HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » Should a 15,000-Ton Train...

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 06:50 AM

 

Should a 15,000-Ton Train Be Operated Single-Handed?

Back in the old days, in order to operate safely, a freight train used a five-person crew—an engineer, a fireman, two brakemen, and a conductor....now almost every freight train rolling across the U.S. is operated by just an engineer and a conductor.

Railroaders fear the conductor will be next to go. The railroads say they want single-employee trains, and leaders have allowed language to seep into contracts that says if crew size is reduced to one, that last remaining crew member will be an engineer or a conductor—depending which union is negotiating the language.

With union officials asleep at the wheel on this dangerous prospect, Railroad Workers United, a cross-union coalition of rank-and-file railroaders, is taking up the challenge to stop the runaway train.

Some trains are over 10,000 feet long and weigh more than 15,000 tons. Engineers drive the train and take care of the engines, but the freight conductor does the rest. If anything goes wrong with the equipment, the conductor walks the train to find blown air hoses, broken couplers, or trespasser accidents. If the train stops in a busy town, the conductor can quickly separate the train to allow emergency equipment to reach blocked rail crossings.

The rail industry in the U.S. is highly unionized and divided along craft lines into 13 unions. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), now part of the Teamsters, mostly represents engineers, and the United Transportation Workers (UTU), which merged into the Sheet Metal Workers to form SMART, represents the conductors.

For years the railroads have divided train crews by pitting the leaders of these two unions against each other....No rank-and-file worker thinks single-employee operation is a safe idea. But despite RWU’s requests, officials of the two unions aren’t saying where they stand. Many workers are afraid their leaders might agree to one-person crews in order to gain some advantage over the other union...

http://labornotes.org/2012/12/should-15000-ton-train-be-operated-single-handed

14 replies, 1093 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply Should a 15,000-Ton Train Be Operated Single-Handed? (Original post)
HiPointDem Jan 2013 OP
Brickbat Jan 2013 #1
Brickbat Jan 2013 #2
TheCowsCameHome Jan 2013 #3
A HERETIC I AM Jan 2013 #5
ljm2002 Jan 2013 #13
A HERETIC I AM Jan 2013 #14
BlueCollar Jan 2013 #8
TheCowsCameHome Jan 2013 #12
NCTraveler Jan 2013 #4
Motown_Johnny Jan 2013 #6
TwilightGardener Jan 2013 #7
hootinholler Jan 2013 #10
Taverner Jan 2013 #9
MicaelS Jan 2013 #11

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 06:56 AM

1. This is a terrible idea and is introduced in every bargaining session.

It's thrown out pretty early on, but companies make no secrets about wanting it. IME, though, I don't think the division and distrust is as strong as this article makes it sound.

The point the article makes about fatigue, however, is much more pressing, IMO.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 06:59 AM

2. I mean, the switch to a two-person crew is bad enough.

I understand that they don't necessarily need a five-person crew anymore. But three is a good number. Having a brakeman ensured months if not years of OJT for brakemen before they became conductors. Now they run guys through in a matter of months, then turn them loose. Some of them are still teenagers.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 08:35 AM

3. It's a crazy idea.

The railroads would run trains with no crews if they couldget away with it.

Until the 70's some trains ran with six man crews. The railroads will never be satisfied.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to TheCowsCameHome (Reply #3)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 09:32 AM

5. The technology exists to do just that. n/t

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to A HERETIC I AM (Reply #5)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 12:24 PM

13. Sure it does...

...until something goes wrong.

Please explain how the technology will repair a damaged brake line if that should occur. Please explain how it can inspect that train before restarting its journey after repairs. Please explain what happens if there is an accident, and there is not even one crew member on that train.

So sure, maybe in some theoretical la-la land, it makes sense to run a train with NO crew, because technology enables it. Out here in the real world, though, it makes no sense at all. Two crew members seems to me a bare minimum -- allowing some redundancy in case one is incapacitated.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to ljm2002 (Reply #13)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 04:42 PM

14. All I did was state a fact, and you want me to answer a questionnaire?

Fine. But before I go any further, I want to state that I am NOT advocating doing away with onboard train crews. I am merely going to state some facts and a bit of history. While I am by no means a career railroader ( I worked for Florida East Coast for a short time in the early 1980's) I have been fascinated by railroads my entire life and have learned a thing or two about them along the way. If any lifetime railroader reads this and notes I have said something wrong, please correct me.

Please explain how the technology will repair a damaged brake line if that should occur.


It doesn't. It's a ridiculous question.

Please explain how it can inspect that train before restarting its journey after repairs.


Ditto. Another ridiculous question.

Please explain what happens if there is an accident, and there is not even one crew member on that train.


The exact same thing that would happen if there were 20 men on the train. Emergency services are called as well as the railroads incident response crews, a cleanup takes place along with an investigation as to the cause of the accident. Do you think the engineer and conductor do it all by themselves? Do you think the railroad company isn't aware when accidents occur?

So sure, maybe in some theoretical la-la land, it makes sense to run a train with NO crew, because technology enables it.


