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FRA NPRMs Address Track, Brake Inspection Requirements

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Dec. 19 issued two Notices of Proposed Rulemakings (NPRMs), one updating current Track Safety Standards (TSS), the other updating existing Brake System Safety (BSS) requirements. FRA said the proposed rules changes are designed “to promote safety innovation and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens.” Both “will increase rail safety as well as save time.”

The proposed TSS (49 CFR Part 213) amendments would allow continuous testing for rail inspections and would remove an inspection-method exception for high-density commuter lines. It would also add several recommendations by FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). 

Specifically, the TSS NPRM would:

  • Allow for continuous rail testing, which differs from the traditional stop-and-verify rail inspection process, and extend the verification period to allow rail inspection data to be analyzed off-site and field verification to take place between 24 and 84 hours vs. within the current 4 hours.
  • Respond to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation and a requirement set forth in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) by removing the exception for inspecting high-density commuter lines where track time does not permit on-track vehicle inspection, and track centers are 15 feet or less apart.
  • Incorporate two existing waivers to provide additional flexibility for track frogs, the point at which rails cross in a turnout.
  • Adopt other regulatory revisions, many of which are based on the consensus recommendations of the RSAC TSS Working Group. These include, for example, qualification requirements for certain railroad employees and adjusting record-keeping requirements.

The NPRM on Miscellaneous Amendments to Brake System Safety Standards and Codification of Waivers would make changes to portions of 49 CFR Parts 218, 221 and 232, including:

  • Allow trains to go without Class I air brake testing for 24 hours, extending the requirement from 4 hours, “which is expected to significantly reduce number of brake tests performed while increasing network velocity. This allowance is already safely in place in Canada.”
  • Incorporates end-of-train device (EOT) waivers related to battery changeout, marker lamp height and the use of helper locomotives to initiate emergency braking.

“It’s time to modernize existing regulations to permit methods of inspecting, testing and maintaining track and mechanical equipment that are demonstrably safe,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “These updates are consistent with the performance and evidence-based standards that are already being used by many railroads.”

To view the proposed Track Safety Standards rule, see https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/nprm-rail-integrity-amendments-track-safety-standards.

To view the proposed Brake System Safety rule, see https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/nprm-miscellaneous-amendments-brake-system-safety-standards-and-codification-waivers.

Public comments on both NPRMs will be due 60 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.

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