Railroad associations ask FMCSA for hours-of-service exemption

August 20, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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A pair of railroad associations are seeking an hours-of-service exemption for their workers who operate commercial motor vehicles.

FMCSA’s notice for the exemption request from the Association of American Railroads and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Aug. 20.

The railroad groups want a slew of exemptions within the hours-of-service rules, including driving a property-carrying commercial motor vehicle without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty, driving after the 14th hour, driving more than 11 hours, driving without a 30-minute break, and driving after 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight consecutive days.

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

If approved, the exemption would extend the 14-hour duty period to 17 hours, and would extend the 60-hour and 70-hour limits by no more than six hours.

According to the railroad associations, the exemption would cover 20,000 drivers and 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 groups noted that there are FMCSA hours-of-service exemptions for railroad signal employees and utility service vehicles.

“The work of railroad employees responding to an emergency situation is essentially the same as the work of utility employees, and in the instance of certain emergencies, might be described as much more essential,” the groups wrote.

Another factor, the groups said, is that only a small percentage of the workers’ time is behind the wheel.

“In most instances, these employees drive for a very limited percentage of their total on-time duty and often only drive relatively short distances,” the exemption application said.

The temporary exemption is requested for five years.

The public comment period will remain open until Sept. 21. Comments may be made by going to the Regulations.gov website and entering Docket No. FMCSA-2020-0171.

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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.