FTA, FRA Clarify Rail Standards Roles

Posted on June 17, 1999

In sessions at both the APTA Rapid Transit Conference in Toronto and High-Speed Ground Transportation’s Annual Meeting in Seattle, federal officials stipulated how all types of passenger rail vehicles will be regulated under the new standards. The new rules come in the form of an “interim final rule” issued by the FRA in May. Although it has the force of a final regulation, it is called interim because the FRA is still seeking public comment and could change some fine print based on industry comments, officials said. “We hope that the policy is something that both those of us in the agencies and the industry can live with,” said Grady Cothen, FRA’s deputy associate administrator for safety standards. He added that the joint policy was worked out with a great degree of discussion among not only those in the responsible federal agencies but with APTA officials, individual operators, equipment manufacturers and other industry associations. Basically, the policy codifies existing practice. Where passenger service plans to operate on mainline rights-of-way mixed with freight traffic, the new passenger safety standards apply, of which there are two sets, called Tier I and Tier II. For example, for speeds between 80 and 150 mph, the new Tier I equipment design standards apply. In addition to existing crash-resistance standards, the new Tier I rules add corner-post, anti-climbing features (to prevent coupled cars from “climbing on top of each other in a crash) and collision posts. For speeds above 150 mph, Tier II rules come into play. To all those standards in Tier I, the tougher tier adds a requirement that the crew be protected in a reinforced “cage”. Also, Tier II prohibits multiple-unit (self-propelled) trains, to the consternation of some manufacturers with electric and diesel multiple units capable of 150 mph. For cities that want to operate on disused freight corridors, the current waiver process is basically preserved. Cities must file paperwork with FRA stipulating when the passenger vehicles will operate and when freight trains will use the tracks, what types of equipment used by both and what sorts of measures will keep the passenger and freight traffic time separated. “FRA has no intention of overseeing transit operations that are separate from the main network,” the joint policy added. In other words, for equipment operated on totally dedicated transit lines, the FTA has jurisdiction.

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