Most freight trains on most railroads today have a crew of two: one conductor and one engineer. Railroad companies continue to press for reduced operating and labor costs and this threatens to eliminate conductors. Railroads rationalize that since the engineer is already qualified as a conductor, he can easily assume the duties of a conductor. In fact, on most railroads, engineers begin as brakemen/assistant conductors, then become conductors, and finally engineers. Some railroads already implement such a strategy, notably the Montana Rail Link, and operate with an engineer, and an assistant engineer. However, most railroads are contractually obligated to employ at least one conductor in addition to the engineer, via crew consist agreements negotiated with the major rail unions, primarily the United Transportation Union (UTU). Therefore, eliminating the conductor position would require that the railroads and unions negotiate a new agreement. If the railroads were successful, conductors already trained and certified as engineers would theoretically be able to work as engineers. Those that have not yet progressed to engineer would have to be trained as engineers as positions became available. Others would have to accept other positions or possibly lose their jobs. The primary union for engineers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers does not support this movement, claiming that requiring its members to operate trains alone would be unsafe. The conductors’ union, the United Transportation Union, also opposes this initiative, despite historical differences with the engineers’ union.
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