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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

New FRA final rule targets more effective rail inspections

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Friday announced a new final rule on rail inspections that aims to help better identify rail flaws and further eliminate derailment risks.

The new regulations require performance-based rail inspections, a process that focuses on maintaining low rail failure rates per mile of track, which will generally increase tests performed over a designated area of track, FRA officials said in a press release.

According to the final rule published in the Federal Register, the regs also will strengthen existing federal track safety standards by providing a four-hour period to verify that certain less serious suspected defects exist in a rail section once track owners learn that a rail contains an indication of those defects; requiring that rail inspectors are properly qualified to operate rail-flaw detection equipment and interpret test results; and establishing an annual maximum allowable rate of rail defects and rail failures between inspections for each designated track segment.

"Safety is our highest priority, and this new rule will make rail transportation even safer for everything from passengers and rail employees to crude oil and other freight shipments," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Current federal track safety standards require railroads to regularly inspect track conditions and conduct separate rail inspections with specially equipped hi-rail vehicles. The equipment features ultrasonic technology that can identify internal rail defects and collect data in real time. The new regulations establish internal rail-flaw defect standards for each railroad, while the technology employed will continue to drive down the number of known rail defects over time, FRA officials said.

"Our goal is to drive continuous safety improvement and further reduce the risk of broken rails and derailments," said FRA Administrator Joe Szabo. "While track-caused accidents have declined by 40 percent over the past decade, these new standards will better advance the use of technology and achieve the next generation of safety."

The FRA's final rule takes effect March 25. Petitions for reconsideration of the rule must be received by the FRA on or before March 25. Comments in response to petitions for reconsideration must be received by the agency on or before May 9.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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