AAR, APTA Seek COVID-19 Waiver Extensions (Updated)

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Public Transportation Association have separately petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for an extension of existing waivers of compliance from certain provisions of rail safety regulations that FRA granted last fall relating to COVID-19.

The petitions, on behalf of the associations and their members, were posted in the Federal Register on Aug. 25 (download below).

FRA in March 2020 issued a 60-day emergency waiver for certain requirements of its rail safety regulations contained at 49 CFR Parts 213, 214, 217, 218, 219, 220, 228, 229, 232, 234, 236, 239, 240, and 242, due to the pandemic.

In support of its petition, “AAR notes that [former FRA Administrator Ron Batory’s] March 13, 2020, Declaration of Emergency Situation related to COVID-19 remains in effect,” according to the Federal Register notice. “AAR also references statements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) related to the B.1.617.2 (“Delta”) variant of COVID-19. Specifically, AAR notes that the CDC has reported data showing increased COVID-19 positive tests and hospitalizations. AAR further notes that some railroads have recently begun reporting an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 employee tests and asserts that ‘the continuation of certain waivers is essential to the railroads’ ability to continue to protect their workforce and their critical mission.’”

AAR is requesting that FRA extend the “existing relief previously granted in FRA’s September 18, 2020, letter [download below] with the exception of the relief related to the operational testing requirements of 49 CFR 217.9 and related sections. AAR requests that FRA extend the existing relief for another 12 months, or three months after the FRA Administrator’s rescission of the existing COVID–19 Emergency Declaration, whichever is sooner.”

APTA, in support of its petition, noted that the CDC “guidance on social distancing, as well as avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces are expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future and that commuter railroads are still operating with much-reduced workforces as a result of COVID–19 (over 12,000 commuter rail employees have tested positive and/or self-quarantined over the last 17 months),” according to the Federal Register notice. “APTA requests that FRA extend the existing relief previously granted in FRA’s September 18, 2020, letter [download below] for one year.”

Railway Age asked the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association if it, too, would file a petition. “ASLRRA will not be filing directly,” Vice President Communications Amy M. Krouse said. “Very few short line member railroads are currently using any of the remaining waivers. We have encouraged those entities to file directly if they choose to do so, and have provided assistance in filing.”

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