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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

FRA issues final rule on freight-rail brake safety tests

Ronald Batory is administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
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The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a final rule that extends the amount of time freight-rail equipment can be left off-air, meaning parked with its air brake system depressurized, before requiring a new brake inspection.

The final rule incorporates waivers for brake inspections, tests and equipment, while clarifying existing regulations and removing outdated provisions, FRA officials said in a press release. 

Additionally, the revisions to brake system safety requirements incorporate safer, newer technologies, reduce unnecessary costs and increase consistency between U.S. and Canadian regulations, they said.

"Incorporating technologies and safety practices, this final rule improves freight rail efficiency and will make our freight-rail system competitive for the future," said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. "Issuing waivers permitting railroads to test these practices gave us an opportunity to verify the safety benefits. Modernization no longer has to happen by waiver; it's permanent, and the economic impact to freight rail couldn't come at a more pressing time."

Canada has allowed trains to be off air for 24 hours since 2008, and Canada's operational safety data supports the FRA's action. The final rule permits trains to be off air for as long as 24 hours, bringing the United States' regulation in line with Canada's.

With the change, FRA officials estimate the industry will perform 110,000 fewer Class I brake inspections annually. The change reduces the cost and time needed for inspections, while permitting more flexibility to turn off locomotives — which is expected to result in fewer locomotives idling in rail yards. The FRA will continue to require a Class III brake inspection when adding freight cars to trains, FRA officials said.

The new rule incorporates new technology to test brakes on each freight car, permitting two types of automated tests for individual cars. Cars tested with an automated single car test device showed an 18% reduction in repeat freight car brake failures. Cars tested with the four pressure method showed a 58% reduction in repeat freight car brake failures. These demonstrated improvements permit the FRA to increase the testing intervals for freight cars from one year to 24- or 48-month intervals, depending on the automated test method a railroad uses, agency officials said.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced its support of the FRA's regulatory action.

"With this final rule, the FRA has modernized outdated, legacy regulations to keep pace with the industry's ongoing tech transformation while maintaining uncompromising levels of safety," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ian Jefferies in a press release.

The new rule will provide environmental benefits and enhanced efficiency without compromising safety for Class Is and smaller railroads, AAR officials said.