June 17, 2013

High-speed rail crashworthiness standards recommended

The Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) voted unanimously to recommend that the Transportation Secretary work to implement new crashworthiness performance standards for next generation high-speed passenger rail equipment that will operate in the U.S.

The RSAC is FRA’s technical and policy stakeholder body that includes representatives from various rail industry perspectives, including major international rail builders.

The standards, which FRA is developing now before they are published later this year in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), will provide baseline safety requirements for next generation rail equipment that would travel up to speeds of 220 mph on high-speed rail tracks, while providing the flexibility to operate with existing freight and passenger systems up to speeds of 125 mph.

Once finalized through the FRA’s rulemaking process, the new standards would be employed along the Northeast Corridor and in California, regions both designated for high-speed rail service.

The proposed standards are intended to provide an alternative approach to existing railcar crashworthiness requirements that have influenced the type of passenger equipment built and used in the U.S. market for nearly a century. The proposed standards would establish performance-based requirements for an interoperable rail network, permitting the use of “service proven” designs and advanced technologies, while ensuring a consistent, systematic approach to safety.

Since 2009, members of the RSAC have undertaken a review of existing crashworthiness requirements in order to identify a new, technology-neutral, performance-based approach that employs modern and advanced design techniques, such as crash energy management. Consensus on the proposed standards was reached by the RSAC Engineering Task Force, which is made up of a cross section of the domestic and international railcar supply industry, including 12 railcar manufacturers.

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