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Photo credit: iStock.com/Michael Derrer Fuchs

State legislatures are working to increase rail safety by improving current regulations and creating new policies to promote safer railroad practices. Such initiatives coincide with federal legislation introduced after hazardous derailments in early 2023. Specifically, state governments are implementing national standards for crew sizes, detection services, and train lengths, through various railroad safety legislation.

Michigan Railroad Safety Bill Addresses Minimum Crew Size

Introduced in the House in July 2023, Michigan HB 4916 has a goal of improving railroads, setting minimum crew sizes, and making amendments to railroad regulations. The railroad safety legislation requires two crew members for any train or locomotive engine that is transporting freight.

However, exceptions for the crew size requirement include: Operating a locomotive engine in hostler service (moving a train or locomotive engine a short distance within a railroad yard or mechanical facility) or operating a locomotive engine in helper service (assisting a train that is experiencing a mechanical failure). As of September 5, 2023, the bill has not advanced past its committee of origination.

New York Railroad Safety Bill Requires Two Crew Members

Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate both passed Senate Bill 5775 earlier in 2023. The railroad bill essentially prohibits freight trains from operating unless it has a crew of at least two individuals.

Additionally, the bill outlines the creation of civil penalties for violations of this requirement. First violations will be met with a fine of no less than $250 and no more than $1,000. Second violations will be fined no less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000 if it occurs within three years of the first. Lastly, third and subsequent violations will be penalized with fines of no less than $5,000 and no more than $10,000.

North Carolina Railroad Safety Omnibus Bill

Introduced in April 2023, North Carolina House Bill 639, or the Railroad Safety Omnibus Act, was created to increase railroad and transportation safety. This bill includes comprehensive and expansive railroad safety regulations, including driver education on emergency notification systems, penalties for misuse of notification systems, maximum freight train length, obstructions of public travel rules, wayside detector systems, and safe access walkways.

The legislation requires a minimum crew size of two individuals for a Class 1 railroad and violating this clause would result in a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The railroad bill also requires a maximum train length of 8,500 feet and violating that requirement would also result in a Class 1 misdemeanor. Tourist, scenic, and historic excursions are excluded from this requirement. The bill has yet to advance in the 2023 legislative session.

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