BNSF has tentative deal to run trains with 1 worker

One of the largest U.S. railroads and one of the largest labor organizations representing railroad workers have reached a tentative agreement to allow one person to operate a train on routes protected by a new collision-avoidance system required by Congress in 2008.

A BNSF Railway spokeswoman confirmed the agreement with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. If ratified by union members, it would cover 60 percent of the BNSF system.

Under the agreement, a sole engineer would operate most trains with the support of a remotely based “master conductor” on routes equipped with Positive Train Control.

The agreement was first reported Thursday by Railway Age, a trade publication.

The union represents roughly 3,000 BNSF employees in far-flung locations from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest. Some of the cities include Tacoma, Seattle, Spokane, Pasco, Fort Worth, Texas; Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri.

Roxanne Butler, a spokeswoman for BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said the agreement would not apply to trains carrying large volumes of hazardous materials, including crude oil and ethanol.

BNSF, which blankets the western two-thirds of the U.S., is the largest hauler of crude oil by rail in North America.

A Federal Railroad Administration emergency order last August required a minimum of two employees for such trains. Last July, an unattended crude oil train broke loose and rolled down a hill, derailing in the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and igniting massive fires and explosions that killed 47 people. A sole engineer was in charge of the train.

Congress required the installation of Positive Train Control after a head-on collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, California, in August 2008.

The accident killed 25 people, including the train’s engineer, who had been texting at the time of the crash and may have missed a stop signal, according to the accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

PTC could have stopped the commuter train before it crossed into the path of the freight train.

However, PTC likely would not have stopped last year’s deadly crash in Quebec.

Most freight trains in the U.S. currently operate with at least two crew members. The reduction in crew size has allowed railroads to dramatically reduce their labor costs. As recently as the 1970s, many states required five or six employees to operate every train.

Amtrak and most commuter railroads typically have only one person at the controls.

After the Quebec crash, some members of Congress introduced legislation to require at least two employees to operate every train. In April, Federal Railroad Administration proposed a rule to establish a minimum crew size for most passenger and freight trains.

“Ensuring that trains are adequately staffed for the type of service operated is critically important to ensure safety redundancy,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo in April.

More in Local News

Mukilteo crabber missing; his boat was found at Hat Island

Frank Urbick set out Thursday morning but did not return.

Police looking for leads in case of missing Snohomish man

Henry John Groeneveld, 63, was last seen on Monday, when he said something about going to “the river.”

Separate Everett fires send man to hospital, damage boat

The man was hospitalized for smoke inhalation from the early morning fire.

Police: He made an appointment, then tried to rob the bank

A lawyer is accused of donning a fake beard and telling a teller that a gunman was outside.

Drive-by shooting reported in Marysville neighborhood

Police said there was no evidence to indicate it was targeted at a specific person or property.

Celebrating the origins of Christmas

LDS church holds annual nativity festival featuring more than 600 sets.

Trooper’s car struck when he was arresting man for DUI

She drove away but was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence and hit-and-run.

Inslee’s budget solves school funding with help from carbon

His budget would use reserves to boost education, then replenish them with a carbon tax or fee.

Man, 29, injured by shots fired at Everett thrift store

The gunfire followed an argument in the parking lot of Value Village on Evergreen Way.

Most Read