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FRA’s train crew size rule moves forward

The Federal Railroad Administration has submitted its final rule on train crew staffing to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, with the final rule potentially being released in March, according to OMB’s website.

Prior to becoming a final rule, federal regulations go to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is within OMB, for review. That review includes ensuring that the final rule is consistent with agency regulatory principles, as well as the policies and priorities of the president. It also checks to ensure that federal agencies considered the final rule’s consequences, including its benefits and costs.

OIRA’s review may take as long as 90 days, although the review period can be extended once by 30 days.

The notification about OMB’s review of the train crew size rule doesn’t indicate how the final rule is different from the initial proposed rule from July 2022.

Rail unions traditionally support regulation that would require at least two people operating a freight train. A number of states have also passed laws requiring freight train crew sizes of at least two people. But the railroads say such regulation isn’t needed because its safety benefits are unproven, and the regulation may stymie future technological advancements. Short-line railroads also argue that they should be exempt from the rule because many short lines operate on shorter networks where two-person crews may not be needed.

The notification’s abstract says: “This rulemaking would address the potential safety impact of one-person train operations, including appropriate measures to mitigate an accident’s impact and severity, and the patchwork of State laws concerning minimum crew staffing requirements. This rulemaking would address the issue of minimum requirements for the size of train crews, depending on the type of operations. In an effort to encourage public participation, FRA extended the comment period from 60 to 146 days and held a public hearing on December 14, 2022.”