In an ongoing effort to better identify rail flaws and eliminate the risk of train derailments and other railroad accidents, the US Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently announced new rules governing rail inspections.
New regulations designed to further strengthen existing Federal Track Safety Standards include:
- Requiring the use of performance-based rail inspection methods focused on maintaining low rail failure rates per mile of track, and increasing the frequency of testing;
- Providing a four-hour period to verify that certain less serious suspected defects exist in a rail section once track owners learn that the rail contains an indication of those defects;
- Requiring that rail inspectors be properly qualified to operate rail flaw detection equipment and interpret test results;
- And establishing an annual maximum allowable rate of rail defects and rail failures between inspections for each designated inspection segment of track.
“Our goal is to drive continuous safety improvement and further reduce the risk of broken rails and derailments,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said in a media release. “While track-caused accidents have declined by 40 percent over the past decade, these new standards will better advance the use of technology and achieve the next generation of safety.”
This new rule marks the 30th of the 42 final rules mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008, a law enacted by Congress to improve railroad safety nationwide. Among the most notable of RSIA mandates was the requirement that positive train control (PTC technology) be installed on most US railroad networks by 2015, a move prompted by the 2008 Chatsworth train collision in which a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train crashed head-on at a curved section of a single track in the Chatsworth district of Los Angeles.
While much has been accomplished via RSIA and other efforts to curb the rate of railway accidents, risks remain. In the Chatsworth incident, for instance, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) faulted the Metrolink train's engineer for the collision, after an investigation showed that he had sent and received a series of text messages and failed to stop his train for a red railway signal. Twenty five passengers and crew members were killed.