Push for One Man Crews

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one_wire

UP Sparky
I've been hearing this rumor since I started with UP, and the guys I heard it from heard the same thing 20 years ago. One could argue that PTC would be a step toward one-man crews, I highly doubt it'll happen. How is one person going to operate movement on the ground and in the cab, among the other many duties a 2 person crew is needed? Unless they invent a 100% fail-proof system, I highly doubt the FRA is going to sign off on 1 man crews anytime soon.


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Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Up here, one man crews are already used by the BNSF in yards with a single person controlling a switch engine from the ground using a radio handset. The engines are clearly marked "Remote Controlled" or something similar on the side. Perhaps the railroad would try to adapt this technology to mainline freight as well.
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
Bill, are you sure those are one-man crews and not a two man-crew? The only one-man job I know of is hostler, and that's a BN property thing only (former Santa Fe uses a Herder and Pilot, which is a two-man hostler crew).

Here in Fort Worth BNSF has several two man-crew RCO jobs, but no one-man jobs. Often the job will not activate the Remote Control Zone, so someone has to watch the point of the movement. In practice that works out to one person sitting in the cab while the other person does the work. Crews will often switch out at lunch so both of them take turns doing all the work.

One of the yards here has remotely controlled switches which are operated from a switch shanty that is used by one member of the two-man crew while the other person does the switching. Again, the crew members switch places at lunch so one person doesn't do all the work.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, Remote Control jobs are not as safe as engineer controlled jobs. I refuse to get my RCO qualification because I don't believe it is safe. Once a friend asked if I was going to put in for the RCO class and before I could answer an older engineer chimed in with, "do you think he went through 20 weeks of hell [the BNSF engine program] just so he could play Nintendo?!" My friend's face was priceless and all I could say was, "yeah, what Dave said!"

Too many times communication is interrupted between the operator and the locomotive. I've seen some extremely hard joints get made (I'm understating here) and some close calls with operators having to detrain in motion. You don't have all the controls at your disposal operating remotely versus operating from a control stand. I'm not perfect by any means, but I can respond to radio, hand or lantern commands quickly and take actions I deem necessary to control the movement safely. The controls are in my hands, not connected via an imperfect radio link (again, major understatement).

So, if I feel that way about two-man remote yard jobs compared to three-man yard jobs, you can only imagine how I feel about one-man road crews. It's a terrible idea that is penny wise and pound foolish. You are saving hundreds of dollars on one person's pay and putting millions of dollars of equipment, the crew member's life, any opposing crew members' lives, the surrounding environment and community and customers' freight in jeopardy.

Why it can't work:

First of all, the train must be stopped for the engineer to take a mandatory directive (get a warrant, talk through a Form B, take a verbal issued speed restriction, etc.), so when this comes up - and it comes up often - I must stop where ordinarily the conductor is doing the talking and the train keeps moving. These delays cost money and just one per train would cost more than all the conductors salary/benefit packages that wouldn't be paid otherwise.

Second, I need another set of eyes to look ahead when I can't. For example, I have to look at my track bulletins for speed restrictions, maintenance limits, etc. When I do that my eyes are off the rail. Example of how this works in practice: if I'm running in dense fog and looking for whistle boards (which is exhausting like nothing else over a 10-12 hour trip), I'm not able to look at my paperwork without stopping. Now that I've stopped and determined where the next restriction is, if I'm in signaled territory I must proceed delayed in a block per the rules. I did this a couple weeks ago and when I got up to 4 MPH on a 1% downhill grade, my conductor looked at me like, "are you sure you can stop in time?" Yes, but much faster than that and the answer would be no.

Third, there are times when you are not completely focused and miss something. With our poorly managed lineups, you can be held in an away-from-home terminal hotel for 24 hours or more, which will completely disrupt your sleep cycle and put you on your train when your body is ready to sleep again, virtually guaranteeing a 12 hour deathmarch of a trip. Any nap you can get in a siding along the way will be helpful, but one person must be awake and if there is only one person, nobody gets a nap. Exhausted crew members can keep each other awake and alert by talking about the job at hand, reminding each other of the previous signal, the limits of speed restrictions, etc. Anything to keep each other awake and alert. By yourself you don't stand a chance.

Fourth, accidents happen. Someone doesn't yield to the oncoming train and their car or their person is struck. People commit suicide. Derailments occur. Knuckles break. In those events, the engineer secures the locomotives while the conductor acts as first responder to those whose lives are in danger. If no life is in danger, the conductor secures the train and corrects the problem. Without the conductor there is no first responder until the train is secured unless the train is not to be secured while the engineer attends to the injured in which case everyone else is at risk from the unsecured train.

