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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the flow of groceries, pharmaceuticals and other essential goods is a stark reminder that transportation networks that bring those necessities to people are as vital as the goods themselves.
The interconnected nature of the U.S. system – barges, railroads, trucks, warehouses and both inland and seaports – may be facing unprecedented challenges, but these networks continue to deliver when America needs them most. It is a testament to U.S. ingenuity, private enterprise and skilled and dedicated workers.
That truck container unloading food and housing supplies at the local grocery store has rightfully acquired the aura of an indispensable asset in today’s pandemic fight.
What is equally as important, but not nearly as visible are the nation’s railroads that often move those goods at the beginning of their journey.
As part of the nation’s integrated transportation network, I proudly represent our nation’s freight railroads that moved critical raw and finished goods months before this pandemic began to those areas and facilities near businesses and consumers.
Our nation’s railroaders and their partners will continue to do their part too, continuing to deliver the goods that support and power communities across the country.
The interplay between freight modes and the reliability of rail deliveries to our distribution and manufacturing centers continues to play a critical role as we speak. Day in and day out, railroads are working around the clock, essential activity that not only helps us today, but will also allow for a quicker recovery as we look toward tomorrow.
In addition to the goods on store shelves – such as food, toilet paper or soap – freight railroads continue to supply the nation with industrial goods indispensable to our society. This includes fuels to provide electricity, water treatment materials to purify water and grains to bolster the nation's food supply during. In a typical week, railroads deliver roughly 60,000 carloads of food and agricultural products.
The ability for railroads to do this is no accident: it is the product of a dedicated cadre of thoughtful companies that have invested intensely and strategically into the rail network for many years.
Just as railroads had plans that were instituted to help communities respond to hurricanes or flooding, railroads had plans to deal with situations like today, which now enables railroads to help the entire nation.
At its core, railroads’ ability to meet our country’s demands are made possible by our unwavering and dedicated employees. No matter the conditions, including today’s, these workers across a host of rail trades are keeping trains running. It is a testament to their commitment to the job at hand.
Policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels have emphasized this through their governance around working and travel restrictions that have been implemented across vast swaths of the country.
Recent guidance by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) categorized freight railroads as “critical infrastructure,” making clear that “workers responsible for operating and dispatching passenger, commuter and freight trains and maintaining rail infrastructure and equipment” must be able to continue working.
This has helped ensure that varying levels of “stay-at-home” orders do not inhibit the movement of railroads or their workers. Groups such as the National League of Cities, the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors deserve immense credit for educating local officials on the federal guidance and the continued need for freight fluidity.
At the highest level, we understand that many industries and their employees are doing what they can to help the country at this time – sometimes risking their own life and health in the process. Health care workers, first responders and critical manufacturing come to mind as particularly crucial jobs being performed today under immense pressure. We must all stop and appreciate what they are doing.
Rest assured, our nation’s railroaders and their partners will continue to do their part too, continuing to deliver the goods that support and power communities across the country – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their commitment will not be broken.
Ian Jefferies is president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.