Agencies, Railroads Reacting to COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect the railroad industry with federal regulatory agencies announcing actions they’ve taken to mitigate its effects.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it has activated its emergency relief docket after FRA Administrator Ronald Batory determined the imminent threat and exposure to the disease constitutes an “emergency situation” as related to railroad operations.
This means railroads may request relief from FRA regulations related to the emergency, FRA officials said.

In a statement the FRA said requests for relief must address how the request relates to the emergency and, at a minimum, specify how the petitioner or the public is affected by the emergency.

Requests for relief must also specific which FRA regulations are implicated; how a waiver of those regulations would benefit the petitioner during the emergency; and how long the railroad expects to be affected by the emergency.

If granted the relief will not exceed 60 days, agency officials said.

The Federal Transit Administration said expanded eligibility of federal assistance is available under the agency’s Emergency Relief Program to help transit agencies respond to the coronavirus.

Transit providers in states where the governor has declared an emergency related to COVID-19 will be allowed to use federal formula funds for emergency-related operating and capital expenses

In a news release FTA said the declaration raises the cap on the federal government’s share of those expenses to 80 percent from 50 percent.

Some railroads have announced steps they are taking to address the pandemic.

Norfolk Southern told its shippers and and supply chain partners that it has activated an operations command center headed by senior managers who are monitoring the COVID-19 situation and its effect on the railroad and its employees.

NS employees not directly associated with train operations have been directed to work from home.

Access to the NS Network Operations Center and other critical functions in offices has been restricted and the carrier has additional sanitizing and cleaning activities on order.

VIA Rail Canada has also announced that it has suspended its Canadian, Ocean and long distance eastern and western routes until March 27.

The Canadian intercity rail passenger carrier has also reduced service in its corridor linking Windsor, Ontario, and Quebec City by 50 percent.

Onboard meal service has been modified to conform to social distancing guidelines.

Aditional workers are being added to conduct sanitization procedures, which may result in trip delays and late departures.

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