Recently a new crew consist agreement was put up for a vote on BN property which would have created the position of Master Conductor and allowed for one-man mainline trains in certain areas (this proposed agreement failed). The Master Conductor would have been performing conductor duties remotely from a vehicle and would have been responsible for several trains. In the event of a broken knuckle or having to tie a train down in a siding with crossings, the Master Conductor would have taken the vehicle to the train to perform the work.

It sounds like it might actually work. Except there are too many places where you can't get to a train with a road vehicle. What if one train is tying down in a siding with three crossings to cut (on a grade this can take over an hour to do) when another train in the Master Conductor's limits gets a knuckle? Do you leave the train that's blocking all the crossings in Pleasantville potentially shutting down emergency response so you can fix the knuckle? Or do you leave the train with the broken knuckle unsecured until you can get to it, potentially resulting in a roll-away like last month's incident? http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,3588841

The costs have been cut as far as they need to be. In fact, I'd say they've been cut too far. Do we need five man crews to operate a train over the road anymore? Of course not. The FRED replaced the caboose and in many cases it adequately serves the purpose. FRED can't line behind or respond to a problem near the rear of the train quickly, but that's part of the trade-off. Can a two-man freight crew do the job adequately? In most cases, I'd say yes, but when switching is involved, no, a third crew member is required (and is provided in most cases on BNSF).

Now, should passenger trains have only one person in the cab, like they do now and have had for a long time? Definitely not! How many crew members were in the cab on the train without an alertness device that derailed in New York recently? What about the commuter train in the terrible Chatsworth incident? One person in each cab. Would the second set of eyes have saved the day and prevented an incident? There's no guarantee, but there's a good chance that's all that would be required to avert an incident.

I'll put it this way: Why are there two qualified pilots on an airplane?

Why aren't there two qualified engineers on a passenger train?
 

Crow

Member
First of all, the train must be stopped for the engineer to take a mandatory directive (get a warrant, talk through a Form B, take a verbal issued speed restriction, etc.), so when this comes up - and it comes up often - I must stop where ordinarily the conductor is doing the talking and the train keeps moving. These delays cost money and just one per train would cost more than all the conductors salary/benefit packages that wouldn't be paid otherwise.
Are you PTC qualified yet? In the future, the railroads are looking to eliminate all paperwork and rely on electronic delivery of all paperwork and mandatory directives. All crossings are noted on the screen, and if the engineer doesn't blow their horn, the computer does it for you. It shows on the screen where the speed restrictions are and enforces them.

I'm not saying I'm pro or against one man crews, I'm just pointing out that much of your point is covered with the new PTC technology.

Two engineers in the cab don't make it failsafe either. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/21/local/me-la-train-crash21 After Chatsworth Metrolink put 2 engineers in the cab to prevent another failure due to engineer inattentiveness. A few months later a Metrolink passed a red signal and ran into the side of a BNSF train. Both crew members missed the signal. Later Metrolink went back to 1 engineer in the cab. Metrolink does have conductors, but they ride in the body of the train, but they are a second person and they do notify the engineer of speed restrictions and need to acknowledge signals.
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
Yes, I am. However, PTC isn't foolproof. It was cut in here on the Wichita Falls Subdivision and then taken out of service several months ago and has not come back. I am certain we can count on it failing again, just like we can count on radio failure, dynamic brake failure, and PTC screen failure. It's inevitable. And once the conductor is gone and PTC is offline, I won't get the conductor back. Look at every crew resizing negotiation in the past for examples.

Even with PTC functioning properly, UDEs are a reality and as long as there are key trains, they must be inspected when UDEs occur. That cannot be done in a timely manner (or even at all depending on terrain and location) using only a highway vehicle.

To your point about two Metrolink engineers in the cab getting by a signal, it sounds like the problem might be with the culture at Metrolink if neither engineer thought paying attention to signals - particularly after passing one indicating they would be required to stop ahead - was important. Or maybe it was a problem with those two crew members. Unless there's a very good reason they couldn't see the signal and stop the train behind it, both should have been disciplined severely. But, like I said above, two crew members in the cab gives a better chance of complying with signals and staying within one's authority than just one. On this issue, with passenger trains in particular, I find it inexcusable that only one crew member is in the cab. I have ridden Amtrak and commuter trains and I have spoken with the conductors many times. They do play a role in the train's authority but frankly they are powerless to do anything about an impending violation unless the engineer acts faithfully as their eyes.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
RCH: Thanks for your insights. They give specific examples to my gut feelings that one man crews on mainline freights is a safety issue.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
......... In the future, the railroads are looking to eliminate all paperwork and rely on electronic delivery of all paperwork and mandatory directives.
I do not yearn for the return of cabooses and seven man crews. That is what a model railroad is for. While I support the development of new technology which will make railroading safer, I feel having only one person in the cab of a mainline freight is unsafe. Whether the engineer is reading something from a paper or off a computer screen, isn't there still a problem with his attention being diverted from the tracks ahead? I liken it to texting while driving.

