October 21, 2014

Single-person train crew operations must be stopped

Mike Futhey

Mike Futhey

By Mike Futhey, 
SMART Transportation Division President – 

The events that unfolded July 6 in the Canadian province of Quebec, where a runaway train exploded and killed 47 people in the city of Lac-Megantic, weigh on the minds of an assortment of people whose lives were touched, directly or indirectly.

On that grizzly evening, a dark stretch of tankers jettisoned through the center of that small community, exploding in the night and leaving an indelible mark for decades to come.

I am not writing this to lay the blame at anyone’s feet; not at the feet of the management of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, nor at those of the single operating crew member. However, I would be remiss if I did not raise, again, the dangers inherent in a single-person train operation.

We have been diligent in our endeavors to stop this untenable act by submitting petitions to governmental agencies and by talking directly to the carriers that exercise the “right” to single-person operations.

Unfortunately, our demands for safety regulations, either arbitrarily or voluntarily, have fallen on deaf ears.

This event is not one of first impression. In 1997, in the state of Wisconsin, then Gov. Tommy Thompson petitioned for and signed a bill that requires a two-person train crew operation in that state. It came about after a runaway train and subsequent explosion that did not reach the level of the Lac-Megantic wreck, but that was significant enough to warrant a legislative solution.

Obviously, we find ourselves in another inexcusable scenario, wherein inactivity is an unacceptable alternative. This issue will not go silently into the night.

As such, we will reach out to likeminded leaders in the transportation industry and to legislative bodies that regulate train operations to correct this situation. In doing so, we will expose those that ignore public safety by droning on in semantic, self-justifying plausible deniability.

The new apocalyptic Lac-Megantic will not allow us to merely register a historical footnote. We will now deal with the inextricable knowledge that a single-person train operation contributed to the destruction of life.

Pray for the families of the victims. We will honor them by fighting for change.

Since the time this column was written, the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen jointly announced that legislation requiring at least two crew members on all freight trains in the U.S. has been filed in Congress. Also, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order and safety advisory to help prevent trains operating on mainline tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally.