Years ago railroad engines used to have seven people aboard to oversee the safety of the train, an engineer, a conductor, up to four brakemen and a fireman. Even though modern trains have since grown much longer railroad crews have been reduced in size to five people in the 1970s and two in 1991. Now U.S. railroads want to put a single person in charge of today's huge locomotives.
Currently most railroad freight trains have two people aboard, an engineer who drives the train and a conductor who oversees the long line of cars. But now in an effort to increase profits railroad executives want to reduce that to a lone engineer, saying advances in safety systems, including a new automatic braking system under development, could minimize risks.
As we are skeptical of the reasoning behind this change. The new automatic braking system that was mentioned has been available since 2005. Railroad companies however refused to install it. The chairman of the NTSB, says, “They (railroad companies) said it was too expensive and they couldn't do it.” Then when the railroads faced safety mandates by the government they lobbied lawmakers to push safety deadlines farther and farther into the future. Positive train control or PTC is designed to automatically stop a train before it is able to run a red signal or get itself into other dangerous situations. This is an improvement over the signaling systems that are currently in place, which are able to warn train operators of danger, but still allow the possibility of accidents.