PTC may solve many problems and make running a train more efficient, but what happens when a train stops due to a broken air hose or coupler, like I have seen happen in my town at least once a year? Someone has to walk the train to look for the problem. Under those circumstances, is it safe to leave the cab empty, as would be the case with a one man crew? As far as the roving conductor, in my area there are many sections of track along Puget Sound and in the mountains that are not accessible by road. The curves around steep canyon walls and ridges disrupt radio transmissions as well.
 
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BNSFEng

Locomotive Engineer!!!
Many great points. As an engineer, I agree that having two persons in the cab, who are both awake, can keep four eyes and two brains on the job and catch each other's mistakes. Unfortunately, the company needs to have better lineups for crews to know when they are due to work, not paper deadhead turns so crews go to work way earlier than originally scheduled, and they need to keep two man crews. PTC is not enough for operations even with a Master Conductor.
 

BNSFEng

Locomotive Engineer!!!
Are you PTC qualified yet? In the future, the railroads are looking to eliminate all paperwork and rely on electronic delivery of all paperwork and mandatory directives. All crossings are noted on the screen, and if the engineer doesn't blow their horn, the computer does it for you. It shows on the screen where the speed restrictions are and enforces them.

I'm not saying I'm pro or against one man crews, I'm just pointing out that much of your point is covered with the new PTC technology.

Two engineers in the cab don't make it failsafe either. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/21/local/me-la-train-crash21 After Chatsworth Metrolink put 2 engineers in the cab to prevent another failure due to engineer inattentiveness. A few months later a Metrolink passed a red signal and ran into the side of a BNSF train. Both crew members missed the signal. Later Metrolink went back to 1 engineer in the cab. Metrolink does have conductors, but they ride in the body of the train, but they are a second person and they do notify the engineer of speed restrictions and need to acknowledge signals.
Two crew members who miss a signal is incredibly stupid! Each crew member MUST stop what they are doing that would distract them and look at EVERY SINGLE SIGNAL before and continuously until you pass them. There is NO EXCUSE! I had a signal change from Clear to Stop just 100 feet before I passed it! I would have ran into a possible rock slide as this signal protected a high cliff wall of rocks. That was during a severe thunderstorm with heavy rain and wind. Another time, a signal went from Clear to Approach as I was only 10 feet from it! I managed to get stopped before a control point that had a switch out of alignment that could have derailed me and I would not have had time to stop safely at full track speed had I not seen the signal change so late!!
 

one_wire

UP Sparky
Two crew members who miss a signal is incredibly stupid! Each crew member MUST stop what they are doing that would distract them...
Enter the age of the in-cab camera. I just installed my third one this morning...


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Now, should passenger trains have only one person in the cab, like they do now and have had for a long time? Definitely not! How many crew members were in the cab on the train without an alertness device that derailed in New York recently? What about the commuter train in the terrible Chatsworth incident? One person in each cab. Would the second set of eyes have saved the day and prevented an incident? There's no guarantee, but there's a good chance that's all that would be required to avert an incident.

I'll put it this way: Why are there two qualified pilots on an airplane?

Why aren't there two qualified engineers on a passenger train?
Mr. RCH, let it be noted that, while most passenger train miles are operated with an Engineer Only crew, Amtrak's Agreement with their Passenger Engineers call for an Assistant Engineer who must be Rules Qualified, qualified to operate the locomotive, and of course is subject to Hours of Service, for any crew districts over which the scheduled running time exceeds six (6) hours. Most of their crew districts over which their "one a day" trains operate are assigned Engineer and Assistant. However, for their operations in their Corridors, such as within the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, there are sufficient frequencies to enable assignment of Engineer Only.

Regarding Chatsworth, it was this incident that resulted in a lame duck President enacting the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA 08), which is the catalyst for mandatory PTC. While I am all in favor of the increased crew rest periods this legislation calls for, the "jury will be out" for a long time as to the effectiveness of PTC. While Chatsworth and Goodwell would have been avoided had PTC been active, I highly doubt if there would have any effect at Midland. PTC would further have had no effect on any of the widely reported oil train incidents such as Casselton, Lynchburg, and of course, Megantic. The assignment of two Engineers to LAMTA trains in the wake of Chatsworth, could only be considered "security theatre" in the same sense as are TSA screenings often referred to. If the then outside contractor operating LAMTA trains had such a culture, as Mr. RCH noted, that looked the other way at Engineers 'texting and Tweeting" while operating their trains, "something's rotten...".

Regarding two pilots on commercial airplanes, let's watch this one. Several Flight Attendants I know have remarked at one time or the other to me "If (NVRMINHOO) had his way, we would be flying about in Drones". But the topic of one pilot remains active, as there are proposals within the industry to have one pilot aboard who at critical times such as take off and landing, be assisted by a "virtual pilot" on the ground. For cruise, so long as "all is well", the pilot on board would be on his own.
 




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