Posts Tagged ‘track inspection’

FRA Needs to Improve Track Inspection, DOT OIG Concludes in Investigation

May 3, 2022

The Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation has called on the Federal Railroad Administration to improve its track inspection program.

The OIG found during an audit that the FRA’s Automated Track Inspection Program is outdated.

ATIP is used by the agency in conjunction with track inspectors to determine whether railroads are complying with minimum safety requirements.

More than half of the 539 reports the OIG reviewed contained inaccurate data, OIG officials said.

The report concluded that the FRA failed to reached its goal of running ATIP vehicles 150 survey days a year.

Although some of those vehicles nearly came close to that goal, the fleet overall did not operate 80 percent or more of the time during fiscal years between 2016 and 2021 that agency officials had planned.

FRA officials said weather and other factors prevented it from reaching the 80 percent use goal.

The OIG report attributed inaccurate data in FRA reports to, in part, insufficient guidance on recording ATIP-related inspection activities.

The FRA relies on inspectors to respond promptly to changing conditions and use their territory knowledge in planning their work, but does not have any national or formal district-level track inspection planning processes in place.

“Until FRA improves ATIP utilization goals and ATIP-related track inspection reporting, it cannot ensure its resources are optimally targeted to support the agency’s track oversight,” the OIG report concluded.

FRA Changing Track Inspection Rules

August 29, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration this week released its final rule on track safety standards that the agency said “focuses more on providing performance-based outcomes, rather than prescribing exactly how companies conduct effective tests.”

The agency said the rule will enable railroads to use  established methods to inspect their track while also granting them “the flexibility to utilize new technologies and methods as they are proven safe and effective.”

The rule is intended to allow railroads to use ultrasonic inspection technology augmented with global positioning system for continuous rail flaw testing.

Such inspections can be conducted by moving track inspection vehicles, which can potentially decrease passenger and freight train delays.

Current FRA regulations require ultrasonic rail test vehicles to repeatedly stop and conduct a manual inspection to verify indication of defects, within four hours.

In a statement, the FRA said such frequent starting and stopping can require slow orders for trains operating in the vicinity.

This effectively limits testing to about 20 miles of track per day.

The FRA statements aid continuous rail testing typically enables evaluation of 80 to 160 miles per day.

The rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. View the final rule here:

NS Develops New Track Inspection Technology

March 8, 2020

Norfolk Southern is touting progress that it has made in track inspection technology that it says will improve safety and enable it to operate more efficiently.

NS said it is the first railroad to develop and use an autonomous track geometry measurement system mounted on a locomotive.

“With our locomotive-based system, we use an existing asset to increase the frequency of our track inspections, without adding another piece of equipment that has to be run across the railroad,” Ed Boyle, NS vice president of engineering told Railway Age magazine.

“This innovative approach enhances our safety practices by permitting us to have precise and quality track inspections done under load at track speed. With this system, Norfolk Southern will provide service safely, efficiently and cost-effectively.”

The autonomous system provides information that the railroad uses for track maintenance programs and capital budgeting.

It is currently being used in a pilot study between Portsmouth, Ohio, and Norfolk.

NS chose that route because its profile varies between hilly and flat, straight and curves, and because it hosts high-tonnage traffic.

The system is mounted in a box under a six-axle road locomotive between the snowplow and first set of wheels. A computer located in the cab’s electrical locker collects the data.

Mike Allran, the NS manager of track inspection and development, said the system operates anytime a locomotive is pulling a train.

“This gives us more robust data for use in predictive-modeling to determine track maintenance intervals, which enables us to maximize efficiencies that will generate significant cost savings,” he said.

Most autonomous track inspection systems used today are placed on converted freight or passenger rail cars and require an external power source to operate.

The track system mounted on a locomotive was developed by the NS track inspection group, which used components acquired from defense industry companies.

The components include lasers, gyros, accelerometers and global positioning system sensors that detect defects or anomalies in track geometry, including track gauge, and the elevation and curvature of track.

Data is transmitted to office locations where track geometry engineers confirm potential defects and notify track maintenance personnel.

Additional locomotives will eventually be equipped with the system and plans are the works to increase its inspection capability to include fasteners, rail welds and switch points.

The locomotive-based inspections are intended to supplement and not replace inspections performed by hi-rail trucks and track geometry cars.

NS has produced a video about the new system that can be viewed at

FRA Head Wants to Study Autonomous Track Inspection

January 11, 2020

The head of the Federal Railroad Administration wants to establish a pilot program that will be used to study autonomous track inspection.

Speaking at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Conference, Ronald Batory said the pilot would involve a Class 1 railroad and the data generated would be shared with the FRA.

However, he said he doesn’t expect the program to lead to ending physical track inspections by maintenance of way workers.

“It will ultimately reduce the risk and enhance  . . . safety and might require less physical inspection as far as frequency, but will still require physical inspections to confirm and fix,” Batory said.

“We’re going to find ourselves with a safer track structure where those vehicles operate, over the term that they operate, than what we had when it was strictly eye inspection.”

Batory said an autonomous track inspection vehicle might be able to discover more track defects than two workers riding in a hi-rail vehicle and visually inspecting the track.

“And we want to do the same insofar as signal and train control; we want to do it with mechanical inspections,” he said.

The FRA administrator said there is much opportunity to use technology to figure out how to maintain and operate railroads and to do so in better way than those of the past.

“That’s no disrespect to the past. It’s a new tool, and we need to embrace it and use it,” Batory said.