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Former Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene Molitoris and U.S. rail industry representatives have joined European rail officials in forming a global task force aimed at generating support for Ukraine and its rail sector in response to Russia's unprovoked attack on the country.
The International Support Ukraine Rail Task Force is asking that Russian Railways (RZD) and Belarusian Railways be "completely isolated" from international commerce, task force officials said in a press release.
"Worldwide rail organizations should expel Russian and Belarusian public transport companies immediately and completely," said Molitoris. "While we laud the current efforts of various governments, we want to be sure all possible sanctions are in place in relation to RZD and Belarusian Railways. The benchmark should be the equivalent of the full closure of E.U., U.K. and U.S. airspace."
Molitaris, who chairs the task force, served as FRA administrator in President Bill Clinton's administration.
The task force was formed after Ukrainian national rail operator Ukrzaliznytsia (UZ) urged the global rail sector to do everything in its power to support the Ukrainian rail sector, task force officials said.
Also serving on the task force as vice chairs are Nick Brooks, secretary general of the Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants in Europe (ALLRAIL), an international organization of passenger rail companies; Ray Chambers, owner of RBC Transportation Solutions LLC and president of the Association for Innovative Passenger Rail Operations (AIPRO); Jon McGrath, president and CEO of McGrath Railroad Construction and former chair of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association; and Robert VanderClute, former senior vice president of the Association of American Railroads and owner of FirstRail International LLC.
In addition to promoting sanctions against Russia's rail system, the task force's initial goals include helping Ukrainians flee the conflict; transporting food and goods to the public and arms to Ukrainian fighters; moving oil and gas supplies by rail to replace Russian exports; and repairing and maintaining Ukraine's rail infrastructure.
Brooks will head the initiative aimed at helping Ukrainians flee the conflict, as well as transporting food and supplies into Ukraine. ALLRAIL passenger rail operator members — including Leo Express MTRX, WESTbahn, RegioJet and FlixTrain — are providing free passage to refugees. Online travel booking website Omio has set up a special page with transport options in Ukraine as well as free travel from the border.
"The early rail response has been outstanding to date," said Brooks. "A major task force concern will also be a continuous supply in the post-war era."
VanderClute will oversee a North American railroad effort to end Russian oil and gas exports and replacing them with North American energy sources. In cooperation with government and energy companies, railroads should ramp up an emergency export program to move oil and gas products to export points as quickly as it can be arranged, task force officials said.
The task force will also assess the destruction of railroad and other transportation infrastructure in Ukraine, then help organize assistance to repair and rebuild.