FRA Updating Rail Inspection Standards

Its NPRM proposes a four-hour period during which the railroad would verify that a suspected defect in the rail exists.

The Federal Railroad Administration has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will update its Federal Track Safety Stadards by specifying a four-hour period during which railroads would verify that a suspected defect in a rail exists. Publised Oct. 19, the NPRM also sets new requirements for track inspection records. In addition, a new provision will require that every provider of rail flaw detection have a documented training program to ensure that all flaw detection equipment operators are qualified for that work.

The four-hour window of time will "permit railroads to avoid the cost of paying their internal inspection crews or renting a rail car flaw detector an additional half day, saving the industry $8,400 per day," the NPRM states.

Rail integrity has been an issue in some recent accident investigations cited in the proposed rule, including a derailment of Amtrak's California Zephyr train on March 17, 2001, near Nodaway, Iowa, in which 78 people were injured and one person died. NTSB investigators found a broken rail at the point of derailment, according to the NPRM. The broken section apparently had been removed from another track locatio for reuse and was not ultrasonically inspected when inserted, according to NTSB, which concluded it failed because of fatigue initiating from "cracks associated with the precipitation of internal hydrogen," it states.

A Norfolk Southern train's derailment Oct. 20, 2006, while it was crossing a bridge in New Brighton, Pa., caused 23 tank cars loaded with denatured ethanol to derail, with 20 of them leaking ethanol that burned for two days, with some of the chemical spilling into the Beaver River, and NTSB determined the probable cause was an undetected internal rail fracture, according to the proposed rule.

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