Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

FRA Issues Long Train Advisory

April 30, 2023

The Federal Railroad Administration last week released an advisory regarding train length.

The advisory addresses train makeup and, the agency said in a statement, seeks “to increase awareness of the potential complexities associated with operating longer trains, and push railroads to take appropriate measures to address those complexities to ensure safety.”

In issuing the advisory the FRA cited three derailments involving long trains, two of which occurred in Ohio on Norfolk Southern.

The Ohio derailments occurred in Springfield on March 4 and in Ravenna last November. All three of the derailments involved trains of more than 200 cars, a length of at least 12,500 feet, and a weight of more than 17,000 tons.

Eight recommendations are made in the advisory pertaining to changes to crew training; train handling procedures; train makeup; distributed power unit requirements; limitations to length or tonnage; speed restrictions; track, mechanical, and brake inspection; and maintenance requirements necessary to ensure safe operations of longer trains.

FRA Issues Advisory on Train Consists

April 11, 2023

The Federal Railroad Administration is urging railroads to assess potential safety risks when making up the consists of freight trains.

An FRA advisory calls on the carriers to undertake “due diligence” in regards to placement of empty and loaded cars, distributed power arrangements and other factors.

A news release issued by the agency indicated that the advisory was issued in the wake of a series of derailment over the pat two years, some of which involved hazardous materials.

Recommendations made by the FRA include:

• Review and update train makeup, policies, procedures and guidelines to ensure they are comprehensive, effective and current.

• Ensure all personnel involved in train makeup decisions and operations receive training, guidance and supervision to execute such practices to ensure safe operations.

• Establish a system to monitor and assess train makeup practices.

• Encourage communication among train crews, dispatchers, yardmasters and maintenance personnel.

• Implement strategies to mitigate risks associated with train build factors.

• Enhance incident investigation procedures to address train makeup factors and their potential contribution to the cause of an incident.

Ohio Legislature Passes Rail Safety Program

March 31, 2023

The Ohio General Assembly had adopted a rail safety program and sent it to Gov. Mike DeWine for consideration.

The measure was part of a $13.5 billion transportation funding bill.

It remains to be seen if the rules will be enforced because there is a question about whether federal law and regulatory agencies have precedent over state laws and regulatory agencies when it comes to regulating railroad operations.

The rail safety measure would require two-person crews for freights trains and require railroad employees who receive information from wayside defect detectors about potentially unsafe conditions to relay that information to the crew operating the train.

Defect detectors under the law would be required to be spaced 10 to 15 miles apart.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are being directed to submit reports to the legislature about the transportation  of hazardous materials.

PUCO also was directed to review different types of defect detectors and video surveillance systems and report its findings to lawmakers.

The Ohio Railroad Association argued during debate on the bill that federal law supersedes state law on many rail safety matters.

For example, the Federal Railroad Administration allows wayside defect detectors to be spaced up to 25 miles apart.

The transportation bill contains funding for the next two years of primarily bridge and highway projects.

Under the bill, registration fees for hybrid vehicles will be cut from $200 to $150.

The bill also raises the threshold of how much a local government can spend on projects infrastructure projects by its own public workforce before it must bid them out to private contractors.

Two Agencies to Probe NS Safety Practices

March 8, 2023

Two federal agencies this week said they will investigate the safety practices of Norfolk Southern in the wake of a Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine that resulted in the spillage of hazardous chemicals, a massive fire, and the forced evacuation of hundreds of residents.

Both agencies cited multiple incidents involving NS trains in announcing their investigations.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it would conduct a 60-day supplemental safety assessment in which it will review findings and recommendations of a 2022 system audit and the railroad’s responses.

Among the matters FRA staff will probe are track, signal, and rolling stock maintenance, inspection, and repair practices; protection for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives, and rail cars; communication between transportation departments and mechanical and engineering staff; operation control center procedures and dispatcher training; compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations; evaluating results of operational testing of employees’ execution and comprehension of all applicable operating rules and federal regulations; training and qualification programs available to all railroad employees, including engineer and conductor training and certification; maintenance, inspection, and calibration policies and procedures for wayside defect detectors; procedures related to all wayside defect detector alerts; and measures implemented to prevent employee fatigue, including the development and implementation of fatigue management programs required as part of FRA’s Risk Reduction Program rule;

The agency said it also will review the current status of the hazard and risk analysis required by the Risk Reduction Program rule.

In a statement, FRA officials said it will use its findings to determine specific areas for FRA oversight and enforcement and help “identify risks beyond the reach of current federal regulations.”

The FRA’s findings will be made public and will be used to prod NS into developing measures to address risks and identify enforcement actions.

The National Transportation Safety Board cited five incidents involving NS trains that prompted it to launch its investigation into the Class 1 railroad’s safety practices.

Aside from the East Palestine derailment, the NTSB said in a news release that other incidents involved a Dec. 8, 2021, incident in which a worker for a  contractor working with NS on a track replacement project in Reed, Pennsylvania, was struck and killed.

Also cited was a March 4 derailment in Springfield, Ohio, a conductor killed in an incident in Cleveland, and an October 2022 derailment in Sandusky.

“The NTSB is concerned that several organizational factors may be involved in the accidents, including safety culture,” NTSB officials said in a statement.

 “The NTSB will conduct an in-depth investigation into the safety practices and culture of the company. At the same time, the company should not wait to improve safety and the NTSB urges it to do so immediately.”

In response NS CEO Alan Shaw said his company will hold safety briefings, and work to improve its safety culture.

One of those moves was the announcement earlier this week of a six-point program to upgrade wayside defect detectors.

ORDC to Seek Passenger Rail Study Grant

February 10, 2023

Ohio has taken another tangible step toward the development of intercity passenger rail corridor service.

Gov. Mike DeWine has authorized the Ohio Rail Development Commission to seek a federal grant to be used to pay for a study of the development of corridor passenger service.

The grant being sought would come from the Corridor Identification and Development program of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The FRA has said it will provide up to $500,000 per corridor to successful applicants. Applications are due by March 27.

ORDC said if it wins the grant it would study two routes: Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati and Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit.

The study would be conducted by a consultant hired by ORDC and would examine infrastructure needs of the routes in order to make them ready for intercity rail passenger service.

The study also would examine equipment needed to provide the service, stations and other facilities, operating costs, ridership estimates and how much funding the state would need to provide to launch the service

ORDC Executive Director Matthew Dietrich said his agency has been discussing some of those matters with Amtrak and wants to ensure that any new rail passenger service would not interrupt freight service on those routes.

Amtrak serves Ohio with three routes, two of them operating across the state’s northern tier via Toledo and Cleveland. The third route operates three times a week via Cincinnati.

All of those trains are scheduled to operate through Ohio between midnight and 6 a.m. because they are designed to run overnight between Chicago and the eastern terminals of Boston, New York and Washington.

“This is the first step of many in this process,” DeWine said in a statement. “We have a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make any commitments. The information we gather from this effort will help us make informed decisions about federal opportunities for passenger rail in Ohio.”

The Dayton Daily News reported that Amtrak estimated last May that developing the corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati would cost $100 million for infrastructure improvements.

The corridor identification program was launched last year with $1.8 billion in funding.

MDOT Seeks Grant to Upgrade Amtrak Route

February 7, 2023

Michigan is seeking a federal grant to upgrade a state-owned route used by Amtrak.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has applied for $20 million to $25 million that will be used to rebuild four bridges between Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo.

The track is owned by MDOT and used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains. The Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water uses the line between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

The grants, if awarded would come from a $2.3 billion Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program administered by the 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.