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Train crew size bill advances in New Mexico Legislature

A bill requiring freight trains to have at least two workers in the locomotive cab has passed the House of the New Mexico Legislature and now awaits action in the Senate.

The bill, introduced by state Reps. Eliseo Lee Alcon, Patricia Roybal Caballero, Eleanor Chávez and Michael Padilla on Jan. 19, calls for at least two people to run a freight train operated in the state by a Class I or Class II railroad. Exceptions would be for remotely controlled locomotives running in rail yards as well as during hostling and helper operations.

A first violation would result in a fine of up to $1,000; subsequent violations would yield fines of up to $5,000 each.

This bill passed the New Mexico House of Representatives by 43-25 on Feb. 20 and is waiting to be reviewed by the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee.

“While it has been a long and tough road at times, we are seeing more gains on two person crew legislation this year than ever before,” the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers quoted Ashley Long, president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, as saying.

The issue of train crew sizes is being hotly debated, especially as federal officials and regulators respond to calls to beef up rail safety following the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train near East Palestine, Ohio. Among the recent recommendations from U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg following the derailment is a call to require freight trains to have at least two workers on board, while a bipartisan group of senators last week introduced legislation that would set a minimum train crew size of at least two members..

Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration had renewed a proposal first announced last July to require train crews of at least two members, while a number of states, such as New York and Michigan, have also introduced legislation that would require a minimum train crew size.

But industry observers argue that train crew size wasn’t an issue in the Feb. 3 derailment since the NS train that derailed had three workers in the locomotive cab. The rail industry has also contended that requiring a minimum crew size limits the ability of the railroads to come up with alternative work arrangements for train conductors.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.