US Small Enterprise Administration questions proposed prepare crew dimension rule

Among the many 1000’s of feedback acquired by the Federal Railroad Administration on a proposed rule that might require at the least two crew members in a freight locomotive cab was one from the U.S. Small Enterprise Administration saying FRA “considerably understated” prices and the variety of doubtlessly affected companies.

SBA’s Workplace of Advocacy is asking FRA to revise and republish its preliminary regulatory flexibility evaluation as a result of SBA maintains that FRA grossly underestimated how a lot the regulation would value short-line railroads. 

“[FRA] considerably understated the associated fee and variety of small companies that might be impacted by the rule,” SBA mentioned in a Dec. 21 letter to FRA Administrator Amit Bose. 

FRA’s revision of its regulatory flexibility evaluation ought to think about regulatory options that would obtain its targets whereas additionally minimizing prices to small entities, SBA mentioned in a December reality sheet in regards to the proposed rule.

Whereas some short-line operators make the most of two-person crews, smaller short-line railroads have sometimes used one particular person to drive the locomotive, in accordance with the American Quick Line and Regional Railroad Affiliation (ASLRRA). At a December listening to in regards to the proposed rule, ASLRRA mentioned the prices of including new crew members at small short-line railroads may put them out of enterprise.

“It was very clear from the roundtable and public listening to that giant Class I railroads are very completely different — each operationally and financially — from their Class II and III counterparts,” SBA’s Dec. 21 letter mentioned. “Whereas FRA does think about a number of regulatory options within the proposed rule, the options don’t distinguish between massive and small railroads or acknowledge the varied and distinctive environments that short-line railroads face each operationally and financially.”

Among the options may embrace a extra streamlined petition course of, an extended compliance time for smaller railroads or a performance-based commonplace targeted on clearly established security metrics that might enable presumptive approvals or exemptions. 

SBA famous that FRA would enable “legacy operations” with one-person prepare crews to use and acquire permission from FRA to “provoke a brand new prepare operation.” However the authorities company mentioned short-line operators have famous the submissions would require detailed danger assessments that small companies don’t possess the bandwidth to supply.

In keeping with SBA’s letter, there are 696 short-line railroads within the U.S., and on common they make use of fewer than 30 individuals, run a mean of 79 miles and have $7.7 million or much less in income. Smaller short-line railroads might need one particular person driving the locomotive and the opposite particular person in a truck or utility car performing switching and different operational duties, the letter mentioned.

FRA performed a public listening to in December to listen to testimony from ASLRRA, a number of brief strains, Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC), the Affiliation of American Railroads and union representatives from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Transportation Division of the Worldwide Affiliation of Sheet Metallic, Air, Rail and Transportation Employees (SMART-TD) and Transportation Commerce Division of the AFL-CIO. 

The company collected public testimony by way of December.

Strains drawn in feedback in regards to the proposed rule 

The 1000’s of submissions to FRA in regards to the prepare crew dimension rule included views each for and towards it. 

Politicians who voiced hesitation included Republican Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“In the end, FRA’s [notice of proposed rulemaking] fails on a number of fronts to satisfy the requisite requirements required of correct and efficient rulemaking,” Crawford mentioned in a Dec. 21 letter to FRA’s Bose. “As an alternative, this stands as an arbitrary and capricious proposed rule that merely suits a marketing campaign promise by President [Joe] Biden somewhat than assembly crucial requirements for rulemaking or assembly the purpose of enhancing and guaranteeing security.” 

When Crawford wrote the letter, he was the rating member of the U.S. Home Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Supplies.

Wicker additionally wrote within the letter that FRA ought to have performed extra testing, which might have helped the company perceive whether or not to proceed with the proposed rule or modify it. He additionally identified that examples within the proposed rule don’t account for current technological advances.

“FRA additionally revealed the [notice of proposed rulemaking] with out growing information, completely analyzing the standing of operations within the business and evaluating the extent of burden the proposed rule would impose. …” Wicker wrote. “FRA may and may have remediated this lack of information prematurely of proposing the rule. The gathering of this information would undoubtedly have helped to find out whether or not regulation is critical in any respect, whereas permitting for a extra full analysis of the security implications and tradeoffs concerned in mandating crew dimension.” 

In the meantime, a whole bunch of particular person crew members together with union and state teams urged FRA to press ahead with the rule, contending the mandate will guarantee secure practices partially as a result of a conductor and prepare engineer can act as an inside checks-and-balances operational unit.

“Know-how can and must be used to boost the security of railroad operations. Nonetheless, expertise can not take the place of two units of eyes and ears within the locomotive cab,” mentioned Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Upkeep of Method – Employes Division, in a December letter in assist of the proposed rule. “One of the best ways to make sure the best degree of security for railroad operations is to have two certified crew members on every freight prepare, simply as there are two certified crew members within the cockpit of every business airplane.”

Stated Donald Roach, director of SMART-TD’s Michigan state legislative board: “Preserving two crew members on a prepare doesn’t stifle innovation. The railroads haven’t acknowledged how this  regulation on crew dimension would stifle innovation. Presently, there isn’t any expertise that may change both crew member.”

The California Public Utilities Fee (CPUC) not solely urged FRA to undertake the proposed rule however take away the situations that might allow one-crew legacy operations to be excluded. But when exclusion provisions stay, state companies ought to have extra energy to make the choice.

“The FRA’s exemption course of ends in a two-person crew requirement that’s weaker than California’s stringent two-person crew mandate, which doesn’t present an exemption for freight operations.” CPUC mentioned in December. “Ought to the FRA grant exemptions to freight railroads working in California, this could end in a return to pre-2015 situations by which freight railroads have been permitted to endure long-distance freight operations with out at the least two crew members. Consequently, the FRA’s proposed two-person crew exemption course of may scale back security alongside California’s rail system. The fee urges the FRA to take away its proposed exemption course of — at the least for rail freight operations — so as to be sure that security shouldn’t be being compromised and that state legal guidelines should not being undermined.”

Twenty state senators from Washington additionally urged FRA to move the proposed rule. Washington itself handed a state regulation requiring a prepare crew dimension of at the least two members in 2020.

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