Federal Decision Is Good News for Washington and Oregon State Agribusiness

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is a part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

On March 15, 2016, the FRA began reviewing the bill concerning train crew staffing under the premise of “safety” as a result of two sited rail accidents.  Last week, FRA issued a withdrawal found here: https://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/details/L20134#p1_z5_gD

Despite meeting 5 times between October 2013 to March 2014, the working group was unable to reach a consensus or to identify statistical data to prove a safety benefit or a detriment to having multiple persons on a train. FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) did however, jointly issue a Safety Advisory to railroads and commodity shippers detailing eight recommended actions the industry should take to better ensure the safe transport of hazardous materials.

Officially, in their final statement the FRA states that they will continue to monitor the safety impact of train crew staffing but do not feel the regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate at this time.

“In issuing this withdrawal, FRA has determined that no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate at this time and intends for the withdrawal to preempt all state laws attempting to regulate train crew staffing in any manner. FRA believes that nine states have laws in place regulating crew size in some manner: California, West Virginia, and Wisconsin require a minimum of two crew members for certain trains; Arizona, California, Ohio, and Oregon have “full crew” requirements for certain trains; and Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington impose other restrictions. FRA also believes that laws regulating crew size have been proposed in 30 states since 2015. The FRSA provides that a state law is preempted where FRA, under authority delegated from the Secretary of Transportation, “prescribes a regulation or issues an order covering the subject matter of the State requirement”.

Since 2015, Far West Agribusiness Association has been expending time, money and resources yearly to oppose various Bills seeking to require a certain number of crew members on certain trains. Additionally, the West relies on the timely shipments and availability of anhydrous ammonia, which is a class 2, non-flammable product. Often anhydrous ammonia accompanies cars of oil making the entire train hazardous under the previously introduced Bills. You should be aware that our FWAA lobbyists have worked very closely with railroad lobbyists and have even jointly testified in opposition as has the FWAA Executive Director on numerous occasions.

FWAA applauds the decision and course of action taken by the FRA and very much appreciate the efforts taken by our national partners such as TFI, ARA and others as they tracked and worked this issue on behalf of our industry.