June 4, 2020

Even while facing unprecedented supply chain challenges, rail workers have continued to deliver critical goods during the coronavirus pandemic.

Resilience is in the DNA of railroading. It’s a business that runs all day, every day, no matter what the conditions. From extreme weather to recessions, freight railroads have continued to haul the goods our country needs to keep moving forward.

It is railroad employees who keep the 140,000-mile freight rail network strong. Quietly each day, they are on the frontlines doing what they always do — delivering. As our nation continues to fight the pandemic, railroaders are helping move vital goods, including disinfectants, the chemicals used to make personal protective equipment and food.

Railroaders are cut from a different cloth and are proud of the work they do — now more than ever — to serve the businesses and communities that rely on freight rail. Here are just seven examples of the role they’re playing during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Keeping the Supply Chain Going

“It’s a good feeling knowing we’re helping out and keeping the supply chain going. The railroad has been the backbone of the country for more than 150 years and will be long into the future.”Dave Oder, Union Pacific Conductor

In addition to disinfectants and other chemicals, railroads are hauling home cleaning supplies, pet food, energy products that generate electricity and more. By moving these goods, freight rail employees are helping to keep Americans safe, comfortable and well fed while they sheltered in place during the first months of the pandemic.

2. Working Together

“While we’re continuing to protect America’s backbone and to work hand-in-hand with our employees to make sure rail operations run smoothly, we’re doing so in a safe manner and trying to keep our employees as healthy as we can.” — Dave Veschak, CSX Special Police Agent

Freight rail companies’ top priority is to protect their employees’ health and well being. To prevent the spread of the virus and safeguard their workforce, railroads are using technology to make it possible to do more tasks remotely. Employees who need to be on-site practice social distancing and wear masks. Railroads are also staggering shifts and opening additional dispatching centers to limit crowding.

3. Always Staying Safe

“I’m glad we can do something and play our part in all of this. It may seem like business as usual … but I know what we do matters.”Kevin Lemp, Canadian National Mechanical Supervisor

Already a very safe industry, railroads have dramatically amplified their cleaning protocols. They have increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning and sanitation in railroad headquarters, maintenance facilities, dispatch and operations centers as well as on locomotives and rail equipment. Railroads have also requested enhanced cleaning of hotels and motor vehicles used by railroad contractors.


4. It’s Personal

“At KCS, safety has always been an obligation and not an option. So, it’s something we take very personal in Kansas City and across our railroad for that matter. And with the choice of being able to stay home or come to work every day with the role that I play, the job that I have, I would come to work because I have an important job to maintain for our public health safety.”— Klinton Grollmes, Kansas City Southern Locomotive Engineer

Hospitals fighting the virus, particularly those in hot spots, require massive amounts of personal protective equipment — face shields, gloves, gowns and masks — to protect their workers. Freight rail companies are hauling the plastic used to manufacture this equipment. Without this raw material, manufacturers would not be able to ramp up production.

5. Showing True Resilience

“I’ve never seen such resilience. We’re already very safety-minded; with the precautions we’re taking and our employees’ positive attitude, we’re making sure we have the power needed for our trains to deliver.” Abid Raza, BNSF Railway Northtown Shop Superintendent

Railroads have continued to reliably deliver shipments, even as they face unprecedented challenges, because of ongoing preparation. Each year, the industry spends billions of dollars on technology, equipment and infrastructure improvements to ensure operations continue moving safely and efficiently. Freight rail companies have long maintained and routinely review pandemic response plans as part of ongoing security measures. It is preparation and investment that ensure freight rail is able to meet the unique needs of this crisis.

6. Extending Support Beyond the Tracks

“By providing food to North Americans who are in need and critical supplies and support to front-line service providers, these charities are making a difference. We hope our donations will assist these organizations in reaching those who are most vulnerable and keeping more people safe.” — Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific, President & CEO

Many freight railroads have donated funds to support communities affected by the pandemic. Canadian Pacific, for example, donated $1 million across four North American charities, including Feeding America and the American Red Cross. And, CSX has joined with Operation Gratitude to write thank you notes to first responders.

7. A Deep Sense of Pride

“Everybody knows what our part is, and there’s a sense of pride to it, because we do feel essential to keeping the country running. When this thing breaks, when everything gets back up and running, we want to be able to keep going full speed through it.” — J.D. Julian, Norfolk Southern, Senior Supervisor of T&S 24

Freight rail companies will play a key part in helping to restart the American economy. They have already positioned locomotives in strategic areas to ensure they will be ready to haul the freight businesses of all sizes need to reopen. The industry is ready to boost services as the economy begins to grow again.

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