Designated Inspectors Required for Continuous Welded Rail

The Federal Railroad Administration's final rule says the largest U.S. railroads must train individuals to supervise the installation, adjustment, or maintenance of CWR track. A review of accidents found repairs weren't following the carriers' engineering standards.

Beginning Oct. 9, the largest U.S. railroads must designate and train employees who are qualified to inspect continuous welded rail (CWR) track they own and to supervise the installation, adjustment, and maintenance of CWR track. Smaller Class II railroads have until Nov. 23 and Class III railroads until Feb. 22, 2010, to comply with the new Federal Railroad Administration final rule, which also clarifies that the track owners' submitted CWR plans should focus on inspecting CWR for pull-apart prone conditions and on how joints are installed and maintained.

FRA's advisory panel analyzed more than 1,100 accident or incident reports from January 2000 to August 2007, narrowing those to more than 200 reports involving Class I and excepted track. While many of the accidents resulted from misaligned track caused by "sunkinks" or buckling, the accident review panel "also discovered that each incident studied occurred after track work had been performed recently, and, surprisingly, that the carriers' CWR engineering standards were not being followed in conducting various types of track work," FRA noted in the rule. "In particular, the research disclosed failure to adequately de-stress the track following a previous derailment; failure to maintain the neutral temperature of the rail and to record the amount of rail added or removed during installation; failure to adjust or replace deficient anchors; and failure to place the proper speed restrictions and/or maintain a sufficient length of time and/or tonnage on disturbed track. Moreover, upon review of the railroads' CWR program plans, FRA noted that the railroads were not providing comprehensive guidelines for the training/retraining of their employees in the application of CWR procedures."

CWR rails are welded together to form one continuous rail that may be several miles long, but CWR is currently defined by FRA as rail that has been welded together into lengths longer than 400 feet. Asked whether CWR in which a joint has been installed to repair a rail break or remove a defect could be considered jointed rail that is not subject to the railroad's CWR maintenance policy, FRA said rail designated as CWR when installed remains CWR regardless whether it contains a joint or joints.

The rule says designated CWR inspectors and supervisors must have: (1) current qualifications according to the rule; (2) successfully completed a comprehensive training course specifically developed for the application of written CWR procedures issued by the track owner; (3) demonstrated to the track owner that he/she knows and understands the requirements of the written CWR procedures, can detect deviations from those requirements, and can prescribe appropriate remedial action(s) to correct or safely compensate for those deviations; and (4) written authorization from the track owner to prescribe remedial action(s).

FRA already required track owners' written plans for CWR track to address the installation, adjustment, maintenance, and inspection of CWR; inspection of CWR joints; and a training program for the applications of those procedures. The plans are filed with the FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety/Chief Safety Officer and approved, disapproved, or conditionally approved by FRA.

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