Lawmakers want Federal Railroad Administration to enact COVID-19 guidelines

A composite image. On the left is some microscopic photos of the novel coronavirus and the words COVID-19. On the right is a train traveling through a field.

Fourteen Congressional lawmakers are pressing the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to consider the health and safety recommendations given by the rail unions as both agencies craft guidance related to the novel coronavirus.

The letter, written by U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Arizona) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania), was signed by a total of seven Republicans and seven Democrats. 

“Our transit and rail workers are essential to the health, safety, security and transport of people within and between our communities along with the transport of critical goods and freight across the country. It is important that steps are taken to mitigate the spread of the virus within the workforce, minimize exposure while workers are performing their duties and ensure sufficient staffing,” said the April 2 letter to FRA Administrator Ron Batory and FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.

“As you work to identify additional measures to protect these essential transportation workers, we ask that you consider and give full and fair consideration to the recommendations SMART-TD outlined in its petitions for worker protection and sanitation standards to protect against the virus,” the letter continued. SMART-TD, a rail union, stands for Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation – Transportation Division.

SMART-TD and the rail union the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen petitioned FRA and FTA in late March, asking the agencies to issue emergency orders addressing the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the U.S. Their recommendations address workplace sanitation and access to an adequate supply of cleaning products and hours of service, among other provisions.

FRA said in March that it was reviewing the petition. 

Other Congressional lawmakers who signed the letter were Reps. Don Bacon (R-Nebraska); Mike Bost (R-Illinois); Sharice L. Davids (D-Kansas); Rodney Davis (R.-Illinois); Adriano Espaillat (D-New York); John Garamendi (D-California); Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-Illinois); Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey); David B. McKinley (R-West Virginia); Grace F. Napolitano (D-California); Christopher H. Smith (R-New Jersey); and Fred Upton (R-Michigan).

Separately, FRA is also reviewing petitions on requests to temporarily waive certain regulated mandates, such as random drug and alcohol testing, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency responded to a waiver request from the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and the American Public Transportation Association regarding waiving drug and alcohol tests, saying on March 30 that it was denying their petition because the regulation provides some flexibility in its implementation.

The three groups also petitioned FRA on April 3 to waive temporarily the regulations that require in-person assessment of locomotive engineer skill performance for recertifying locomotive engineers.

These petitions and FRA’s responses are in the docket FRA-2020-0002 on the website.