Issues & Insights

Regulators Must Keep Deliveries Chugging Along During Pandemic

Tyler Simmons

During the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes, hundreds of millions of households across the country are understandably anxious about getting the food and medical supplies they need. Fortunately, even products such as paper towels and sanitary wipes that appeared to be in “shortage” for the past couple of weeks are making a comeback on the shelves thanks to a resilient supply chain that keeps goods moving from factories to supermarkets and convenience stores. Agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) can, and must, continue to relax unnecessary regulatory requirements that keep goods from getting to consumers. Keeping onerous rules on the books will only increase shipping costs and derail attempts to provide affordable products to consumers.

Amid all the chaos and loss of life caused by the coronavirus crisis, there are plenty of heartwarming stories about workers and entrepreneurs giving their all to help their fellow Americans. Spurred by the soaring demand for toilet paper, entrepreneur Marc Cooper decided to pour his life savings into starting a paper goods factory in Bangor, Maine. He even launched an online toilet paper subscription service via his startup Tissue Plus. But these pivotal products wouldn’t get off factory floors were it not for America’s vibrant transportation system, which includes railroad workers who are laboring tirelessly throughout the pandemic.

Carrying goods ranging from paper products to foodstuffs to automotive parts, railroads hauled more than 2 billion tons of freight annually to manufacturing plants and stores across the country even before the pandemic started. Trains are a quick and cost-effective way of transporting goods cross-continent, and their value has increased exponentially as rest stop closures, highway checkpoints, and driver fatigue have created new challenges for trucking. Over the past few years, railroads such as Norfolk Southern Railway have even experimented with short-haul routes less than 1,000 miles. These short-distance sprints have become increasingly critical as businesses – distilleries dabbling in developing hand sanitizer come to mind – produce necessities to relieve shortages in their areas.

But transportation companies nationwide are facing the continued prospect of strict state and federal regulations as they try to quickly get goods to consumers. For example, the Transportation Security Administration will impose onerous compliance regulations on train operators in June despite little evidence of pressing national security threats to railroads. Every dollar spent on obtaining special federal permits and complying with TSA rules is a dollar that could have been used to help deliver supplies to struggling households and businesses. Fortunately, the FRA is demonstrating its willingness to temporary relax strict rules on trains.

On March 25, the FRA granted regulatory relief from a slew of safety tests and required inspections contingent on worker shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Railroads are temporarily exempt from ordinary regulations as long as they “document the basis on which they concluded that availing themselves of the relief was necessary.” This regulatory relief is undoubtably a step in the right direction and demonstrates a willingness on the part of the FRA to keep critical goods flowing to businesses and households.

The agency should, however, proactively study ways to reduce red tape even more and further bolster the supply chain during (and after) the pandemic. The FRA should also work with other agencies such as the TSA to keep compliance costs as low as possible throughout America’s transportation systems.

This crisis isn’t easy on anyone with consumers nationwide wondering when the next shipments of food and toilet paper will hit the shelves. With continued regulatory relief, the federal government can ensure that the supply chain keeps chugging along for beleaguered businesses and households. 

Marchand is the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

We Could Use Your Help

Issues & Insights was founded by seasoned journalists from the IBD Editorials page. Our mission is to use our decades of experience to provide timely, fact-based reporting and deeply informed analysis on the news of the day.

We’re doing this on a voluntary basis because we think our approach to commentary is sorely lacking both in today’s mainstream media and on the internet. You can help us keep our mission going. If you like what you see, feel free to visit our Donations Page by clicking here. And be sure to tell your friends!

You can also subscribe to I&I: It's free!

Just enter your email address below to get started.

1 comment

  • You might conclude those in the bureaucracy want us all to suffer and die. If not from the Wuhan Virus, from their ineptitude and incompetence.

  • [print-me target="#post-%ID%"]

Subscribe to Issues & Insights via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to I&I and you can receive notifications of new articles in your email. It’s simple, and free.

Join 4,035 other subscribers


If you like what you see, feel free to leave a donation. You can also set up regular donations if you like. Just click on the Tip Jar above. It will take you to a PayPal donations page. Your contributions will help us defray the cost of running this site. (Please note that we are not set up as a charitable organization, so donations aren't tax deductible.) Thank you!

About Issues & Insights

Issues & Insights is run by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our goal is to bring our decades of combined journalism experience to help readers understand the top issues of the day. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

%d bloggers like this: