Aug 292014

By Tammy Gray

With only two items on business section of the agenda, the Holbrook City Council took time Tuesday evening to discuss the implications of a move by railroad companies to reduce the number of operators from two to one per train.

“I worry, if there’s only one person on a train, regardless of technology, that the consequences could be catastrophic,” said Councilman Phil Cobb.

He noted that he has a small business across the street from the railroad tracks, and that he does not feel it is safe for trains that can easily stretch over a mile long carrying hazardous materials to be manned by only one person.

Railroad union representative Ellis Laird told the council that safety and economics are both of serious concern. He noted that technology does exist for trains to operate unmanned, however, a train without two people raises safety issues. For example, he noted that two people help keep each other awake during 12-hour overnight shifts. He also cited a recent incident in which one conductor had a medical emergency and was saved by the second person on the train.

“If there was no second person, he may have died,” Laird said.

He pointed out that, in addition to safety concerns, the loss of half of the on-board crew would mean the loss of a large number of jobs.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “They’ve been working on technology to run trains without an engineer or a conductor.”

Councilman Wade Carlisle noted that the council could sign a letter written supporting the U.S. House bill that would mandate two-man crews on freight trains.

Vice Mayor Charles Haussman told the council that he understands the concerns and shares in them, but would also like some information from the railroad companies on why they are considering the change.

“I am interested in hearing both sides before the council takes a stand,” he said. “Although I do recognize that this is an important economic part of the community.”

City Manager Ray Alley told the council that he feels a letter supporting two-man crews is appropriate given the financial impact a railroad labor reduction could have on Holbrook.

“We need to keep in mind that this is a railroad community and this could be an economic disaster for Holbrook. We’ve got to be a little selfish to some extent,” he said. “I don’t know how many railroaders there are in Holbrook, but it is a lot.”

Haussman noted that he would like to see a letter drafted that council members could sign, but would also like additional information from an opposing view.

The council did not take any formal action, but asked Alley to prepare a letter that council members who chose to do so could sign at the next meeting.

Mayor Jeff Hill, who is employed by BNSF Railway, was absent from the meeting due to work obligations.

Prior to the discussion regarding train crews, the council approved an ordinance amending city code regarding weapons.

There was little discussion as City Clerk Cher Millage explained that the change updates the code to reflect current state law, and ensure that the city’s laws are not more restrictive than state law.

The next regular meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 9, at city hall.