Technology helps avoid train collisions

BNSF trains carrying hazardous materials, including loaded crude unit trains, will be an exception to a recent tentative agreement between BNSF and the union representing train conductors to cut two-person crews to one person.

“BNSF has special handling procedures and operating rules for hazardous materials including loaded crude unit trains, which, among other things, require two people in the locomotive. That will not change under the agreement,” said Amy McBeth, of Minneapolis, BNSF public relations director for this region.

Last month, BNSF reached a tentative agreement with the SMART Transportation Division, the union representing train conductors, to cut crew sizes from the current two-person crew to one person on freight trains equipped with Positive Train Control, a technology that helps trains avoid collisions.

According to a BNSF statement issued about the SMART-TD agreement:

“The tentative agreement, subject to union membership ratification, will allow for locomotive engineers to operate freight trains with the remote support of a new master conductor, instead of a conventional on-board conductor on BNSF routes where Positive Train Control is in use. The agreement will enhance safety by providing a more predictable work schedule with assigned on-duty times and specific territories for master conductors to monitor and assist as necessary. This new agreement with SMART-TD covers about 60 percent of the BNSF system.”

The SMART-TD, with offices in North Olmsted, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., is the largest railroad operating union in North American and includes conductors, brakemen, switchmen, ground service personnel, locomotive engineers, hostlers and workers in associated crafts. SMART-TD also represents personnel with buses and airlines, according to its website.

According to Railway Age, a railway industry news magazine, the tentative agreement allows that freight trains equipped with the Positive Train Control could operate as early as next year with a lone engineer in the cab and no conventional on-board conductor between specific territories in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.