Posts Tagged ‘Biden administration’

Class 1s Pause Vaccine Rules, Amtrak Does Not

December 10, 2021

Three Class 1 railroads will delay implementation of COVID-19 vaccination rules but Amtrak said it plans to require the vaccinations.

The action follows a ruling by a federal judge in Georgia who issued a nationwide stay of an executive order from the Biden administration that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated by early January.

Judge R. Stan Baker issued the stay in response to a lawsuit filed by seven states.

The judge said the plaintiffs “are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.”

Baker’s ruling applies nationally because another plaintiff in the suit, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members who do business nationwide.

The Biden executive order had required “federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force.”

Those guidelines require employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 with limited exceptions being allowed for medical or religious reasons.”

Earlier, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF cited the executive order in requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Unions representing workers at all of those carriers have sued in an effort to get the rules overturned. The unions have said they are not opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations but want the carriers to engage in collective bargaining over any rule requiring vaccinations.

Another federal judge in Kentucky had issued a similar stay of the Biden executive order but it only was effective in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In statements following this week’s court actions, NS, UP and BNSF said they have halted enforcing their vaccine rules but Amtrak said it has not.

NS said in its statement that it has encouraged its workers from the start of the pandemic to follow the guidance of public health experts.

The statement said NS is pausing enforcement of its vaccine rule, which means it will not subject unvaccinated workers to disciplinary action.

The Atlanta-based carrier said it is still still encouraging employees to get vaccinated and will observe how the legal challenges play out.

In a memo sent to its workers on Dec. 9, Amtrak said 95 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated. That percentage increases to 97 percent when taking into account workers who have received the first of two immunizations.

However, it said that regardless of the court action, it will continue to require workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

The memo noted that Amtrak announced its vaccination rule on Aug. 11, which was before the Biden executive order was issued.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it is sending “counseling letters” to employees who have failed to present proof of vaccination to advise them they are in noncompliance with company policy.

Those failing to provide proof of vaccination by Jan. 4 will be consider insubordinate and termination of their employment will be imposed.

Amtrak has said it expects to fall short of 100 percent compliance with the vaccination rule by Jan. 4 and expects to reduce service levels accordingly.

In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said long-distance trains will be subject to operating on less than daily schedules through March.

The passenger carrier has not said which trains would be affected but plans to do that next week.

The Associated Press has reported that all three of the Biden administration executive orders mandating workers receive COVID-19 vaccinations have been stayed by federal courts.

Federal Judge Enjoins Vaccine Mandate

December 8, 2021

A federal judge in Georgia has enjoined the Biden administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement on companies that are federal contractors.

The action of U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker applies nationwide because one of the plaintiffs in the case, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members throughout the nation.

Some Class 1 railroads, including Norfolk Southern, have cited the contractor mandate in requiring their employees to be vaccinated.

Unions representing workers at those railroads as well as Amtrak and other carriers, have gone to court seeking to block the vaccine rules.

The unions contend vaccine rules are subject to collective bargaining and can’t be imposed unilaterally by the carriers.

Feds Seeking to Alleviate Port Congestion

November 11, 2021

Action seeking to alleviate congestion at the nation’s ports was announced on Wednesday by the Biden administration, much of it focused on the Port of Savannah.

The federal government will allow the Georgia Ports Authority to fund pop-up container yard further inland in Georgia and North Carolina that will receive containers by truck or rail.

The administration also said it will begin ramping up plans to award grant money contained in the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The infrastructure bill contains $17 billion for improving infrastructure at coastal ports, inland ports and waterways and land ports of entry along the border.

Wednesday’s announcement said there will be increased federal flexibilities for port grants, accelerated port infrastructure grant awards; and new construction projects for coastal navigation, inland waterways, and land ports of entry.

The White House said the U.S. Department of Transportation will seek “creative solutions” to help untangle supply chain congestion by allowing flexibility in port grants.

NS CEO Warns Vaccine Rule May Cause Crew Shortages

October 28, 2021

A Class 1 CEO warned this week that COVID-19 vaccine mandates may result in crew shortages.

James Squares said during his company’s third quarter earnings call that his company has been experiencing higher than normal attrition of operating personnel.

NS is one of three Class 1 freight railroads that have announced that all employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a valid reason for an exemption.

Union Pacific and Canadian National also have issued similar rules. The CN rule only applies to Canadian employees.

 NS and UP are involved in litigation over the issue with labor unions who want the issue to be subject to collective bargaining.

Amtrak also has imposed a vaccination requirement for employees. All of the carriers have cited an executive order signed by President Joseph Biden.

In a related development, the board of directors of the Alaska Railroad has rescinded a previously announced vaccination rule.

The board said in a statement that it will wait for the conclusion of court challenges to the federal mandate to play out.

Squires also indicated during the earnings call that NS has faced challenges in hiring and retaining new conductors and that those who have been hired or are in training have quit at high rates.

He indicated NS expects to lose some employees due to the vaccine mandate, which affects railroads because they are considered to be federal government contractors who are thus covered by the executive order.

