The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a public notice and request for comments on a proposed General Directive that would reduce the frequency of stop signal overruns in the rail transit industry. It would require rail transit agencies and State Safety Oversight Agencies (SSOA) to work together to understand the significant risks of death, injury, and property damage associated with stop signal overruns; establish mitigations to reduce the risks; and monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the mitigations.

The proposal also would, for the first time, establish a definition for stop signal overruns in the rail transit industry.

"Ensuring trains only operate where they have permission is a fundamental way to protect the safety of rail transit passengers, operators and other workers," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "While rail transit is the safest mode of surface transportation, focus on improving stop signal safety should be a top priority for everyone who is responsible for the safety of transit operations."

The FTA would use the proposed directive to define a stop signal overrun as "a revenue or non-revenue rail transit vehicle passing any signal displaying a visual aspect that indicates to an operator that a train does not have authority to proceed," as specified in a rail transit agency’s operating rules and procedures. Stop signal overruns are significant safety events, with the potential to result in the derailment or collision of passenger trains and the striking of workers, passengers or equipment on the rail transit right-of-way.

The proposed General Directive would require a rail transit agency to conduct a systematic safety risk evaluation of the potential for stop signal overruns on its system, evaluate its operational activities to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of existing mitigations, and develop a corrective action plan, as necessary. In addition, the proposed General Directive would require SSOAs to participate in, review, and approve the safety risk evaluations conducted by rail transit agencies they oversee, and monitor and report the status of corrective action plans to the FTA.

The FTA recognizes that there is a lack of standard practice, definitions, and requirements to protect against unauthorized passing of stop signals. The establishment of a common definition would be a significant safety advancement that would support the development of an industry-wide database on the issue.

The FTA has adopted the principles and methods of Safety Management Systems (SMS) as the basis for enhancing the safety of public transportation. SMS is a risk-based means for developing and managing strategies that use data to proactively identify, evaluate, and mitigate safety concerns, thus leading to improved safety performance. The required actions for this proposed General Directive are grounded on SMS principles and methods.  

The proposed General Directive is being issued in accordance with the FTA Public Transportation Safety Program rule. Public comments must be submitted by March 20, 2017.

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