The biggest U.S. freight railroads appear ready to renew their push to reduce their crews to one person from the two-man operation now used by major railroads.
Eight U.S. railroads, including Omaha-based Union Pacific, have filed a federal lawsuit against the union that represents rail conductors to force the union to negotiate about crew sizes during the next round of contract talks that start in November.
The union says the railroads are undermining the bargaining process by turning to courts to force the issue.
The railroads argue they should be allowed to negotiate for the discretion to operate trains with reduced crews and possibly move conductors out of locomotives to ground-based jobs.
Labor agreements requiring two-person crews have been in place for roughly 30 years at the major railroads, although many short-line railroads operate with oneman crews already.
Earlier this year, the Federal Railroad Administration abandoned a proposed rule to require two-man crews because it said there wasn't enough evidence to show they are safer.
Railroads argue that the completion of new systems that can stop trains automatically will make it unnecessary to have a second person in the locomotive. All the major railroads are required to have those systems operating by the end of 2020.