Priorities & Concerns
Mandates on Train Crew Sizes
The MRA opposes SB2270, An Act Relative to a 2-Person Train Crew Size, which would require all freight trains operating in the Commonwealth to have crews composed of at least two persons. The MRA objects strenuously to SB2270 on several grounds. There is no evidence, for example, that trains operated by two or more persons are safer. Further, crew sizes have traditionally been determined during collective bargaining between railroads and unions. Most saliently, states are pre-empted by federal law from issuing such mandates to freight railroads, which are at the heart of the nation’s system of interstate commerce.
In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a ruling on May 29, 2019, expressly stating that “no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate for railroad operations to be conducted safely at this time.” The agency said its action that day was intended “to preempt all state laws attempting to regulate train crew staffing in any manner.”
Dedicated Freight Rail Administrator
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts should be applauded for its grand vision of how to improve the state’s rail network and thereby meet a host of objectives related to economic modernization and growth, alleviation of traffic congestion, and reduction of carbon emissions to combat global warming and warming’s potentially disastrous effects. That vision is propounded in the 2018 State Rail Plan.
One of the main ways the Governor Baker administration can ensure the fulfillment of its Rail Plan, the MRA asserts, is by creating the position of Freight Rail Administrator within MassDOT and giving that administrator the authority and resources to help bring about the improvements everyone agrees are needed, for the public good, in freight rail.
The MRA intends no criticism of or disrespect for anyone serving at MassDOT, where freight rail is under the purview of a Rail Administrator responsible for both passenger and freight rail oversight. Rather, we believe it is time for the Commonwealth to acknowledging the actual dimensions of managing 21st Century change and growth in this critical transportation sector by appointing and empowering a dedicated Freight Rail Administrator.
Limits on Locomotive Idling Times
The MRA opposes HB852, An Act Establishing Time Limits for Idling Trains, which would prohibit any railroad locomotive from idling for more than 30 minutes. The MRA is not unmindful of the occasional circumstances that may have led to this bill’s introduction, nor is it antagonistic to the goal of limiting air emissions. Far from it. Railroad operations, both freight and passenger, inevitably conflict sometimes with local concerns about emissions, traffic tie-ups, and noise.
HB852, however, exceeds the state’s authority to regulate railroad operations, which Congress and the courts have long recognized as more appropriately undertaken at the federal level.
The MRA takes the following positions on these bills:
SB1161, An Act Relative to Employees of Private Railroads
Would include employees of private railroads in protections against assault and battery currently extended to employees of publicly owned railroads.
HB3443, An Act Establishing School Zones for Locomotives
SB2271, An Act Relative to Hot Box Detectors
Would require installation of hotbox detectors, devices that detect axle and signal problems on passing trains, every 20 miles on any railroad line on which passenger trains operate.
The MRA opposes these bills because they propose actions violating federal prohibitions on the regulation of railroad operations by individual states.