By Justin Franz
WASHINGTON — Union Pacific is negotiating with unions to start using ground-based conductors that would leave just one crew member in the cab of freight trains. The push comes as the Federal Railroad Administration considers making two-crew members in the cab of all freight trains a national standard.
UP revealed its plans for what it calls “Expediters” during a hearing hosted by the FRA on December 14. Instead of having two crew members in the cab of a locomotive, there will just be an engineer. Meanwhile, a conductor — or expediter — will be stationed at a nearby terminal ready to respond to any problems via a motor vehicle. In a video produced by UP, the railroad gave an example of how a ground-based conductor would respond to a broken knuckle. Instead of walking the train to fix the problem, the conductor would drive to it and have all of the tools needed to address the problem at their fingertips.
UP officials said a ground-based conductor could respond to issues faster and get trains moving quicker, all the while letting conductors have a more predictable schedule.
“The new speed and efficiency is a win for Union Pacific and its customers,” a voiceover in the video states. “(But) the win Union Pacific hopes to achieve is to improve the quality of life for a large population of its workforce by replacing the currently experienced unknowns with a regular shift, a regular schedule and the ability for each Exedititor to sleep in their own bed each day.”
A single conductor would presumably work with multiple trains over a specific territory. BNSF Railway tried to negotiate a similar program with its unions a few years ago, but it was flatly rejected by the union.
UP hopes to roll out the program in Nebraska before going to other parts of the system with it.