August 7, 2013

Train industry to fight proposed ban on one-man rail crews

Pointing to the deadly crash in Lac-Megantic, unions back Rep. Mike Michaud's bill, saying it's a safety issue.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

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Unions that represent railroad workers are rallying behind Michaud's bill, saying it would help prevent the kind of accident that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last month. The industry says the bill is a ploy to protect jobs. Above, workers clean up the deadly Quebec crash.


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Also, Stem said, the two crew members would check on each other to make sure they both follow the rules.

If a manager refuses to pay overtime to finish a job properly, he said, two people are better able challenge the manger than one individual.

Stem blames the accident in Lac-Megantic on management decisions to save money. He said the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic was trying to reduce overtime costs and didn't give the engineer enough time to secure the train.

"If the public had known the level of disregard for public safety, there would have been a revolt," he said.

Several decades ago, trains were run by five-man crews, with some crew members riding in cabooses. Major railroads now use two-man crews.

In the deregulation of the industry in the 1980s, short lines that would have been abandoned because of the high cost of labor contracts were allowed by the federal government to operate without those contracts, said Sandra Dearden-McKay, a transportation consultant based Indiana.

She said the use of one-man crews has allowed the railroads to survive and continue to serve shippers.

Because the unions have used public safety as an argument to maintain crew sizes, they have lost some credibility, said Gary Chaison, a labor-law professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

He said the unions might be successful if they can show that last month's accident could have been prevented by a two-man crew, and that the cost of an additional worker is not too great a burden on railroads.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: 

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