FMCSA grants HOS exemption to railroad associations

December 22, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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Commercial motor vehicle drivers responding to “unplanned events” for railroads have received an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service.

FMCSA’s decision to grant a request from the Association of American Railroads and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to exempt its drivers from some of the hours-of-service rules is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on Wednesday, Dec. 23.

The decision means that drivers for the groups’ railroads will be exempt from the 14-hour rule. Drivers will be allowed to extend its duty period from 14 to 17 hours and will be allowed to extend the 60- and 70-hour rules by up to six hours. Drivers will not be allowed to exceed 11 hours of driving time for the day and will not be allowed to travel more than 300 air-miles from their normal “work-reporting location” or terminal.

“The exemption will enable railroad employees subject to the hours-of-service rules to respond to unplanned events that occur outside of or extend beyond an employee’s normal work hours,” FMCSA wrote.

Examples of unplanned events include derailments, rail failures, disruptions to the electric propulsion system, instances of a disabled vehicle on the track, weather-related events, and other matters that concern public safety.

The railroad groups’ exemption request was published in August, asked on behalf of 20,000 drivers who operate 11,000 commercial motor vehicles.

“These employees inspect, repair, and maintain railroad infrastructure such as the track and bridges that trains operate over,” the exemption application said. “They carry necessary tools and equipment in their commercial motor vehicles to locations on railroad tracks where such work needs to be performed.

“When an emergency occurs, these drivers are needed to repair railroad structures that allow trains to transport critical materials and goods. Their work can be time sensitive, at remote locations, and occur on short notice at any time of the day.”

The exemption request received nine comments, including seven in opposition.

Among those opposed, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance said the regulations were created to provide “a framework of the minimum requirements” to operate commercial motor vehicles safely.

“An exemption to those safety regulations should not be granted simply because they don’t fit a particular industry’s business model,” CVSA wrote.

However, FMCSA said it does not believe the exemption will compromise safety.

“Because the relief is limited to the trip to the scene of the unplanned event and such events would happen only occasionally and not during a predictable number of times per week or months, drivers would not operate commercial motor vehicles after the 14th hour of coming on duty as a regular part of their schedules,” FMCSA wrote.

The exemption is set to expire Dec. 18, 2025. LL

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.