Union Claims Remote Control Locomotives are Unsafe

Photo courtesy CSX
Photo courtesy CSX

A group of engineers claims if something isn't done soon, there's a train accident out there just waiting to happen. A lot of people don't know it, but a number of trains that pass through Montgomery everyday are now being outfitted with remote controls.

That means there's no longer an engineer on board.  Instead, an employee on the ground pushes buttons on a remote control. "It's just like Nintendo," says Tommy Hudson of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers . "They have receivers on the locomotive and they send signals telling the locomotive what to do."

Hudson's union claims that without anyone on board, trains run the risk of crashing. And many of them carry explosive chemicals. They say it's because the remote control operator can't always see where the locomotive is going.

Currently, the remote control locomotives are used only in rail yards like the one along North Court Street in Montgomery. But the tracks do sometimes cross intersections, which leaves open the possibility of accidents with cars and trucks.

Still the railroad company tells 12 News, remote control locomotives are perfectly safe. CSX  claims that in the year since it's implemented the system, accidents are actually down by more than 50%. The company's web site explains:

Remote control technology dramatically reduces the potential for miscommunication between the employee on the ground directing the movement and the employee in the cab of the locomotive."
Click here to read CSX's complete release.

That's because now, there is no employee in the cab. "All they did was cut a job off," says Hudson. He claims 11 jobs have been eliminated in Montgomery alone.

So union members are taking their concerns to the Alabama State House. "We wish the whole railroad industry would have better safety guidelines, this is new technology," says engineer Buddy Morgan.

But it's actually the federal government they want to influence because the states don't have much say-so in the matter. However, union members say if enough state legislatures weigh in on the matter, maybe the federal government will too. They say their ultimate goal is to convince the Federal Railroad Administration to strengthen remote control regulations.