Single Man Railroad Crews

tags: transportation

Railroad companies are trying to reduce the number of employees onboard trains:

Railroads have proposed eliminating the job of on-board conductor on most trains, leaving just an engineer aboard.

[…] After World War II there were seven people on almost every freight train, including four brakemen and a fireman. More recently, the major rail lines switched to two-person crews, like pilots in a cockpit. There’s an engineer who drives the locomotive and a conductor who manages the long line of cars.

They can do this because of technology.

Railroad executives counter that a new GPS-based braking system – required by Congress by the end of this year – will be enough to blunt [any] risk.

[…] critics of [the new braking system] argue that the system is too failure-prone to replace conductors. The technology depends on a combination of GPS and cellular networks, purchased from different manufacturers and installed by the railroads. According to the author Dan Baum, who recently investigated [the braking system] for Popular Science, the global positioning technology doesn’t work in tunnels or canyons and the cellular back-up would be prone to dropped signals just the same as a smart phone on a hiking trip.

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