STB Head Wants More Rail Competition

July 14, 2021

Class 1 Railroads got an ear full on Tuesday from U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman who suggested the carriers are shirking their obligations as common carriers due to pressure from Wall Street investors.

Speaking to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers, Oberman called for more competition in the industry and is in agreement with an executive order issued last week by President Joseph Biden directing federal agencies to limit the dominance of large corporations.

 “There are just many, many parts of the country . . . where there’s just not real effective competition among rail carriers,” Oberman said.

In regards to railroads, the STB head said he sees a less robust freight rail system due to job cuts related to the implementation of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

Oberman also said that some commodities moved by rail have suffered due to Wall Street pressure for ever-lower operating ratios.

“While everybody applauds efficiency — and I do — I am concerned that we may well have stripped our resources down too far to keep our national rail network as healthy as it needs to be to rebuild the economy,” Oberman said.

He acknowledged that railroad did well in moving traffic as the economy rebounded from a recession last spring triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oberman and other STB members will be weighing these and other concerns in upcoming merger cases involving Canadian National acquiring Kansas City Southern, CSX buying Pan Am Railways, and a bid by Watco to buy CN’s former Wisconsin Central branch lines in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads also are on the docket in a pair of cases, including involving Federal Railroad Administration mandated on-time performance standards.

Task Force to Study Supply Chain Issues

June 9, 2021

The Biden administration said on Tuesday it will create a task force and take other steps to address supply-chain challenges to the nation’s economic recovery.

The task force will focus on areas where shortages of supply have been noted, including home building and construction, semiconductors, transportation, and agriculture and food.

Creation of the task force is in response to a 100-day review of critical U.S. supply chains that began in February.

The review examined semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging; large capacity batteries, like those for electric vehicles; critical minerals and materials; and pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Biden Budget Proposal Boosts Amtrak Spending 35%

May 30, 2021

Amtrak would get a 35 percent boost, most of it for capital projects, if Congress adopts the Biden administration budget.

The administration has proposed $2.7 billion for Amtrak with a major share of that funding set to be used for track and station improvements, fleet refreshment, and systemwide maintenance. Another $625 million would create a new grant program, Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion, to develop and expand rail corridors across the nation.

The U.S Department of Transportation would receive $88 billion in total.

This includes $13.5 billion for transit projects of which $2.5 billion is for Capital Investment Grants, a $459 million increase, to accelerate projects already in process and support new projects seeking approval.

Another $550 million would go toward Transit Infrastructure Grants of which $250 million is for the Zero Emission Bus Program.

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program would receive $1 billion in funding.

GOP Senators Release Own Infrastructure Plan

April 24, 2021

A number of Republican members of the U.S. Senate have unveiled their own five-year $568 billion infrastructure plan.

It is a counter to a $2.3 trillion plan laid out by President Joseph Biden dubbed the American Jobs Plan.

The GOP senators said their proposal would be more narrow than the Biden plan and focus more on what they termed core physical infrastructure.

Funding allocations in the GOP plan include roads and bridges ($299 billion); public transit systems ($61 billion); freight and passenger rail ($20 billion); water and wastewater ($35 billion); ports and inland waterways ($17 billion); broadband ($65 billion); airports ($44 billion); and water storage ($14 billion); and safety ($13 billion).

The plan would impose user fees on electric vehicles and repurpose some unused federal spending allocated by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Congress approved in March.

In a news release, the GOP senators said their plan is expected to be a framework for developing bipartisan bills that Congress could pass.

Biden Proposes $25.6B USDOT Budget

April 14, 2021

The Biden administration has proposed a $25.6 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation for federal fiscal year 2022.

That would be an increase of $317 million, or 1.3 percent, over what Congress enacted for FY 2021.

The Office of Management and Budget said that figure is “only a fraction” of the DOT’s “total budgetary resources.”

OMB said most DOT’s financial assistance to states, localities and transportation authorities is provided through mandatory funding derived from the Highway Trust Fund, as part of multiyear surface transportation authorizations.

The administration has proposed that Congress approve $625 million for a new passenger rail competitive grant program, $375 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants, $2.7 billion for Amtrak, $2.5 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, and $250 million for grants for transit agencies to purchase low- and no-emission buses.

The later combined with the assumed $55 million of contract authority of the FAST Act, would provide $305 million for the Low or No Emission Grant Program.

The budget also proposes $110 million to establish a “Thriving Communities Initiative Pilot,” which would provide “funding for grants and technical assistance to communities” and “serve as a down-payment on advancing transportation equity.”

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Develop grant program would receive $1 billion.

Fernandez Nominated to Lead FTA

April 14, 2021

Nuria Fernandez has been nominated by the Biden administration to serve as administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.

She has served as deputy administrator since Jan. 20. Previously Fernandez was general manager and chief executive officer of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in California.

Fernandez also has served as chief operating officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City, as senior vice president of design and construction for the Chicago Transit Authority, and worked at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

She is past chair of the American Public Transit Authority and has served on the boards of the Mineta Transportation Institute and The Transportation Learning Center.