The "theoretical la-la land" already exists, in scores of yards and other facilities around this country. As another poster pointed out below, remote controlled locomotives have been around a VERY long time. With GPS and satellite tracking, completely automated, mainline locomotives are a very real possibility.

Out here in the real world, though, it makes no sense at all.


It makes plenty of sense if it can be done safely, and it actually can.

Two crew members seems to me a bare minimum -- allowing some redundancy in case one is incapacitated.


I am inclined to agree with that.

But just for some perspective, let us look at a little history, OK?

From 1900 through the 1920's, the railroad industry was the largest employer in the United States. More people worked in railroading than any other field. Just for comparison, today the industry that holds that distinction is health care. Railroading also killed more workers than just about any other industry, before or since. From 1900 through 1917, 72,000 railroad workers were killed on the job. That works out to be almost 12 a day.

Before the advent of the Westinghouse brake system, train crews could consist of up to 10 or more men. An engineer, a fireman, a conductor and several brakemen.

The brakeman's job was to climb up on top of the cars and manually tighten the brake wheel on each car. This required walking along the top of a moving train, jumping from car to car in order to complete the task. It was one of, if not THE most hazardous jobs in the business. Men regularly fell from the tops of moving trains, were decapitated from low hanging obstructions like bridges and tunnels or even tree limbs or they fell between cars and were crushed or maimed.

When Mr. Westinghouse's invention became widely installed, thousands of brakemen had lost their jobs.

Should we go back to the days of manual brakes?

When the steam locomotive was in it's heyday, the Pennsylvania Railroads, Altoona shops would see over 17,000 men through the gates for the morning shift. Every skill from machinists, pipefitters, boilermakers, steamfitters, crane operators, forgemen, millwrights, press operators and mechanics of every stripe. Living downwind of the Altoona shops meant having your house and just about everything else constantly covered in soot, not just from the locomotives, but the the numerous other coal and coke fired boilers, forges, blast furnaces and generators thoughout the works.

When the diesel electric locomotives started taking over, the vast majority of those men lost their jobs and though the Altoona yards are still there, they employ a small percentage of what they did in the old days.

Should we go back to the days of steam locomotives?

With the advent of more modern radio communications and the so-called "End of Train Device" (that little box mounted on the last car that usually has a flashing red light on it), the days of the caboose were numbered. You rarely if ever see a caboose at the end of a train anymore. The loss of the caboose in the industry meant the loss of all the jobs that built and serviced them as well as the jobs of those men that rode in them.

Should we go back to the days of cabooses?

Many things in the industry are now automated, from such obvious ones as crossing gates and switches to detectors installed at regular intervals along mainlines that can detect when a wheel bearing is overheating (called a "hotbox") and notify the engineer he has a problem on a specific car.

I completely understand your point of view, both from a safety aspect as well as the loss of jobs issue. But let me ask you this: Are you in favor of seeing more containers and piggy-back trailers on trains? Because of you are, you should realize that every single one of those containers and semi trailers riding on that train represents a truck driver not working.

It's a trade off, right? Less trucks on the road = less pollution and less road congestion. It also means fewer trucking jobs.

One last thing, as far as the jobs perspective is concerned. The one commodity that is most efficiently hauled by railroad is coal. Grains and other similar materials come a close second. An entire 150 car coal train can be loaded, moved and unloaded by no more than 6 men.

SIX.

It used to take a whole hell of a lot more.

Times change, technology moves forward and there likely will come a day when a manned freight train is as unheard of as a steam whistle.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to TheCowsCameHome (Reply #3)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 10:52 AM

8. They're already doing that here in Fort Worth

and I'm sure there are other locations.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to BlueCollar (Reply #8)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 11:54 AM

12. Remote control is nothing new

Industrial lines have been doing it for decades (Steel mills, in-plant operations, short haul switching, "dedicated" lines, and of course now class 1's are doing it in yards, with specific limitations)

And just because the locomotive cab is unoccupied doesn't mean the person operating the locomotive via a transmitter isn't on the engine or in a position very close to the movement. Remote operations aren't done from very far away

But main line 15,000 ton operations? - no thanks.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 08:36 AM

4. I don't think two hands will stop it.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 09:34 AM

6. We now have cars that drive themselves. Get ready for robot trains

they are not far away.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 10:37 AM

7. Explains why they're trying to make them all engineers right at the outset. New hires no longer

have the option of staying a conductor or brakeman/switchman for the duration of their careers--they are hired with the expectation that engineer school is in the near future. So the railroad industry is already implementing the one-operator plan. The UTU and BLET better get on the same page and stop this, because human error is real and happens every day on trains--definitely need two people as a safeguard. Some really bad fatal wrecks due to human error have happened even WITH two people. The FRA needs to stop this, as well.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to TwilightGardener (Reply #7)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 11:00 AM

10. Human error, medical emergency

There are any number of reasons you want a 3 person crew, let alone a 2 person crew.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 10:53 AM

9. Oh I thought the question was literal...

 

As in "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT OTHER HAND?????"

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 11:39 AM

11. The only way this will be stopped is by legislation.

And that legislation needs to be passed.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread