FRA's Locomotive Sanders Rule Being Relaxed

Though this may seem surprising, some railroad locomotives still are equipped with sanders, which drop sand onto the rails to increase traction as a consist is being pulled up a grade. This is relevant because the Federal Railroad Administration yesterday proposed a revised rule governing sanders. FRA said the rule would afford flexibility in the use of locomotives with inoperative sanders and let railroads utilize their locomotive fleets better. There is some safety protection involved, the agency said, because a consist that stalls because of wheel slippage can obstruct track, and an engineer's efforts to gain traction when stalled can damage the track and locomotive wheels.

FRA said its proposal would also make its regulations for operative sanders more consistent with existing Canadian standards. It will accept written comments until May 7.

The proposal came about after the Association of American Railroads petitioned the FRA on July 12, 2004, to delete the sander requirement in 49 CFR 229.131. The petition and supporting documents claimed that, contrary to popular belief, depositing sand on the rail has no significant influence on the emergency stopping distance of a train. That prompted FRA to study the issue with help from its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee and stakeholders that took part in two meetings held last year. FRA said in its proposal that it agrees locomotive sanders provide limited safety benefits and that the primary benefits derived from the devices are operational.

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