The Federal Railroad Administration has published its Final Rule revising regulations governing minimum safety requirements for railroad track.
FRA’s changes include allowing inspection of rail using continuous rail testing; allowing use of flange-bearing frogs in crossing diamonds; relaxing guard check gage limits on heavy-point frogs used in Class 5 track; removing an inspection-method exception for high-density commuter lines; and other miscellaneous revisions. Overall, the revisions will benefit track owners, railroads, and the public by reducing unnecessary costs and incentivizing innovation, while improving rail safety, the agency said.
Beginning in 2015, the Track Safety Standards Working Group (TSS Working Group) of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) met numerous times to “consider specific improvements to the Track Safety Standards . . . designed to enhance rail safety by improving track inspection methods, frequency, and documentation.” On Dec. 31, 2019, FRA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that was informed by the RSAC’s recommendations and FRA’s own review and analysis of the Track Safety Standards (TSS or Standards) (49 CFR part 213). See 84 FR 72526. In the NPRM, FRA proposed to amend subparts A, D, F, and G of the TSS to: (1) allow for continuous rail testing, (2) incorporate longstanding waivers related to track frogs, (3) remove the exception for high-density commuter lines from certain track inspection method requirements, and (4) incorporate several consensus-based RSAC recommendations. For a more in-depth discussion of the proposals and their development, see the NPRM (84 FR 72526).
FRA “analyzed the economic impact of this rule over a 10-year period and estimated its costs and cost savings. If railroad track owners choose to take advantage of the cost savings from this rule, they will incur additional labor costs associated with continuous rail testing. These costs are voluntary because railroad track owners will only incur them if they choose to operate continuous rail testing vehicles.”
The following table shows the net cost savings of this rule, over the 10-year analysis:
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SHIPPER ASSOCIATION COMMENT: “American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers has long advocated for a safe U.S. freight rail network through measures that focus on mitigating the root cause of most incidents —failures in the rail infrastructure itself,” AFPM Senior Director, Petrochemicals, Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Benedict said. “FRA’s new final rule will help accomplish exactly that, by allowing railroads to more easily and frequently test their tracks and repair rail flaws before safety issues emerge. We fully support the deployment of the latest innovations and technologies for continuous safety monitoring to further enhance rail and track safety.”