Federal Railroad Administration issues revised rule on track safety

A photograph of a train with tank cars passing by a Union Pacific train.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a final rule that revises its standards for rail integrity and track safety, according to a Wednesday notice in the Federal Register.

The rule became effective on Wednesday. FRA said the revisions would reduce unnecessary costs and incentivize innovation while also improving rail safety. 

The regulation governs the minimum safety requirements for railroad tracks. The revisions allow for technologies such as continuous rail testing for inspections and flange-bearing frogs in crossing diamonds. The rule also relaxes the guard check gage limits on heavy-point frogs used in Class 5 track and removes an inspection-method exception for high-density commuter lines, among other revisions. 

FRA had said in December 2019 that it would be revising two existing rules, one on track safety standards and the other on brake system safety requirements. Changes to both rules would “promote safety innovation and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens” while also increasing rail safety and time, FRA said in December.

The final rule this week pertains to track safety standards. Industry stakeholders have been awaiting the outcome of the proposed modifications. 

In the Federal Register notice, FRA responded to comments received by the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association; the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division/Teamsters and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the National Transportation Safety Board; the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation; and rail inspector contractor Herzog Services. A rail shippers’ coalition consisting of the American Chemistry Council, American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), American Petroleum Institute, Chlorine Institute, Fertilizer Institute, Renewable Fuels Association and Sulphur Institute also commented on the rule revisions.

AFPM told FreightWaves Thursday that it supported the final rule coming to fruition.  

“AFPM 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. 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,” said Rob Benedict, AFPM’s senior director of petrochemicals, transportation and infrastructure. “We fully support the deployment of the latest innovations and technologies for continuous safety monitoring to further enhance rail and track safety.”

The other proposed rule on brake system safety standards is still pending. That rule, according to FRA, “incorporates longstanding waivers related to brake inspections, tests and equipment. The rule will extend the amount of time freight rail equipment can be off-air before requiring a new brake inspection, clarify existing regulations and remove outdated provisions.”

FRA issued the notice of proposed rulemaking on brake system safety standards on Jan. 15. The rule is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget, FRA said.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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