One Man Crews / PTC / RC Switching


"Now onto more pressing business, My fellow rails what's your take and/or input on this Conductor certification program that the FRA, AAR, BLE/UTU are grappling with? Do you think it's another episode on how to save the conductors position, or perhaps it an overture attempt by the Carriers saying hey we got a handle on this PTC, and we're moving into the new millenium with RC that doesn't need the use of the human element?  Can this be the beginning of the end for the next generation of railroading as we know it. I do know that by certifying conductors as opposed to be company qualified will lead to more legaleze, as far as when reportable incidents occur, or is it another way to actually start fining both errant engineers and conductors when violations occur.

And it will be exciting to see what terminology is used and what if any pay varriances occur, when they decide on what actually is a certified conductor, it'll probably be something like ......." a certified conductor is a conductor who doesn't sleep when the locomotive is in motion" if the unions write the rule. (Just a little humor guys).

I mean to say I've set up some prototype computer models that can duplicate everything from the corridor managers job via dispatching, and actually can manipulate the working controls from point a to point b, Presently ,until gps transponders are allocated into the HEU and the EOT, and the remote switching and gps poition of same switches, I could see in the very near future (next 5 years) produce this kind of system and procuring freight rail service pretty much from one location. No need for a conductor and or engineer on the equipment.

Thus eliminating actual crews or at the onset reducing crews to a one man operation, of course people will be needed to string the air lines together,and perhaps to cut away,and make joints. But in the simplest computer modeling format (I haven't learned how to extensively write code yet but I'm learning) this type of railroading is there it's on the drawing board, and we all know from following Progressive Railroading that the Carriers' are investing in this electronic format more and more.

SO what you say? be waitin' on hearin' from y'all"

James I started a new discussion so this didn't get lost in the FRAKid v. the World in the Ultimate Cagematch on the other Forum.

I find the future interesting in regards to train operations.  Although not a union fan (not a hater), I have to say that even the route of some going to or leaning towards one man crews in the future seems unrealistic.

I think the industry reduction in crew base has been warranted and proven safe.  Think of the cost savings from 5-7 man crews down to 2.  I'm sure some of that gets pocketed by the high ranking officials, but certainly most of it would go to drive stocl prices up and reduce expenses to allow for capital improvements.  I'm comfortable saying that increased capital has certainly helped the rail industry...not saying it was at the cost of crew reductions though.

Now the item that does not make sense to me is that I think 2 man crew is the lowest you can go and do it 1) safely and 2) cost effectively.

From the cost side...what happens on a break in 2?  How do you repair a broken knuckle with only the engineer?  You can't expect him/her to lug the 70lb chunk of steel 1/2 to the rear of the train.  I guess he could drop the knuckle, pull the train up, walk back and put the knuckle on the drawbar, walk back and shove the train back, then walk back repair the knuckle, walk back and back in to the cut , give it a stretch, then walk back to make sure the train is together, then walk back up and depart...but I'm pretty sured he'd be DOL by then (humor).

I've heard some mention "utility men" in vehicles near the mainline oepration.  OK, how about Feather River Canyon?  Mississippi River bridge, etc?  How many utility men would it take to accomplish this??  Maybe a lesser amount than conductors...but what is the cost of DOL's and DH's??? 

I'd have to say that although technology is great, let's get to 2015 and PTC being proven successful, before we even try to approach the next step of one man crews.  It simply doesn't make sense at this point.

59 Replies

  • In reply to jturner:

    The Idea is that every advance that we have had in labor saving devices has lead to a increase in production and there forth a increase in employment. The economy will absorb the displaced workers somewhere else in the vacuum.      The rairoad put the stagecoach out of buisness....were did they all go>

  • In reply to RayTylicki:


    I will start out with one man crews - I don't know if you ever switched any rail cars or not but one man crews don't work you are never in the right place to do your job.  Utility men are never where you need them and they can only work with one crew at a time(safety reasons).  If the switching doesn't get done or the train does not make it from point A to B  then WHY.

    Remote Control Crews - Only in ideal working conditions does RC enigens work well.  I hapened to work on one of those locations and could switch as many cars as a regular crew ( Eng - Cond - Helper ).  We were the only crew working in the yard and had a long switching lead to work with. No body to line switches wrong a head of you and I had a good helper.  Every place they put RC on they had to put at least another RC job on to suport the first one.  Used four men instead of three.

    Positive Train Control - Is a heck of an exspence when they figure the are only going to get $1 back for every $22 spent.  There has got to be a way to a better and cheeper way to stop trains from runing into each other.  There isn't any way to put PTC in dark territory because there isn't in power source.  It is out there in gods country. 

    They went to work on the railroad better jobs more money.

    Look forward to hearing what any of you guys in this forum have to say about these topics.




  • In reply to Jack Fuller:

    A good point.

