Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

FRA Warns Class 1s on Training Programs

January 18, 2023

Federal Railroad Administration head Amit Bose has warned Class I railroad CEOs that the agency will commence enforcement actions against them if their companies fail to follow the agency’s recommended improvements to their engineer and conductor training and certification programs.

In a letter to the CEOs, Bose said a review of the training programs by FRA staff has found that revisions made by the Class 1 carriers barely made incremental program toward correcting deficiencies that FRA inspectors identified.

Some programs have been reviewed by the FRA several times.

“To encourage full compliance please be advised that FRA is committed to pursuing enforcement action if a railroad’s resubmitted certification program continues to fail to address the deficiencies identified by FRA.”

FRA Issues Safety Bulletin on Inspections

January 14, 2023

The Federal Railroad Administration recently released a safety bulletin to remind railroad workers to conduct visual inspections before pulling cars.

The bulletin was issued following an incident in mid-December in Alabama on Norfolk Southern in which a train operating on a main line struck a piece of angle iron protruding from a freight car on an adjacent main track. A preliminary FRA investigation found the piece of angle iron appeared to have been part of the freight car and not its contents.

A worker had repaired the carbody side top cord of a scrap metal gondola car that was starting to dislodge from the carbody.

The angle iron was protruding when the car was pulled from a shipper facility, moved to a yard and then added to the consist of a different train.

The angle iron pierced a locomotive cab window and fatally injured a crew member.

The FRA has asked railroads to review the safety bulletin with its employees “to increase awareness of this hazardous condition that led to a fatal injury.”

FRA Issues Safety Advisory on Unintended Brake Release on a Stopped Train

December 30, 2022

The Federal Railroad Administration this week issued a safety advisory pertaining to issues encountered by train crews who experience an unintended brake release while stopped at a signal.

The advisory recommends four steps to address the unintended release of train air brakes.

Safety Advisory 2033-02 was published in the Federal Register.

The advisory was prompted by a June 22 incident during a thunderstorm involving an intermodal train with three locomotives, 47 loaded cars, and six empty cars, totaling 9,204 feet in length and 7,392 tons in weight.

The train had stopped on on a downhill grade of 0.9 to 1.18 percent near the signal governing the train’s movement, set the train’s air brakes at approximately 12 pounds, and fully set the locomotive consist’s independent brakes.

The train sat for three hours and then began rolling toward the signal as it continued to display a stop indication.

The locomotive consist’s independent brakes remained fully applied but due to the grade, tonnage and wet rail could not solely hold the train without the automatic air brakes also being applied.

As that incident unfoled, an opposing train movement was about to enter the interlocking in front of the rolling train.

The crew was able to stop the train, in part by activating the emergency brake valve and the train stopped short of the signal. The crew then, after contacting the dispatcher, set a sufficient number of car handbrakes to hold the train on the grade.

Among the FRA recommendations are train crews should not expect a service rate or emergency brake application to indefinitely maintain application of a train’s air brakes; if a train is stopped with air brakes set, and the train begins moving, the crew should immediately apply the emergency brake and after the train is stopped set a sufficient number of handbrakes to secure the train from further unintended movement before releasing the brakes and recharging the train’s air brake system.

Other recommendations included that each railroad should adopt and implement an air brake procedure that addresses unintended brake releases.; and railroads should have an operating supervisor conduct a face-to-face meeting with each locomotive engineer and conductor to explain and reinforce the contents of this advisory.

Work to Progress on New Lift Bridge on Amtrak Route in Albany NY

December 28, 2022

Replacement of a bridge in Albany, New York, used by Amtrak will advance to the final design phase after winning approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

The bridge is owned by CSX but leased to Amtrak, which uses it for its Lake Shore Limited and Empire Service trains.

The FRA determined that replacement of the Livingston Avenue Railroad Bridge would have “no significant impact” on the environment.

The movable swing bridge over the Hudson River was built in the 19th century and has a top speed of 15 miles per hour.

New York State Department of Transportation officials said the new bridge will be a lift structure with two tracks on a parallel alignment.

As part of the project changes will be made to the triangular ju8nction of tracks on the Rensselaer side of the river to help facilitate train turning movements.

Officials said the new bridge will better serve maritime traffic and provide pedestrians and bicyclists with access across the river.

GAO Review of Effects of PSR on Rail Safety Inconclusive

December 28, 2022

The U.S. Government Accountability study concluded that the effects on railroad safety of the implementation of the precision scheduled railroading operating model is inconclusive.

One hallmark of PSR has been longer and fewer trains along with a reduction in railroad work forces.After adopting PSR, railroads cut their workforces by about 28 percent between 2011 and 2012.

PSR has been widely adopted by North American Class 1 railroads.

GAO said its study included interviews with railroad executives, employee unions, shippers and other stakeholders.

FRA officials told the GAO that the agency’s data about rail operations after adopting PSR didn’t show any clear conclusion on rail safety.

