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Jun 11 Written by 

FRA Covers Maintenance of Way Employees For Drug and Alcohol Testing

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Since 1985 the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hasn't had a major update to its drug and alcohol regulations. Recently, there have been changes that will go into effect as of June 12, 2017. The FRA has estimated that the changes will affect over 400 Maintenance of Way contractors and 695 small railroad companies. Railroad employers should know if their business is affected by these updates and, if they are, put in place the correct requirements. 

What are the FRA drug and alcohol testing updates to part 219?

The most significant update is the extension to cover more safety-sensitive employees. The new scope includes Maintenance of Way (MOW) employees. The FRA re-defined "Roadway workers" to include MOW duties. Although, MOW contractors may be exempt from the full control of alcohol and drug use in part 219.  

Here are the new covered duties under part 219:

  • Inspection, construction, maintenance or repair of railroad track;
    • Bridges, roadway, signal and communication systems, 
    • Electric traction systems or roadway facilities, 
  • Roadway maintenance machinery on or near track or with the potential of fouling a track, and 
  • Flagmen and watchmen/lookouts.

Any contractors, subcontractors, and volunteers are also covered. 

Other changes include the post-accident drug and alcohol testing criteria. They've also separated the reasonable suspicion and reasonable cause requirements. 

What's the difference between reasonable suspicion and reasonable cause according to the FRA?

For most employers, reasonable suspicion and reasonable cause testing mean the same thing. In fact, they share the same checkbox on the Federal CCF.


Federal CCF highlighting the reasonable suspicion/cause check box
Reasonable suspicion/cause share the same checkbox on the Federal CCF


Under the FRA, these mean two distinct things. That's why they separated the subparts to clarify the confusion. 

An employee must submit to a reasonable suspicion test under certain conditions. A trained supervisor must believe an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One supervisor may determine an alcohol test. It takes two supervisors to determine a drug test. The supervisors' observations must be on specific observations. These include the behavior, appearance, speech, or body odor of the employee. 

A reasonable cause test is the "catch-all" testing rule under the FRA. These requirements include train incidents, rule violations, or not following orders. These are requirements that don't fit under any other criteria under part 219 (post-accident, random, etc.).

Here's how to follow the FRA updates:

The FRA has provided model plans to help employers follow the new requirements. The model plans include the FRA drug and alcohol testing standards and programs. These include pre-employment, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and a follow-up testing program. They've provided separate model plans for railroad contractors, small railroads, and larger railroads. Follow the model plans to put in place and submit your program to the FRA.

What are the exemptions to the new FRA rules?

There are exemptions to the drug and alcohol testing rules for small railroads and MOW contractors. That's why they provided a separate model plan for these types of companies. A "small railroad" has 15 or less hours-of-service employees without joint operations. A small railroad doesn't need to have a random or reasonable cause testing program. They also aren't required to refer employees to substance abuse professionals or treatment programs.   

For MOW contractors, compliance determines the size of the railroad that they're servicing. It's not determined by the count of contractor employees. For example, a MOW contractor with five employees servicing a large railroad must meet the full requirements. But, a MOW contractor with 20 employees servicing a small railroad, is exempt from the full program. MOW contractors should adopt the program that the serviced railroad is following. 

These changes will affect many railroad companies but, the benefits outweigh the costs. Drug and alcohol testing programs have a direct impact on safety. They'll help reduce expected injuries, fatalities, and avoid property damages. Railroad employers should understand their requirements. You either have to meet the full program under part 219 or you're exempt from a few subparts. Small railroads and MOW contractors need to put these changes in place immediately. 

Read the official amendments.

Need help implementing your railroad drug and alcohol testing program? Contact us!  

5463 Last modified on Thursday, 04 January 2018
Hagen DeRouen

Co-founder & CEO at Screensoft. 10+ years of experience with employment screening program management and guidance. Certifications including FCRA basic, MRO assistant, and professional collector trainer.