Crewless trains

Today the Norfolk Southern executive was grilled by Congress on whether he would support safety regs requiring a minimum of two crewmembers per train.

We talk about self driving autos. They are problematic due to all the situations that can be encountered. Driverless trucks on the interstate highways are under study. The prospects are better because conditions are more constrained.

The ultimate extrapolation should be crewless trains. Local freight trains that pick up and deliver freight cars need more manpower for switching, positioning cars, connecting air brakes, etc. But trains moving city to city run straight through. The tracks already have electronics for signaling. They know where the trains are. Most accidents are due to human error.

Crewless trains are the logical next step. If union opposition can be overcome.


Our rail tracks are not well maintained and our rail cars are often rusting haulks that are also not maintained. These need to be improved if we eliminate any crew from trains.


The oil train that crashed in Canada was a single crewed train. He failed to set the brakes. The train rolled backward down hill until it crashed. A computer controlled crewless train would not have made that mistake.

The chlorine spill in Georgia, crew forgot to reset the turnout switch before leaving. So following train ran into train on the siding. Another human error. Computer can do it better. Or dispatcher should have caught the error. But probably was a train orders line.

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THIS! We have an Amtrack rail just under half a mile from our house. I have walked beside that rail a couple of times and it has RUINED train travel for me.

  • Nails half (or more) up out of ground
  • Rails not touching the ties
  • Ties suspended in space where rock/ground has fallen away
  • Ties that are rotted through
  • Random other bits of HEAVY metal laying around the track bed (not just off to the side)

This is multiple places for each, in just in the ~600 ft or so of rail I end up hiking next to occasionally. It is terrible, and I have found NO WAY locally to report it. Luckily no toxic chemicals on this line…so far. Just people’s lives.


Amtrak owns the Northeast Corridor line. Maintenance is problematic as funding from Congress is unpredictable. When money is short deferred maintenance is the norm.

Most Amtrak trains run on tracks owned by freight railroads. They do a pretty good job maintaining their high traffic main lines. Amtrak does use some less well maintained routes to get to mandated cities.

Its common to reduce speed limits on bad track. More crew for those routes or hazardous materials routes or trains could work. Details to be worked out.

What actions are being taken by regulators? We got rid of lots of good regulations under trump admin. Why do Republicans always go for less maintenance and less safety just to increase the bottom line for corporations?

We certainly know that Congress is holding hearings. What action will be taken is unknown.

Can the Feds do reg changes without Congressional Action? I don’t know.

Whatever they do will probably take a year or so to go through the rules publication, comment period etc. We shall see what happens. They seem likely to try for some new regs given the accident history. But all sides will weigh in including the unions and the railroads.