The agency said it continues to monitor railroad safety performance, including conducting inspections and reviewing existing regulations.

Railroad executives contended PSR has had no effect on railroad safety, while rail safety inspectors and employee unions pointed to safety concerns related to worker cuts and longer trains.

Spending Bill has $106B for Transportation

December 23, 2022

An omnibus budget bill working its way through Congress contains $106 billion in federal transportation funding for fiscal year 2023, which began on Oct. 1.

The $1.7 trillion spending bill was approved by the Senate on Thursday with House approval expected to come on Friday.

The transportation budget includes increased funding for Amtrak and public transit agencies.

Amtrak is to receive $2.45 billion, which is $121.6 million above what the passenger carrier was granted in fiscal year 2022.

However, it also is short of the $3 billion requested by the Biden Administration and less than the $3.3 billion requested by Amtrak.

The Amtrak funding breaks down to $1.26 billion for the Northeast Corridor and $1.19 billion for the national network.

The legislation says that up to $66 million can be used to support planning, capital costs, and operating assistance for projects included in the Corridor Identification Program.

The latter is a program stemming from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.  That money can be used to develop new intercity rail passenger routes and/or to improve service on existing passenger rail routes.

An analysis published on the website of the Rail Passengers Association said that Amtrak may face a squeeze from trying to do too much with the funding provided for the national network.

RPA noted that the passenger carrier is having a difficult time getting all of its pre-pandemic service back in service as well as hiring additional personnel. That might not leave much funding to develop new services.

Congress also banned Amtrak from using its operating grant to discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter the route of any long-distance route except in the case of an emergency or a planned maintenance outage.

The Federal Railroad Administration will receive $1.05 billion. That is broken down to $44 million for railroad research and development; $100 million for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Rail grant program; and $560 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program.

The legislation specifies that at least $150 million in CRISI grants shall be used for development of new passenger rail corridors.

Other FRA spending earmarks included $25 million for the development and implementation of measures to prevent trespassing; $5 million for maglev; $30.4 million for Congressionally directed spending; and $5 million for workforce development training.

The Federal Transit Administration was allocated $16 billion of which $13.6 billion is to be used for Transit Formula Grants to address transit state of good repair; and $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants to create new transit routes nationwide.

The latter is a $387 million increase above fiscal year 2022 funding.

CRISI grants may be used to fund commuter rail projects, authorizing the transfer of funds by the USDOT to the appropriate agencies to be administered under public transportation laws.

Mayors, Planning Groups Seek to Promote Interest in Intercity Passenger Rail Routes in Ohio

December 21, 2022

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, some Ohio mayors and other metropolitan planning organizations have submitted “expression of interest” letters to the Federal Railroad Administration in a bid to jump start the creation of intercity passenger service between Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The FRA earlier this year called for expressions of interest from state and local government entities in participating in a program the agency is overseeing to develop new passenger service or improving existing service.

The letters to the FRA promoted the 3C+D corridor via Columbus and Dayton as well as routes linking Chicago and Pittsburgh via Columbus.

The letters of interest are a first step toward winning a grant from the FRA to begin the planning process for the new service.

Amtrak has not served Columbus or Dayton since the 1979 discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

Cincinnati is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal while Cleveland and Toledo are on Amtrak routes linking Chicago with New York, Boston and Washington.

It remains to be seen, though, whether Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Transportation or the Ohio legislature will be onboard with the efforts to expand rail passenger service in the state.

The letters written by the mayors and planning agencies are in part an effort to show support for expanding Amtrak operations in Ohio.

The 3C+D corridor is part of the Amtrak Connects US plan released by Amtrak in 2021 showing what future services the intercity rail passenger carrier would like to operate.

Those services, though, hinge upon the willingness of state and local governments to pay for those routes once they are developed.

Some funding for intercity route development is included in the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act. The FRA just this week issued a call for proposals to be submitted by next March by parties interested in working with the FRA to develop new passenger service or to improve existing service.

“To me the good news is that people are thinking about this, people are noticing,” said Stu Nicholson, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, which advocates for rail passenger service and public transit.

Nicholson told the website Columbus Underground that other governors have been more active in working toward getting a share of the FRA funding for passenger route development than DeWine has been.

Last May DeWine did direct the Ohio Rail Development Commission to talk with Amtrak about how much it would cost to launch the routes serving Ohio that are identified in the Amtrak Connects US plan.

A spokesperson for DeWine told Columbus Underground report that DeWine “wouldn’t be responding to questions about Amtrak expansion until a report being prepared by ORDC examining construction and operation costs has been completed.”

At the time that DeWine ordered the study, the ORDC said the study would take eight months to a year to complete.

That would put Ohio at risk of missing the March 7 deadline the FRA has set for bids to seek funding in the first round of funding for the passenger development program.

FRA Seeking Passenger Corridor Proposals

December 21, 2022

The Federal Railroad Administration this week issued a Notice of Solicitation and Funding Opportunity for intercity passenger rail corridor development.

