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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

FRA issues final HSR safety strategy and grade crossing guidelines

Today, the Federal Railroad Administration released its final version of the High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Strategy and Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Guidelines for High Speed Rail. The draft documents were released in late July and interested parties had the opportunity to comment on both documents until Aug. 28. FRA reviewed the comments and incorporated them into the final documents.

FRA received comments on the high-speed rail (HSR) safety strategy from 20 different organizations. Comments included advice on what FRA should consider as it develops new rules or standards, as well as concerns over issues such as HSR energy efficiency, train weight, and excessive axle loading and its effect on the viability of HSR.

Others comments referred to methods for determining safety equivalency and encouraged FRA to use scientific risk management and safety cases in their evaluation of HSR equipment and systems. Commenters also offered to share information on train-control systems, HSR equipment and other technology from around the world.

All commenters agreed on one topic: the need to limit grade crossing exposure in a HSR environment. Under its current policy, the FRA allows highway-rail grade crossings for train speeds up to 125 mph. Some commenters asked that all grade crossings be eliminated at speeds above 110 mph.

In addition, concerns were raised regarding commercial and legal issues as they relate to HSR. Freight-rail operators brought up concerns related to sharing track and corridors with high-speed trains and noted that infrastructure improvements and associated ongoing maintenance would be costly, and risk and liability arising from passenger operations would create an unwarranted subsidy of passenger roads. Freight operators also said that constructing dedicated right of way for HSR along an existing freight-rail corridor would limit freight railroads’ ability to access customers on the passenger-rail side of the corridor.

While the freight-related concerns are important, they will not be addressed through the safety strategy, FRA said. Instead, those issues should be resolved through operating agreements between freight and passenger railroads.

FRA also received a range of comments on the draft grade crossing guidelines touching on the issues of grade crossings in high-speed territory and FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Positive Train Control, which was issued in July.

In general, those who commented supported consolidating both public and private grade crossings. Beyond that, FRA noted a wide range of views, from strong support for aggressive engineering that would integrate highway-rail warning systems with train control to concerns that excessive expectations could halt progress toward new rail service.

To view the High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Strategy and Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Guidelines for High-Speed Rail, click here and scroll to the “Relevant Links” section at the bottom of the page.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/18/2009