The Safe Freight Act would slow innovation and put railroads at a competitive disadvantage | Citizens Against Government Waste
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The Safe Freight Act would slow innovation and put railroads at a competitive disadvantage

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Are lawmakers in the 116th Congress again preparing to pick winners and losers in the commercial transportation industry?

Under former President Barack Obama, the Department of Transportation capitulated to the demands on union workers and issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to require all freight rail operations to have at least two members aboard. Fortunately, this rule never went into effect.

Then in 2017, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced H.R. 233, the Safe Freight Act which would have made this rule into law. Bicameral legislation was introduced in the Senate by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Both bills failed to advance in committee.

Concerns are growing that legislators may be looking to reintroduce the Safe Freight Act in the new Congress. This would be bad for innovation and rail safety for several reasons.

Commercial trucking is freight railroads’ biggest customer as well as its biggest competitor. The commercial trucking industry is moving toward driverless vehicles. Several trucking companies are leading the way in advancing the self-driving or autonomous automobile industry. We may have automated commercial trucks on the road in the near future with no humans physically in the vehicle.

If Congress mandates that North American railroads, which have one of the safest records of operation in the world, have to have two people in a train’s cab, it will put them at a severe competitive disadvantage compared to trucking which may eventually have zero people in a cab.

Requiring all freight rail operations to have at least two people in a train’s cab could discourage the same technological advances from happening in rail that are currently happening in trucking.

Instead of focusing on advances in technology that would make rail transportation safer, the Safe Freight Act would limit investment and development in rail technology.

Back in 2008, Congress passed a law requiring most rail networks to install anti-collision technology called ‘positive train control.’ This automated train braking technology is almost completely deployed on North American railroads, and it makes the two person rule obsolete.

Freight rail is also making advances in computerized collision-avoidance systems.

Tech companies are closer than ever to making autonomous vehicles a reality. These vehicles promise more economic investment in our country. The Safe Freight Act is increasingly unnecessary for safety; yet, it would have a chilling effect on railroad innovation. Crew size regulations for freight railroads would limit the growth of autonomous rail technology. Members of Congress should not encumber our railroads.

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