July 7, 2023

AAR sues Ohio over 2-person train crew law


The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio, saying federal law preempts a new state law that dictates a minimum crew size for freight rail operations.

Ohio’s law, signed by Gov. Mike DeWine on March 31, requires at least two individuals to be involved in moving a freight train in Ohio. The state may issue civil penalties for violations.

A number of federal laws preempt Ohio’s law, argued AAR in a petition filed June 29 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. These include the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 or 3R Act, which came out of freight rail service disruptions in the Northeast and Midwest; the ICC Termination Act, which grants the Surface Transportation Board authority to regulate certain matters; and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

The only Class I railroads that operate in the state are Canadian railway CN (NYSE: CNI), CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) and Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC). CSX and NS currently use single-person crews for certain yard operations, including remote control switching operations, AAR said. 

Ohio law is also more restrictive than a proposed regulation currently before the Federal Railroad Administration on train crew size because FRA’s rule would exempt particular types of trains or trains under specified conditions and has a special approval process for existing one-person crew operations, according to AAR. But Ohio’s law applies to every train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight, with limited exceptions, AAR said.

AAR also cited two studies from consulting firms Oliver Wyman and ICF International, which determined that available safety data and accident rates show no adverse safety impacts resulting from one-person crews versus two-person crews.

AAR’s members will “suffer harm to their rights to collectively bargain over crew size. The carriers that operate in Ohio have the right to bargain for system-wide changes in crew size. The Crew Size Law will interfere with the railroads’ ability to expand their rights to operate with one-person crews in Ohio through collective bargaining,” attorneys for AAR said in the court filing.

California, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Washington, Nevada and Colorado also have state laws requiring freight train crews to have at least two people on board, according to the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD). 

States that have or have had legislation that calls for two-person crews include Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, SMART-TD said.

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