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Why Will the Feds Let Robots Drive Trucks but Not Trains?

Jun 30, 2016 at 12:10 PM CST

Peter Mills sees an inconsistency. One arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation is recommending two-person crews be required for freight trains as another plans to spend billions to help develop driverless technology for long-haul trucks.

“Anything that tilts the competitive playing field concerns me,” said Mills, chief executive officer of Indiana Rail Road. “We’re very truck-competitive.”

The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed the mandate for two operators in many freight-train locomotives, which would lock in an imperative unions have negotiated in contracts. According to rail carriers, it would also prevent them from taking full advantage of systems for remote oversight that they’re installing, at a cost of about $10 billion and on the order of Congress.