The program is funded by $1.8 billion from the Infrastructure Improvement and Jobs Act.

The FRA began last May accepting expressions of interest by those interested in participating in the corridor development program.

In a news release, the FRA said the Corridor ID Program will be used to determine which passenger corridors will receive funding.

The corridors could establish new intercity passenger rail service or improve existing service.

Formal project proposals must be submitted to the FRA by March 20, 2023.

Class 1 Railroads Eye Ground-Based Conductor Position Pilot Programs, Giving Workers Sick Days

December 15, 2022

Union Pacific is reportedly amenable to granting sick days to its operating workers. At the same time the Class 1 carrier is talking with its unions about launching a pilot program to move conductors to ground-based positions, something that Class 1 railroads sought but failed to achieve during the most recent negotiations to amend the labor contract with 12 railroad unions.

UP contends that moving conductors to trucks would give them more predictable work schedules and make the job more efficient.

Conductors would be assigned to a fixed base and thus would be able to return home every night.

Trains magazine reported the developments in a pair of stories posted on its website.

The ground-based positions – which UP is calling “expediters” – were discussed by a UP vice president during a hearing held this week by the Federal Railroad Administration on a proposed two crew member rule.

UP’s argument to the FRA is that positive train control has significantly reduced the conductor’s tasks and a ground-based worker would be better able to handle troubleshooting and fixing mechanical problems encountered while a train is out on the road.

Busy mainlines would have multiple “expediters” on duty at all times.

The Trains story also reported that Norfolk Southern is talking with its unions about a similar pilot program.

During the hearing, Tom Schnautz, NS vice president of advanced train control, said the carrier wants to use ground-based conductors in local service.

Schnautz said a conductor would arrive at a customer facility to line switches and perform other tasks before a train arrives.

The Trains story about the FRA hearing can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/union-pacific-details-plans-to-test-feasibility-of-ground-based-conductors/

As for paid sick leave, UP CEO Lance Fritz said during a U.S. Surface Transportation Board hearing on UP service issues that he would favor sick leave for union workers and providing certainty regarding scheduled days off.

“We definitely want to address sick leave and certainty in time off in terms of scheduling … There’s a host of ways we can get there,” Fritz said. “There’s economics that are available to make that happen. And we are committed to making that happen this coming year.”

UP is conducting a pilot program in Kansas that makes work schedules for locomotive engineers more predictable.

Richard Edelman, a lawyer representing several rail unions including the SMART-Transportation Division, said during the hearing that union workers are angry about the way they have been treated in recent years.

“I don’t think you can even calculate the fury over the lack of personal time, the lack of sick time, the furloughs of their coworkers,” he said.

Edelman said some railroad workers are likely to leave their jobs once they receive back pay and a one-time bonus dictated by a new national contract.

The Trains story can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/union-pacific-wants-to-provide-rail-labor-with-paid-sick-days-more-predictable-schedules/

Amtrak Wants to Remove Some Block Signals From its Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania

December 8, 2022

Amtrak is seeking regulatory approval to remove automatic wayside block signals on its line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In a notice published in the Federal Register, the Federal Railroad Administration said the passenger carrier cited the existence of a positive train control system on the route as providing enough protection for train operations.

The signals to be removed serve as distant signals to existing interlockings in the Keystone Corridor.

The FRA notice said the territory covered by the waiver being sought extends from Park Interlocking at milepost 46.3 and Roy Interlocking at MP 94.3.

 “In its petition, Amtrak explains that formerly, the automatic wayside signals served as distant signals to the existing interlockings. However, as Amtrak has fully implemented PTC, which imposes ‘updated standards for cab, no-wayside signal territory to remove all automatic signals[,] including distant signals,’ Amtrak seeks permission to remove 10 signals (at MPs 55.3, 59.2, 64.5, 66.1, 70.8, 71.8, 81.5, 86.0, 92.3, and 96.4). Amtrak states that the removal of the signals will ‘eliminate maintenance and operation of unnecessary hardware [that is] no longer needed.’” The FRA notice said.\

Amtrak owns the line although some Norfolk Southern freight trains also use it.

The notice said NORAC Rules will remain in effect and there “will be no changes to operating practices because of this modification.”

Amtrak told regulators the cab signal system without fixed automatic block signals and positive train control systems will continue to enforce train speed and positive train stops under normal operations.

If the cab signal system fails, PTC will continue to prevent train-to-train collisions through enforcement of positive train stop at interlocking signals when all tracks are not clear to the next interlocking with a permissive signal, Amtrak said.

In the event of a PTC failure, the cab control system will continue to enforce restricted speed in approach to occupied blocks and stop signals. If both system fails, trains must follow the operating rules currently in place.

Amtrak said it would start removing the signals upon receiving FRA approval, a project expected to take up to two years.

The FRA said in its notice that it does not anticipate scheduling a public hearing “since the facts do not appear to warrant a hearing.”