WASHINGTON (Feb. 3, 2020) – In 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration withdrew a proposed regulation that would have set a minimum level of train staffing and preempted existing state laws on the issue. Despite this, states, including Virginia, continue to consider similar laws.

In a new policy short, R Street Institute Resident Fellow of Transportation & Infrastructure Nick Zaiac discusses how allowing railroad regulation on matters of automation to progress alongside regulation of car and truck automation is vital to improving American infrastructure over time.

He finds that computer-based track inspection will improve train safety by allowing rails to be inspected more regularly without shutting down segments of track.

He describes how the vitality of American commerce could be better protected if legislators affirm that federal regulators, not states, have sole authority to set minimum railroad staffing levels.

Zaiac concludes that “the Commerce Clause and the judgements that enforced federal preeminence over interstate trade in goods gave us a national single market in long-distance transportation. Powerful incentives for states to take from the whole to make some of their own better have been reined in by Congress’ periodic reassertion that it, not the states, decides when enough is enough.”