IAFF supports new rule addressing train crew size requirements 

New federal rule requires major freight railroads to keep two-person crews.

April 2 • 2024

U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg introduced a new rule, mandating the presence of a second crewmember on all trains to enhance safety protocols. 

“Common sense tells us that large freight trains, some of which can be over three miles long, should have at least two crew members on board – and now there’s a federal regulation in place to ensure trains are safely staffed,” said Buttigieg. 

The finalized rule sets minimum standards and federal oversight, with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) considering over 13,500 written comments and testimonies from communities and railroad workers during its development. 

“The volume of comments from rail workers and their families, as well as comments from the general public impacted by long trains and other issues, raised legitimate safety concerns that railroads, on their own, have not been able to adequately address,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose. 

Washington, D.C., IAFF Local 36 President David Hoagland, who introduced Buttigieg, highlighted the administration’s focus on the safety of fire fighters responding to emergencies. 

“Trains are essential to our national economy and provide critical freight and passenger transportation in all 50 states, but they can also pose a severe hazard when they are understaffed and poorly prepared for emergencies. Quick decisions during emergencies depend on crew presence,” Hoagland said.

Crews provide crucial cargo info and identify issues to responders, and this rule enhances safety for all.

David hoagland, Local 36 President

The push for enhanced rail safety, prompted by multiple train derailments such as the 53-car derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in early 2023, led Buttigieg to advocate for immediate action. 

Since the East Palestine derailment, over 1,500 derailments have occurred in the U.S., with Hoagland calling the mandating of two-person crews a ‘critical safety feature.’ 

“When I talk about safety, I talk about the safety of our communities, I talk about the safety of our first responders, including our fire fighters that are here with us today,” said Jeremy Ferguson, President of SMART’s Transportation Division. “I talk about the professional men and women that are operating the train.” 

With funding to support the effort from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Buttigieg is calling on congressional support to back future railway safety initiatives. 

“We are going to keep pressing Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act, and that’s the bill that was introduced by bipartisan leaders in the wake of the East Palestine incident,” said Buttigieg. “Last week in Baltimore, we were reminded of what is at stake in the safety of our transportation systems. It is literally about lives and livelihoods.” 

The IAFF is working closely with the USDOT and Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ensure members can receive the training they need to respond to hazardous materials incidents and other emergencies.