Northern Arizona railroad union members wary of autonomous trains

The thought of a 10,000-ton train going through northern Arizona with no conductor aboard has some railroad workers worried about what autonomous trains might mean for safety of pedestrians and those who live in areas with railroads.

Last month, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a request for information about automated railroad operations and integrating automation more fully into railroads.

“FRA seeks to understand the rail industry’s plans for future development and implementation of automated train systems and technologies and the industry’s plans and expectations related to potential fully-automated rail operations,” the administration wrote in the request.

Some in northern Arizona say the idea is a recipe for disaster.

“It’s a horrible idea for a lot of different reasons,” said Ellis Laird, the Winslow legislative representative for the SMART (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation) union. “Right now, we have two sets of eyes on each train. Humans can react to different situations, I don’t think they will ever be able to program a computer for every different situation.”