WASHINGTON (June 24) – TechFreedom’s Ian Adams and Caden Rosenbaum, in partnership with Nick Zaiac of the R Street Institute, today release a new white paper, titled “Barriers to Innovation and Automation in Railway Regulation.” The paper discusses the promise of automated systems in the context of freight rail and the regulatory steps necessary to ensure that the promise of those systems is realized.

It comes in the wake of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) official withdrawal of its 2016 notice of proposed rulemaking designed to establish a minimum size of two crew members for most railroad lines. The authors examine the initial motivations behind the NPRM, as well as the effects of the withdrawal on federal policy and related developments in the states.

The paper finds that the FRA set an example for states by finding no basis for two-person crew requirements and revoking the associated NPRM. That example is necessary because a growing number of states have mandated multiple-person crew operations, purportedly to improve safety. In reality, crew-size regulation exists to serve a very different objective—to protect jobs.

These misguided state laws threaten to disrupt the operation of railroads that are essential to interstate commerce. And though the FRA has explicitly stated that state crew-size mandates based on safety rationales are inconsistent with federal law, state mandates based on labor-specific grounds persist. To mitigate the negative effects on commerce imposed by such laws, the FRA should take the following actions:

  1. Promulgate rules reinforcing its withdrawal of the NPRM, thereby conforming with the Regional Rail-Reorganization Act (RRRA). The RRRA standard prevents states from arbitrarily enforcing employment quotas by law for railroad operations.
  2. States should promote railway innovation and investment by legislating to ensure that rails will not be prevented from moving commerce.
  3. The FRA should allow maximum flexibility when testing new pilot programs to allow for the advancement of railway automation.

If implemented, the authors argue, these measures would result in increased technological innovation and the free flow of commerce.