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Maryland freight trains need a crew of at least two to run safely | READER COMMENTARY

Metrolink Chief Executive John Fenton checks out positive train control equipment aboard a test train in a Los Angeles, California rail yard.
Metrolink Chief Executive John Fenton checks out positive train control equipment aboard a test train in a Los Angeles, California rail yard.(Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

A recent headline in The Baltimore Sun raised a prime question surrounding the railroad industry these days (“Tech could cut train crews from 2 to 1, but is it safe?” Jan. 21). Unfortunately, the accompanying article did not answer whether reducing the crew in the cab of freight trains to one person is safe and a freight rail worker wasn’t even quoted in the piece. As a railroad conductor for over 42 years and the union representative for 28 years, I can tell you that it is not safe!

The Maryland General Assembly rightfully agrees, having twice passed legislation overwhelmingly requiring two people on freight train crews. Unfortunately, the legislation was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan on both occasions, but the Maryland legislature is poised to override his veto (“Unfinished business: Maryland legislature should override governor’s vetoes,” Jan. 7). A recent poll shows that 87% of Marylanders support the legislation and the states of California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and West Virginia have already passed the legislation. The self-serving narrative from rail carriers — Union Pacific Railroad CEO Lance Fritz is quoted in the article — is that technology in the form of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology is the silver bullet that can replace a conductor on the train. Thousands of other freight railroad workers who have reported operational difficulties related to PTC can tell you it is not.

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CEO Fritz said: “I’m 100% confident that we would not go down this path if we weren’t certain that fewer people in the cab of the locomotive had no impact on safety.” If he truly is concerned about worker and public safety, he should talk with freight conductors and engineers to hear first-hand how their fast actions, working together have saved lives, property and minimized damage done in communities across the nation as a result of train derailments and rail crossing accidents. Or how a conductor saved the life of their engineer by being able to direct first responders to their train during a medical emergency. Or the numerous other situations they encounter on a daily basis that PTC has zero effect on.

So, the answer to the question posed by that headline is absolutely no! This is exactly the answer that the Maryland General Assembly has concluded by passing the legislation to require a minimum of two persons on freight trains. On behalf of the rail workers I represent and the communities our freight trains travel through daily, I am very appreciative that the General Assembly had safety in mind.

Larry Kasecamp, Frostburg

The writer is Maryland state legislative director for the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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