City shows support for Safe Freight Act

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Whitefish City Council last month passed a resolution showing its support of a federal act that would mandate at least two person crews on freight trains.

Council the resolution supporting the Safe Freight Act of 2019 that was introduced into Congress earlier this year. Council will still have to vote on the document.

Councilor Andy Feury brought the issue to Council earlier this month saying he was approached by a BNSF engineer seeking the city’s support on the issue.

“I think this has some merit,” Feury said. “Positive Train Control will work in the future, but it probably doesn’t work right now to make trains as safe as they should be.”

“We are obviously [greatly affected] by what happens with the railroad at least in our downtown,” Feury said.

Positive Train Control is a system designed to avoid train-to-train collisions and was required by Congress in 2008.

The Safe Freight Act has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. The act would require that all freight trains have at least one certified conductor and a certified engineer on board.

The proposed federal legislation came in response to the rollback of rule that would have set a two-person crew standard. The Federal Railroad Administration in May withdrew a proposed rule that would have required minimum crew sizes. The rule was first proposed in 2016, after a fatal accident in 2013 in Quebec, Canada where a freight train rolled down a hill killing 42 people.

“After closely examining the train crew staffing issue and conducting significant outreach to industry and public stakeholders, FRA determined that issuing any regulation requiring a minimum number of train crewmembers would not be justified because such a regulation is unnecessary for a railroad operation to be conducted safely at this time,” said Ronald Batory, administrator of the FRA.

About 1,500 written comments were in support of some kind of train crew staffing requirements. Most of the comments were from current or former train crew members who advocated for two-person train crews.

Almost 40 comments came from those, including the Association of American Railroads, saying the federal agency should not regulate train crew size.

The agency also prevented states from passing their own mandates.

At a town hall meeting this fall in Kalispell, railroad workers urged Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester to support the Safe Freight Act claiming that one-person crews would mean only an engineer overseeing the operation of trains transporting hazardous materials.

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