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Photo altered to show train car labeled COVID-19

March 21, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Train cars  have been found in the U.S. marked with “COVID-19.” 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. A cropped photo circulating on social media showing a rail car marked with COVID-19, the name of the coronavirus disease spreading around the globe, was altered to include the marking. 

THE FACTS: In recent days, social media user have been sharing manipulated images of railroad tank and freight cars labeled with COVID-19, falsely claiming that the U.S. was behind the spread of coronavirus. A fuller version of the photo shows the extended train with the marking “GATX 208630,” meaning the train belonged to GATX Corporation, a global railcar lessor that operates in North America. 


Rail cars belonging to GATX do not have a label in the location where COVID-19 was placed in the image. It appears COVID-19 was digitally added to the photo since the font is much more prominent and bold than the GATX code. 

No railroad cars in the U.S. are registered with that label. It does not meet the official standard for railroad marks set by the Association of American Railroads.  

One Instagram user shared the photo with comments suggesting that the government was spreading the virus as a way of  pushing for vaccine testing and so it could declare martial law.

“Spread Awareness..... The government is Purposely getting ppl sick to push for Vaccination testing & total shutdown of the country to usher in Marshall Law. Everything will be closed for the next 5 months WAKE UP 🙄.”  the post stated.

The Association of American Railroads manages identification labels used on railways. The mark is a company’s identification for tariff and accounting purposes. 

According to Railinc, an organization that keeps data on the North American railroad industry, there are no trains with that registration. 

“We have no mark registered in our system that matches to COVID,” Steve Hinkson, a communications director at Railinc told the AP in an email. “Further, the rules governing registered marks only allow for 2-4 alphanumeric characters. COVID would not meet that standard.”


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: