December 11, 2013

FRA issues safety advisory on speed restriction compliance

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued an industry-wide safety advisory to help ensure railroads adhere to federal regulations regarding maximum authorized train speed limits. The advisory contains four recommendations to ensure railroads comply with speed restrictions through appropriate operating policies, procedures and effective implementation.

“Safety is our highest priority, and the Metro-North crash illustrates how important it is for railroads to follow speed limits,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This safety advisory, along with the other enforcement measures we’ve taken, will remind all employees of the need to follow speed limits and will help improve safety across all rail lines.”

The advisory provides guidance on four recommended measures FRA expects railroads to take action on immediately. Among them are:

  • Review the circumstances of the Dec. 1 Spuyten Duyvil derailment with their operating employees.
  • Provide instruction to employees during training classes and safety briefings on the importance of compliance with maximum authorized train speed limits and other speed restrictions.
  • Evaluate results of operational data regarding speed testing.
  • Reinforce the importance of communication between train crewmembers located in the controlling locomotive, particularly during safety-critical periods when multiple tasks are occurring and during extended periods of inactivity.

“Although the industry’s overall safety record is good, the Metro-North accident is a stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant in ensuring compliance with operational speed limits,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Over the last decade, train accidents have declined by 43 percent nationally, a result of our rigorous safety regime, but we must always do better as we drive continuous safety improvement.”

Last week, the FRA issued Emergency Order 29 (EO 29) to Metro-North Commuter Railroad (MNCW) directing it to take specific, immediate steps to ensure its train crews do not exceed speed limits. EO 29 requires Metro-North to modify its existing signal system to ensure that operators obey speed limits, and to provide two qualified railroad employees to operate trains where major speed restrictions are in place until its signal system is modified.

The FRA also issued a letter calling on Metro-North to launch a safety stand-down with all employees and to fully implement the confidential close-call reporting system, which has helped improve rail safety on other lines.  Metro-North has written the FRA to outline its plans to comply with the directives, and the FRA will continue working directly with Metro-North staff as they implement the provisions.

The FRA had already increased its oversight and enforcement of Metro-North’s rail lines following the May 2013 crash, including additional inspections of its lines and audits of Metro-North’s operations and compliance with federal regulations. FRA is also planning to conduct an extensive investigation of the carrier’s safety compliance with all regulated railroad safety disciplines.

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