BSNF Railways Looking To Cut Jobs In Favor Of Computerized Model

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Thousands of jobs nation wide, hundreds in Nebraska, are on the line as Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway looks to cut train crews in half.

The Federal Government said they have to add a new Positive Train Control (PTC) computer system. BNSF believes the system can replace one person they have on trains now. Workers said there's nothing wrong with the new technology, but it may risk crew and public safety.

Right now on BNSF trains an engineer and a conductor are responsible for the train's operation.

Bill Gallentine has been a conductor for BNSF for more than 30 years. He believes two people in a train car, hauling anything from coal to hazardous materials, can make all the difference.

"Just one tank car of anhydrous ammonia could wipe out a whole town. We can prevent that," said Gallentine. "With two people communicating back and forth talking about what the next thing might be, you might get distracted for a moment but the guy across from you is going to maintain his awareness and say 'hey, we have this slow order coming up, or we have maintenance away up ahead.' So, we just kind of look out for each other."

Gallentine said taking away that added safety doesn't just put conductors and engineers at risk, people in towns trains pass through or crossing tracks have an added risk too.

But, BNSF said in a statement that they're excited to use the new PTC technology.

"The tentative agreement, subject to union membership ratification, will allow for locomotive engineers to operate freight trains with the remote support of a new master conductor, instead of a conventional on-board conductor on BNSF routes where positive train control is in use. The agreement will enhance safety by providing a more predictable work schedule with assigned on-duty times and specific territories for master conductors to monitor and assist as necessary," BNSF said in the statement.

While he says the PTC technology is a great addition to the operation, Gallentine said he's seen technology fail in the field and that makes him nervous.

"They're still going to have to do this [because of the Federal mandate]," said Gallentine. "But you're not going to have two sets of eyes, ears up in the cab looking over locomotives, shift-able loads and so on."