FRA to Mandate System Safety Programs for Commuter, Intercity Passenger Rail

Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo said his agency will issue a final rule this year, followed by a requirement that freight carriers develop Risk Reduction programs.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo provided an update on several safety issues, including the efforts to ensure safe rail transport of crude oil, in a Feb. 19 speech to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Standing Committee on Rail Transportation. Szabo identified two rules he said his agency will issue soon: a final rule mandating System Safety programs for commuter and intercity passenger rail operations and a second measure requiring that freight carriers develop Risk Reduction programs.

He said FRA recently completed its 60-day safety assessment of Metro-North's entire operation and will issue its report next month, then share the findings with the CEOs of the nation's commuter railroads.

He said DOT expects the nation's freight railroads to provide data on their updated safety proposals, including routing protocols, speed restrictions, and track and mechanical inspections, to ensure crude oil is transported safely. Meanwhile, FRA's Railroad Safety Advisory Committee has an April 1 deadline to complete its examination of three tasks related to safety of crude oil transport, proper train securement, and train crew size, he said.

He said FRA continues to support PHMSA's rulemaking efforts related to the DOT-111 tank cars, adding, "But I do want to echo what [U.S. Transportation] Secretary Foxx has cautioned stakeholders all along: improving the tank car is not the only solution. It is one part of the solution for a complex problem."

Saying an example showing how the System Safety and Risk Reduction programs will work is the successful Switching Operations Fatality Analysis program, which dramatically improved safety in rail switching operations, Szabo said, "To give you some context, in 1977, the year after I started my railroading career, switching operations killed, on average, nearly four employees every month. Through the efforts of SOFA, there was only one switching fatality in 2013. And while it's still one too many, it's a remarkable testament to the risk reduction efforts of labor, management, and FRA staff to identify accident precursors and generate fixes."

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