration announced Tuesday its rule requiring a minimum train crew size.

All trains must have a crew of at least two, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced Tuesday in Washington.

Work on the rule was initiated during the Obama administration but put on pause during the Trump White House. The derailment, fire and chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio, last year, pushed federal regulators to act.

Buttigieg said a second crew member, usually called a conductor, is essential for safety.

“A second crew member is vital to performing safety functions like securing a train with handbrakes, handling track switches that are not remotely controlled, obtaining track authorities, assisting in emergencies and much more,” he said.”

The industry’s principal advocacy organization, the Association of American Railroads, opposes the rule.

“You know, when they pushed against the rules requiring two-person crews at the state level, one of the things the railroad lobby said was the federal government should be the one to make the rule so there’s uniformity across state lines,” Buttigieg said. “So, here we go.”

Train crews used to have as many as five or six workers. But technology and updated labor agreements eventually reduced the typical size to two.