FRA 219 Drug Testing - Everything We Know

FRA 219 Drug Testing - Everything We Know


The FRA has required drug and alcohol testing for railroad industry employees since 1986. The FRA's Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation (49 CFR Part 219) is designed to detect drug use by employees in safety-sensitive positions. 

Railroads in the United States need to have DOT-qualified alcohol and drug testing programs, usually administered by the Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) or the Medical Review Officer (MRO).

Moreover, in the recent studies by the American Association of Railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration, alcohol and drug violations were determined to be a leading cause of train accidents and incidents.

After several decades of drug and alcohol testing in the rail industry, many different tests were used with varying degrees of accuracy, reliability, and repeatability. To help provide reliable information on which drug tests might be a good fit for the industry, FRA has funded many studies to set up appropriate drug testing programs.

Table Of Contents:

The Mission And Purpose Of The FRA In Drug Testing

The mission of the Federal Railroad Administration is to protect railroad workers, passengers, and the public by ensuring the safety of the rail system. The Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for administering programs that help prevent accidents and incidents related to any substance abuse by covered employees. 

The ultimate safety goal of a railroad drug testing program is zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol in a covered employee's system while they are on duty (or on-call).

The FRA's rules on drug testing are found in 49 CFR Part 219. Part 219 requires railroads to establish a drug and alcohol testing program that ensures the safety of rail workers and the public. 

It is achieved by establishing a drug-free workplace and delivering a workplace free from substance abuse (or drug or alcohol abuse). Additionally, for the safety-sensitive positions, drug testing is carried out to determine if an employee's use of alcohol or drugs is the main factor in any accident or incident.

The FRA has published guidance documents and manuals for designing and implementing a drug-testing program. These documents and manuals provide information on setting up a drug-testing program. They provide general guidelines and, more specifically, for each job classification, minimum standards for the testing process.

However, as per the studies in the United States, alcohol and drug violations were determined to be a leading cause of train accidents and incidents; that is why the FRA has been promoting the implementation and adoption of alcohol and drug programs by railroads 1986.

FRA’s Drug And Alcohol Testing Regulations

Part 219 of the Federal Register describes the railroad industry's drug and alcohol testing program. This rule applies to all railroads with employees who perform safety-sensitive functions. 

The term "covered employee" means someone who performs safety-sensitive functions like locomotive engineers, trainmen, conductors, switchmen, locomotive hostlers/helpers, utility employees, signalmen, operators, and train dispatchers

In addition to the Part 219 drug and alcohol testing regulations, some railroads have their own personnel rules that regulate drug testing. These rules are not directly governed by 49 CFR Part 219 but can be used as a reference point.

However, the basic regulations and prohibitions in Part 219 of the Federal Register are as follows:

  1. A rail carrier must establish and maintain an acceptable drug-free workplace program. It means that "railroads shall establish a drug-free workplace program, which involves periodic testing of employees to ensure that they do not use, or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while performing safety-sensitive functions." 
  2. All drug testing must be professionally administered with a safety-sensitive employee drug and alcohol testing program must consist of a certified SAP or MRO. All written reports, records, and documentation must be retained according to the program's requirements. 
  3. Railroads must ensure that trained staff members are available to conduct drug and alcohol tests. The staff member who conducts the drug test is required to have "documented qualifications as a trained person in the field of substance abuse." 
  4. Railroads shall not make any written pre-employment inquiry, "including the taking of applicant's fingerprints, as to the use of illegal drugs or alcohol." 
  5. The testing could only be administered at times and locations permitted under the railroad's rules and regulations.
  6. Railroads shall only use a drug testing specimen collection procedure that is FDA-approved or "a method that has been validated by scientifically accepted principles."
  7. Railroads shall have a written policy for each employee in a safety-sensitive position, specifically stating that alcohol or any drugs, including MMJ, is prohibited in all safety-sensitive functions while on duty or call. This policy must also ensure that employees understand those provisions and what will happen if they take drugs or alcohol while working.

Does The FRA Do A Pre-Employment Drug Screening?

Yes. The Federal Railroad Administration does a pre-employment drug screening for all safety-sensitive positions in the railroad industry. As per the FRA 219, pre-employment drug screening is all about the following:

  1. Before an individual performs regulated service on or in any way related to a railroad, the individual shall be subject to testing for drugs as per the regulations of the DOT agency. No railroad employee can perform regulated service unless a DOT pre-employment drug test has been conducted with a negative result. There is no physical examination showing signs of drug addiction. This condition applies to a final applicant for direct employment and a direct employee who transfers to a new position.
  2. Additionally, the railroad must also document the DOT pre-employment drug test results. A contract worker or subcontractor who performs regulated service for more than one railroad does not need to take the DOT pre-employment drug test for each railroad they might work for.
  3. Suppose an employee declines to take the DOT pre-employment drug test before being advised because of their religious, medical, or other conditions. In that case, that employee shall be considered unqualified for employment.
  4. Suppose an individual is determined to be in a safety-sensitive position and is required to take the DOT pre-employment drug tests due to federal or state law. In that case, this employee must still pass all required DOT pre-employment drug tests to serve as a regulatory official on railroads.
  5. A DOT pre-employment drug test result from a positive drug test is considered a violation of the law and can lead to adverse action, suspension, or even termination.

Does The FRA Randomly Drug Test Its Employees?

Yes, The Federal Railroad Administration does random drug testing of its employees, which is required per Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations published in the Federal Register, 49 CFR Part 219.

