The future of the rail industry in the United States is in the balance.
With the world’s fastest trains set to begin rolling in 2019, there are growing concerns about the impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s economy.
But one aspect of the future of freight rail is certain: The industry will need to be prepared to handle the pandemic.
“This is a big shift, and it will be hard to anticipate how it will play out, but it’s a big deal,” says Joe Wainwright, the chairman of the Railroad Passenger Rail Association, an industry group that represents nearly 30,000 railroads.
The RPRA says it’s working on a new set of rules to allow companies to start accepting contracts for new trains.
The new regulations, which are expected to be released in early 2019, will make it easier for freight railroads to accept contracts, as well as to make sure their existing rail assets are protected.
The regulations would also help reduce the number of COVID cases that could hit the industry.
The new rules, which were proposed by the National Association of Railroad Operating Companies, were introduced last month, and were endorsed by the RPRO last month.
The group says it will now work to craft a comprehensive rulemaking process for the industry to implement the new rules.
“The RPROs will be working with the industry, and we’ll have an input from the industry as well,” says Bill Gagnon, president of the RPA.
The rulemaking will be done with a focus on “a seamless transition to the new regulations.”
Gagnon says he’s confident that railroads will be able to meet the new standards.
“I’m not optimistic that we’ll get it done by the end of the year,” he says.
But it’s not the first time railroads have been forced to take a step back from running trains.
In 2014, for example, the Federal Railroad Administration banned freight rail shipments from Canada and Mexico, and the United Kingdom as well, citing the threat of the COVID virus.
That ban was later lifted, and freight rail operations were allowed to resume in 2019.
“We have been working with all the stakeholders on this,” says Dan McDaniel, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“It’s a long process, and some of it is just figuring out what are the best ways to transition and to mitigate the risk, and how do we do it efficiently and safely.”
The new regulations will be similar to the ones being considered by Congress, but with a major difference.
They would also make it illegal to ship any hazardous materials through railroads, including coal.
That includes coal used to power the nation, which could be a major source of COV-19 cases.
“It’s not really going to have much of an impact on the way we’re doing things,” says Gagn on the RPHA.
“We’re doing it in a way that is consistent with what the EPA has told us to do, which is to be responsible, transparent, and to do the right thing.”
The RPHE says it has received assurances from federal officials that the new guidelines will protect the health and safety of railroads and their employees.
The agency says it is working with Congress to develop a comprehensive proposal to help implement the rules.
The RPA, which represents about 40,000 freight rail operators, has pushed hard to push the industry forward.
In October, it proposed a bill that would allow freight rail companies to operate in New York City without a permit, but the measure died in the Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would have created an industry task force that would make recommendations on the best way to mitigate COVID transmission in New Yorkers’ homes.
“There are a lot of hurdles, a lot more than we anticipated,” says McDaniel.
The federal government will have to approve the task force’s recommendations before they become law.
Gagn on Monday said the RPEA is in discussions with the Trump administration about the potential use of a federal law to allow the use of freight train cargo to ship hazardous materials.
That is an approach that is being advocated by the American Freight Train Association.
That group says the federal government could use the Clean Air Act to allow for a similar program to allow freight freight companies to ship coal and hazardous materials across the border.
The current situation is a “perfect storm,” McDaniel says.
“There’s no doubt that coal has been a major driver of the increase in COVID infections and COVID fatalities, and there’s also no doubt coal has an enormous impact on COVID, especially when it comes to transmission.
We think that if we can mitigate the effects of coal, then we can have a much more stable system in which we can be able actually to have more freight trains in the country. And if we