Monday, February 06, 2012

Denton County, Tex., seeks FRA waiver

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Following the lead of New Jersey, San Diego County, Calif., and sister Texas city Austin in an effort to sway the Federal Railroad Administration on safety oversight—though taking a different approach—the Denton County Transportation Authority says it will seek an Alternative Vehicle Technology (AVT) waiver so that DCTA can operate new Stadler GTW diesel multiple-unit (DMU) trains without temporal (time-of-day) separation from freight trains.

"This submittal is the result of unprecedented cooperation between DCTA, the FRA, and the vehicle supplier," claims Tom LeBeau, DCTA's vice president of rail development and capital projects. "This effort promises to transform the rail vehicle industry and the face of commuter rail in the United States by increasing the use of rail vehicles that use alternative crashworthy designs."

DCTA says it had to test the Stadler GTWs, with Stadler running computer crash simulations to demonstrate the vehicle's crash management. DCTA has officially accepted six of the 11 Stadler GTW rail vehicles ordered. The agency anticipates having all 11 cars accepted by the summer of 2012. Once DCTA receives all the vehicles, it will return its 10 leased Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) back to owner Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).

Study and analysis of the vehicles was done in cooperation with the FRA, Stadler, and DCTA's systems consultant LTK Engineering Services. It showed that the Stadler GTWs crashworthiness and passenger protection systems are equivalent to current U.S. safety standards. DCTA says it will continue to work with the FRA to advance the AVT application through the review and evaluation process, and anticipates receipt of the FRA's response in the coming months.

"The FRA appointed a rail safety engineering task force, which is a group of technical experts, who will review the application," says Dee Leggett, vice president of communications and planning for DCTA. "Once they make a decision, we'll have to wait on a formal letter. We have a good sense that once the group meets, our waiver will be granted."

"What we said from very beginning was that we would run the Stadler vehicles during the day and the freight at night therefore it will be temporal separation," Leggett said. "The waiver we're applying for will allow us to run the current [Budd RDC] vehicles with the Stadler ones. So we won't have to wait until we receive all the Stadler vehicles to run them."

Leggett said DCTA took the best safety standards from both Europe and the U.S. and applied the combination to the new Stadler vehicles.

FRA already has made similar (though not identical) agreements with New Jersey Transit for both its RiverLINE, which uses diesel light rail equipment, and Newark Light Rail, shared by electric LRT and freight moves. Both systems technically enforce temporal separation, but with specific waivers in place to aid both types of rail movement.