    But truckers run "Engineer-only" for 10 hours between rest ... certainly not a totally valid comparison, but something to consider.  And generally they run as far and as fast as they can in that time, with minimal breaks, as they are paid by the mile ... "You ain't earin' if the wheels ain't turnin' "


    Jack, Better spend some time around a major truck stop.  Take a close look.  Many of these folks are traveling with dogs, non-driver companions, radio and various music devices.  ALL illegal in the RR world.......  Even the truckers realize the dangers of fatigue and boredom.  Don't forget the out for running several log-books, something the traincrews can't do.
    The RR's and FRA have risen to new stupidity levels in an attempt to control the train crews life.  All it has done is made it tougher, to stay alert.  They say no music, because it may distract from a two-way radio transmission.  Being asleep does that too...........  The technology is there, my last five cars had it, that cuts out the radio when the (in my case, built in cell phone rings) radio receives a transmission.  The reading is another issue.......  Try having your day wasted by a yardmaster / dispatcher who lets you rot at the edge of the yard for four, five, six or more hours !!!!!!!  It's all about dwell time and bonuses for the terminal folks.
    The very same people who legislate no phones, no music and no reading material, get in their car for the commute home and turn on a radio or iPod to help break the boredom of commuter traffic.  A far more hazardous and demanding task in rush hour traffic than running a train.......  SO who doesn't congress and the FRA ban radios in automobiles ?????????
    One last rant,,,,,,,,  A simple jamming device could be installed in locomotives that when the train is NOT "set and centered" all cell radio devices could be jammed.
  • In reply to switchman:


    Remote Crews comments - nothing is absolute. "every" place had to put on a 2nd job, used 4 instead of 3.  I've work in numerous terminals and never have I seen a 2nd job put on to cover or make up  ground for the 1st RC job.  The truth usually falls in between.  It doesn't add up in my head though that 2nd job would be permanent job versus extra job when things are busy or there is some interruption in normal service that impacts productivity.

    PTC - agree on your cost analysis.  But wanted to mention or ask about the "power source" you refer to.  This is GPS...satellite sends signal to engine to shut down.  No power needed.  In dark territory likely the CAD system would be such that if engine got out of the limits PTC kicks in and shuts it down.

    If you are such an old head that you can't get your hands around this technology thing :) it's that's futuristic.  Yes the GPS would know through programming where the mileposts are, the grade crossings, the bridges, you name it on the track chart and the PTC would know about it.  Then when you enter the limits in dark territory, yes PTC would work.

    You are still spot on with the cost thing.  And dont forget our companies are paying for it.  No Obama money, no money from customers, subsidies, PAC's, etc.  Out of our own pocket.  What other industry deals with that?

  • In reply to BacktotheFuture:


    Remote Control Crews - The reason most RC are not very good in big yards is there isn't an enigeer on the engine.  With two or three jobs working in the same location you have to keep one of your two men on the engine to line switches and runing into any thing.  This puts you back to a one man crew and you don't get anything done.

    PTC - The only answer to PTC is GPS and it would solve the problems of both Dark teritories and Signaled track.  That is something the company I work part time for is working on.  There is a lot that you can do with GPS.  The cost factor would be reduced to a fraction of the cost that they are talking about for way side PTC. 

    Yes  I started on the RR in 1970 and yes I have seen a lot of change and most have been for the good.  Because the RR don't get any federal money it doesn't seem very fair that the government mandate the RR spend so much money with so little return.

    I worked on the Illinois Terrminal RR for 12 years then became part of the NW - NS RR for 26 yr.  What RR did or do you work for.

    This is a great forum to talk about what is going on the RR.  Look forward to hearing back from you or anyone else with imput.


  • In reply to BacktotheFuture:

    Hey BTTF,

    Been awhile, just droppin' by to say how do!.......enjoyin' your insight....keep it up guys.

  • In reply to James Swidergal:


    Would like to hear more about your new idea on improving train handaling in yard and road service.  There is a great need for something like that.  Don't need all the details but would be interested in talking to you.

  • In reply to switchman:

    Hiya all,

    Been busy tryin' to follow all these new rules and all. Even though I'm not gainfully employed by any railroad, I've still been tinkerin' with some techno stuff that I kinda' adopted back in '06 when I was still conductorin' and illegally runnin on the hogger side.

    This whole thing (one man cab) and the like was just a way for me to accomplish movin' trains mostly on main line because of licensed but not necessarily skilled engineers that I was forced to work with. So I developed my own game plan, when I knew I would encounter those times. Remember, this occurred in 2004-2006,prior to the FRA blanket ban on electronic devices being used by TEY people while on duty.

    It started with just using my cell phone, it had a built in camera, so I bought two of them with the same common phone number,(shared line), I'd jury rigged a magnet base to them, attach it to, either the break in cars, or on the hind end right on the EOT, and attach the other to the head end on the lead knuckle. Now I had visual on both ends by using the third handset as the baseline cell phone (command com) now I could dial up (actually speed dial) either end, from anywhere on the ground, (seeking out the best position) now mind you I haven't had the chance to try it out using strictly remote control power, but that's where these licensed but unskilled engineers (operators to say the least would come into play) they knew enough to be throttle jockeys but their in experience would not let them to understand block control, and the like. So, in essence they were mere voice-controlled RC's.

