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The Biden administration has officially mandated a minimum crew size of two individuals for all large freight trains. This decision, announced on Tuesday, responds to persistent demands from rail worker unions and aims to boost safety measures within the industry significantly.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “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. This rule requiring safe train crew sizes is long overdue, and we are proud to deliver this change that will make workers, passengers, and communities safer.”

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The backdrop to this regulatory change includes heightened scrutiny of rail safety practices, particularly after the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in February 2023. Despite the train involved being crewed by two individuals, the incident, caused by an overheated bearing, has led to widespread criticism of the rail industry’s safety culture. Critics argue that safety has been left too much to the discretion of the railroads, highlighting the need for more robust federal standards.

In response to these concerns, rail unions have consistently advocated for a two-person minimum crew requirement, a stance that nearly led to a strike in 2022. Although a tentative agreement was eventually reached and ratified by Congress to avert the strike, the push for this rule persisted. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), vocal about the need for increased rail safety measures, praised the announcement but pointed out, “Big rail lobbyists will do everything they can to roll this back. We must pass our bipartisan rail safety bill to make these changes permanent & require the railroads to do more to prevent derailments.”


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