Floor Debate On Bill Requiring At Least 2-Person Train Crews


     The Nebraska Legislature held first-round floor debate Wednesday morning on a bill requiring  trains to have crews of at least two people.

Sponsor Mike Jacobson of North Platte called it a matter of safety to have a conductor, in addition to the engineer. 

     Jacobson said conductors often act as the first responder and leave the train to help those injured in an accident, especially at rail crossings, and can help if the engineer had a health emergency such as a heart attack. 

     The nation’s major railroads have been pushing to go to just engineers in locomotives. The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe currently have 2-person crews, but as a result of contract negotiations and not laws or regulations. 

     Opposition to the bill was varied. Senator Brad von Gillern doesn’t think there’s a need for 2-man crews. Von Gillern said he’s not sure a 2-man crew is going to change the outcome of collisions and similar incidents.

     Senator Rob Clements, a banker, opposed the bill as an unnecessary mandate. He said government mandates in the banking industry increase his expenses, but doesn’t think they make his customers any safer

     Clements said he would keep his customers safe without mandates, and he urged the railroad to make sure they’re doing it also

     . Other opponents argued that such regulations should be left up to the Federal Railroad Administration, which has announced it will come out with a ruling on the subject in March. 

       Senator Lynn Walz, a supporter of the 2-man crew law, said her constituents are demanding more railroad safety – adding that the most correspondence from her constituents over the last 7 years has been about railroads 

      The Legislature adjourned for the day before reaching a first-round vote, but Speaker John Arch of LaVista told Jacobson it will be back on the agenda Thursday. 

    There was evidence of a potential filibuster Wednesday as Senator Julie Slama filed the first delaying motion, saying lawmakers were inviting major railroads to sue if they mandated two-person crew minimums. 11 states already have such laws.

      Jacobson said after adjournment that Slama and Omaha Senator Lou Ann Linehan had told him they would filibuster LB 31. He described their position as “adamant that they weren’t going to cross U-P.”