DOT Issues New Rule Requiring Two-Person Crew for Trains

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said some trains are operated with just one crew member on board. Some of those trains can be as long as three miles long. But after several train derailments, including the Norfolk Southern East Palestine, Ohio derailment last February, the Department of Transportation is making a big rule change, aiming to improve rail safety. 

“Last year I visited East Palestine in Ohio to meet with community members and to see that sight of the Norfolk Southern derailment first hand,” recalled Sec. Buttigieg.  

The Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine caused chaos in local communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio for weeks. It prompted evacuations, caused concerns about the health and safety of community members, the environment and first responders following that crash. In an effort to improve rail safety, the DOT announced rule changes on train crew sizes. They are now requiring at least a second crewmember on freight and passenger trains.  

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

The Association of American Railroads is pushing back on the new rule. They are calling it an “unfounded and unnecessary regulation that has no proven connection to rail safety.” 

But supporters of the new rule say otherwise.  

“For the rail association people and lobbyists who it hasn’t dawned on yet that a two-person crew is safer, I would encourage them to get off their laptops and ride on the head in on the train or the cab of a locomotive,” said Vince Verna, Vice President and National Legislative Representative for the Brotherhood of Engineers and Trainmen. “The work of a two-person crew is important. I did it for 18 years before I came to Washington. I know it’s safer.”  

Secretary Buttigieg said this won’t solve all train-related issues, but it’s a start. 

“And we will keep pushing to achieve from within this building, we’re gonna keep pushing industry to make the changes they could make today and we’re gonna keep pressing Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act,” said Sec. Buttigieg.  

The Railway Safety Act is sponsored by Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey (D- PA) and John Fetterman (D- PA) with other members across the aisle. It would make changes to rail safety and holding companies more accountable for derailments. So far that legislation has been stalled here in the Capitol. 

The Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine had three crew members on board when it derailed.