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Stakeholders await new guidance on rail track and brake safety standards

New revisions address integrating technology and “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens”

The Federal Railroad Administration could come out soon with a finalized rule on rail integrity. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Federal rules revising how rail industry stakeholders should monitor and ensure healthy track infrastructure could be unveiled sometime soon.

The rules on rail integrity amendments and track standards, FRA-2018-0104, are in the clearance process at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), but there’s no firm date yet for their issuance and publication in the Federal Register, according to sources.

Freight railroads, rail shippers and rail union members have been awaiting the revised rules since the agency first 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.

Stakeholders such as American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) welcomed FRA’s attention on the two rules since they focus on preventative measures. 

“We’re happy FRA is taking action and we’re hoping they move forward with a final rule,” said Rob Benedict, senior director of petrochemicals, transportation and infrastructure at AFPM. AFPM, along with a coalition of rail shippers that included American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, Chlorine Institute, Fertilizer Institute, Renewable Fuels Association and Sulphur Institute, submitted comments to FRA in March during FRA’s public comment period for the rules.

The revisions to the track integrity rule addressed issues such as continuous rail testing, rail inspection data, the inspection of track used by high-density commuter lines, waivers related to track frogs, and other provisions recommended by the track safety standards working group of FRA’s Railway Safety Advisory Committee. 

Revisions related to the brake standards include issues related to Class I air brake testing and end-of-train device waivers. 

“The proposed track integrity rule revisions encourage the use of technology, including the revision of regulations and removal of exceptions, which could result in more frequent testing of tracks,” Benedict said. “The revisions also authorize the use of new track structures that provide safety benefits by more evenly distributing loads across the track with minimal impact to rail surfaces.”

Benedict added, “Pretty much everyone – from railroads to rail shippers – is encouraged by what’s in there because it removes regulatory barriers to different testing technologies. It also opens the window for more continuous testing and frequent testing, so that you can identify those defects that might end up causing a derailment.”

Besides the rail shippers group, other stakeholders who sent public comments to FRA on the rule revisions included 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. Their comments are available in the docket.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.