News Wire Digest Second Section for Saturday, March 28

Relief bill increases rail unemployment insurance; FRA grants major rule waivers; and more
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Some significant rail news for Saturday morning:

— The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Trump on Friday includes expansion of railroad unemployment benefits, in addition to the previously reported financial aid for Amtrak and transit agencies [see “Trains News Wire Digest for Thursday, March 26”]. In a letter to American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association members, ASLRRA president Chuck Baker reports that the legislation waives the seven-day waiting period for filing a sickness or unemployment claim with the Railroad Retirement Board; provides an additional $1,200 in biweekly unemployment benefits; provides $475 million to fund the additional benefits resulting from those changes; and allows the board access to $130 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to provide extended benefits through Dec. 31. In a statement, Amtrak, which will receive more than $1 billion in relief, said, “This essential funding for Amtrak will help keep people working and the economy moving during this unprecedented situation. At Amtrak, we continue to keep employee and customer safety as a top priority, as we take aggressive measures to cut costs and adjust service so that we come out of this crisis ready to continue serving the nation.”

— The Federal Railroad Administration has granted all railroads a waiver from several inspection, certification, and operating regulations in response to a request for relief because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other provisions, the waiver allows railroads to, with certain qualifications and documentation:

- Permit workers to exceed hours-of-service regulations, although railroads must “employ due diligence to reduce or eliminate excess service;

- Inspect track less frequently than is usually required;

- Temporarily suspend operating tests and inspections of employees;

- Extend deadlines for certification of engineers and conductors;

- Use engineers on a territory for which they are not specifically qualified;

- And operate trains over longer distances without an intermediate brake inspection.

— A suspect was taken into custody and being questioned about possible arson in the Friday fire that killed the operator of a New York City Transit subway train, the New York Daily News reports. The fire apparently started in a shopping cart, and may have involved an accelerant. Operator Garrett Goble, 36, died after apparently being overcome by smoke while helping passengers evaculate the train. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the fire, which gutted the subway car where it started. The New York Times reports four people were in critical condition as of Friday after suffering from smoke inhalation.


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