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Solo in the Engine

January 25, 1987

I read with interest the article by David Smollar in the Jan. 11 edition on one-man operation of Los Angeles-San Diego passenger trains ("Engineers Now Solo on Coastal Amtrak"). The comments of A.C. Henderson concerning this practice are quite valid, and I could not agree with them more. (Until Nov. 5, 1986, when I transferred to Amtrak, I was an engineer for the Santa Fe Railway, where Mr. Henderson was my supervisor.)

I find it humorous that Amtrak used as its spokesman Arthur Lloyd, its West Coast corporate communications manager, who claims to have ridden on an engine once, to refute the statements of Mr. Henderson, who spent 35 years in engine service. For the last 11 of these years, he was the supervisor directly responsible for the performance of the Los Angeles-San Diego passenger trains. Santa Fe, which has cut its work force by one-third since 1981, will not operate trains with one person on the engine.

Mr. Lloyd's statements concerning accident rates of freight trains are ridiculous. The number of freight trains operating daily exceeds the number of passenger trains by a ratio of at least 50 to 1, so, of course, there are more accidents involving freight trains.

Mr. Lloyd presents no facts concerning the accident rates of freight trains, including how many involve mechanical failure and how many involve human error.

Concerning one-man operation of passenger trains, he cites a Federal Railroad Administration study that was done after the fact to support a decision already made.

The railroad operating brotherhoods are well aware of Amtrak's financial problems. The engineers have taken a 40% pay cut and have given Amtrak virtually every work-rule concession that they requested. We have made our sacrifices to help Amtrak succeed. However, it takes a certain number of people to operate a passenger train safely and efficiently.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers has been attempting to get the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate this matter; however, we have had little success. Maybe now this issue will receive the public discussion that it requires. Hopefully, a change can be made before the lives of more railroad passengers and crew members are lost.


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