The following are the random drug testing procedures according to the FRA:

  1. Each railroad must ensure that its regulated employees are subject to random drug tests. However, if an employee tests positive for drugs, the railroad must still have a system in place to handle that individual's drug use.
  2. A contractor employee or subcontractor must be subject to random drug testing due to a railroad-related position. This requirement applies regardless of the contractor employee or subcontractor is subject to mandatory federal regulations or not.
  3. The railroad's random drug testing procedures must be unannounced, the railroad must ensure that the procedure is fair and objective, and the railroad's policy must be "determined to be reasonably necessary for the maintenance of a drug-free workplace." Additionally, random drug testing should be spread reasonably throughout the calendar year.
  4. Suppose an employee is determined to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the random drug testing process. In that case, the railroad must refer that individual to a substance use disorder treatment provider. Additionally, the individual can be subject to suspension/termination of employment.
  5. A railroad employee or contractor employee/subcontractor who believes that they have a drug-related medical condition should notify their employer and receive an evaluation from a substance abuse professional.
  6. Lastly, if an employee refuses to take a drug test after being advised of the results, this individual is considered unqualified for employment. However, suppose the employee has a medical emergency involving the employee or an immediate family member at the time of the drug test. In that case, the employee can request a reasonable accommodation of taking another drug test within 48 hours. The request should be submitted to an immediate supervisor for approval.

Does The FRA Do A Reasonable Suspicion Drug Test?

Yes, the Federal Railroad Administration does a reasonable suspicion drug test for safety-sensitive positions, per Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations in the Federal Register, 49 CFR Part 219.

The following circumstances constitute reasonable suspicion drug testing:

  1. Each railroad must ensure that its regulated employees are subject to reasonable suspicion drug testing if the railroad has a reasonable suspicion that the worker is under the influence of alcohol and drugs. 
  2. Reasonable suspicion drug testing may include a visual inspection of the employee and a preliminary oral swab test. If the result is negative, then it is determined that no further testing is necessary. However, if the result is positive or adulterated, it can lead to a more comprehensive drug test.
  3. If an employee refuses to participate or fails in the reasonable suspicion drug testing process, that individual can be subject to assess adverse action and termination of employment.

What Is The FRA Definition Of A Post-Accident Drug Test?

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, a post-accident drug test is a drug test that is conducted immediately after an accidental injury or occupational illness. 

Also known as an "after-accident" drug test, this type of testing should be performed within 24 hours after the accident or incident occurs. Moreover, the list of events that are considered as accident includes:

  • The crash of a locomotive, train, or car
  • The derailment of a train
  • The collision of two or more trains, vehicles, or objects
  • Two or more signal or train control devices being out of service at the same time for a considerable period
  • The failure of a train to stop as required by signals, rules, or orders

However, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) also mentions that this type of drug testing can also be performed if indications indicate that the accident resulted from drugs and alcohol. The Federal Railroad Administration post-accident testing rule requires urine and blood samples to be taken from the following individuals:

  • The worker was on duty at the time of the accident and incident
  • The employee had a direct role in preventing injuries or deaths
  • The employees participated in rescue efforts
  • One of the employees is deceased or injured, and there is no suspicion that their death was accidental


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules on drug testing state that they conduct drug testing for their employees. The Department of Transportation has a zero-tolerance policy for drinking or using drugs before or during work. 

In addition, the federal rules state that the railroad's drug testing policy must be reasonable, verifiable, and consistent. It means that employees will be subject to a drug test when there is reasonable suspicion, and it is consistent throughout the entire year. 

Additionally, the railroad's policy can be announced or unannounced. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) drug testing policies also state that employees under the influence of drugs or alcohol must be referred to a substance abuse treatment provider. They can also be subject to adverse action, including termination of employment.


What kinds of drugs are covered under the FRA drug testing policy?

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules, drugs considered under the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) drug testing policy include alcohol and any other substance placed in Schedule I or II or III of the Controlled Substances Act. 

Also, any drug that is used for a medical purpose or prescription under controlled conditions can be tested, including:

  1. Narcotics
  2. Tobacco
  3. MMJ
  4. Alcohol
  5. Nicotine products
  6. Steroids and other substances that are chemically similar to such substances because they can produce a similar physiological effect on human beings from the same class of drugs and have a similar chemical structure (similar means the same molecules) and biological effects (similar to that of an illegal drug), according to FRA regulations about drug testing for railroad employees in Federal Register 49 CFR Part 219.

Are there any exceptions to the drug testing requirements?

There are some exceptions to FRA drug testing requirements, which include:

  1. If an employee had a reasonable suspicion drug test within the last 30 days
  2. If an employee has a valid prescription for a Schedule I or II controlled substance
  3. If an accident or incident occurred while the employee is on duty and if the employer thinks that there is no reasonable likelihood that drugs played a part in the accident
  4. Railroad workers who are not covered by the drug testing program, such as managers, supervisors, and professional employees.

What steps must an employer take to comply with federal drug testing rules?

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) drug testing policy requires that employers who want to comply with the rules must provide:

  1. A notice of their drug testing policy to each employee at the time of hiring
  2. A drug-free awareness program for employees and contractors
  3. An employee assistance program for supporting employees who are seeking treatment for drug addiction or alcohol abuse
  4. A procedure for reporting work-related injuries, illnesses, or fatalities that involve the use of drugs or alcohol by railroad employees.

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