    As far as use in the yard, an operator could be on the ground at anyplace he so chooses to avail himself to cutting cars in or out, and with a visual on both ends and a control box on his chest could virtual have total control of his train, and an added expense utilizing dial up switches would be able to manuver anywhere the rails take him whether in the yard or out on mainline. Add trainline GPS/ptc, FLIR in conjunction with digital imaging used in the totally automated sense,(such as used by Cal tech in their experimental non human pilotted Hummer,that negotiates it's own way without direct human involvment.(PBS-American Frontier-'06) and you now have a springboard into the first ever one man cab controlled railroad.

    I know the programs are being developed as we speak, (just a notehere ,The train needs to be PTCed and not centrally dominated by an outside human source).

    More on this later.... 


  • Actually they do have the technology to run locomotives from point a to point b without anyone in the cab. There is a simulator in Ft. Worth, Tx, they can download three different runs of the same route and upload them into the simulator. They link up the simulator with the actual train locomotive and they can run it in real time. I don't know what kind of delay there is with the controls like there is with running dp trains. The FRA won't buy into it......yet. They have shut out the idea of it several times.

    I personally feel like if any kind of certification for conductors is merely for fining and decerting both crew members. When the PTC actually gets going, it won't be long before these greedy railroads are gonna feel like they don't need a second person in the cab when they have this safety system to rely on. That is another thing, I don't operate on any kind of PTC, but if your slowing down for signals and your running the way you usually run and maybe a few mph's off  i'm sure you'll trigger the ptc and it seems like they'll be firing more people b/c of it.  On that note, if they aren't using the conductors in the cab, i'm sure they'll try to use them as "utility" men at places where set outs/ pick ups are to be made.......Its not looking good for the future of far as being continually employed.

  • In reply to James Swidergal:


    You are right all engineers are not created equaly.  Its that 10 % that make rail roading tough.  The visual idea I like but in a days time how many phones will be lost or damaged. On a road train not a bad idea it would be like having the coboose back with that set of eyes the rear man gave you.

    I think that the GPS going to be the answer to a lot of the problems  on implementing PTC.  Not to mention bring down the cost.


  • In reply to James Mancuso:

       I am a journalist writing about PTC and the road to implementing it by 2015. I'd love to speak with some of the people who've posted on this forum to get your opinion on a few things. I am interested in learning more about how railroad employees feel about PTC, what the worries are, what the public isn't hearing about, and what's going on behind the scenes. I'm also looking into the emphasis railroads seem to have on blaming its employees when things go wrong on the tracks. If you'd be available to talk, please get in touch with me at or by calling 202-709-4023. Thanks so much, and I hope to hear back from you soon.

          Jennifer Brookland

    News21 National Fellow

    Arizona State University

    Phoenix, AZ

  • In reply to jenndb:

    Ms. Brookland:  I have posted several messages at this site and on this subject.  I would be happy to share with you any knowledge I may have.  You may reach me at 303-526-2128, or email me at


  • In reply to Larry Kaufman:

    Here in New Zealand we have been running mainline trains with single man crews for over 20 years.

    Our locomotives are all fitted with vigilance systems and by and in todays age there is not a second thought given to it.

    Some area  specific trains are still two man crews where topography and communications present challanges.

    With regards to remote control shunting, almost all our yards in the country have remote controlled shunt locos, but our union (and common sense) dictates that there is a minimum of two men on the ground for remote shunting operations.

    We have the technology to remote control any mainline loco be means of two "suitcases", one plugged into the MU jumper recepticle and the other to the three air lines on the locomotive.

    These suitcases were an evolution of the remote equipment fitted to our shunt locos and would give immense flexibility out on the road, BUT,  the idea of remote controlled mainline locos puts the heckles up on many a mainline loco engineer, fearing job cuts and a huge increase in safety risks, and to implement it in this country would mean that they would have to put a second person on the loco again, which will never happen.

    My personal opinon is that remote control is fine if you set some strict parameters, as is one man operations.


    Andrew Hamblyn

    Locomotive Engineer


    New Zealand





  • In reply to James Swidergal:

    12 years ago our engineers created a driverless locomotive by heavily modifying a 30 year old EMD locomotive, fitting it with GPS, FLIR, cameras in the nose and long hood, and sensors, flashing lights, christmas tress, bells and whistles along the sides of the loco.

    The concept was called the Technology Test Train and the loco had "T3" logos all over it.

    The cab was gutted, carpeted (!) and a plush leather seat was fitted, with a joystick on one side, a computer screen in the front and keyboard to the other...

    They then used this equipment in conjunction with our "suitcase" remote control gear (named Arataki) and drove the locomotive around the workshop complex from their laptop computer sitting in a deckchair overlooking the yard.!!

    Scary stuff!

    The bloke who designed it all has since taken all his copyrights with him and moved offshore, and with corupt and faulty management in the past, funding for the project stopped and the whole idea binned.

    The loco was recently rebuilt and returned to normal service after 6 years of storage.



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