If you thought air and car travel were getting more dangerous by the year, well, you haven’t seen anything yet.
The railroads in this country, in a valiant effort to cut labor costs, have proposed reducing the number of people on board freight trains. Specifically, they want to cut the number of people by half it takes to operate one of those massive 7,000-ton behemoths.
So how many does it currently take to run one of those things you might ask? Well, only two. Yikes!
Yes, the railroads, in their endless pursuit of kissing up to stockholders, have unveiled plans to limit the number of operators to exactly one. Gee, I hope they don’t have to go to the bathroom or take a smoke break while barreling through railroad crossings in downtown Chicago or Santa Fe. That could get interesting.
Not to worry, they claim. Trains have become very automated and advances in technology have reduced the number of people needed to run them. That means fewer people to pay and less pension money to pay out in retirement and hence big savings for the railroad executives.
After World War II, freight trains typically had a crew of seven. There was the engineer, a conductor, brakemen, a fireman and maybe a hobo or two. They even had a caboose where you could always find a good game of gin rummy.
Now computers or controllers in another city operate them largely remotely. That’s a little scary. How would you like for North Korea to hack into a speeding Union Pacific carrying hazardous cargo like anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, phosphoric acid or spent nuclear waste while it’s passing by your local grade school?
And if you haven’t noticed, the railroads are constantly trying to add cars to trains to push up the profit margin on a delivery. They want to prevent human error and replace it with computer error. At least humans sometimes admit they’re wrong.
I think the railroads are going down the wrong track. And I think the labor unions and the public are both getting railroaded.
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