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FRA issues final rule on bridge maintenance, safety procedures

Yesterday, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced it issued a final rule that strengthens federal oversight of rail bridge maintenance programs by requiring railroad track owners to adopt and follow specific procedures designed to ensure bridge safety.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required the FRA to issue the rule, which mandates that track owners implement bridge management programs that, at the least, include annual rail bridge inspections. Track owner also must know a bridge’s safe capacity load and conduct special inspections if the weather or other conditions dictate.

In addition, track owners must inventory all rail bridges; maintain design documents of each bridge; and document all repairs, modifications and inspections of each bridge subject to FRA review. The rule — which includes the “Essential Elements of Railroad Bridge Management Programs" published by the FRA in January 2009 — enables the agency to levy fines up to $100,000 for violations.
“This final rule will help ensure the 100,000 railroad bridges in the United States are maintained and inspected to the standards accepted by sound engineering practices,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a prepared statement.

Most older bridges in the United States were designed to carry loads much heavier than today's trains and no fatalities have been caused by a rail bridge structural failure during the past 50 years, said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo.

"But we believe this final rule will institutionalize best engineering and inspection practices for all railroad bridges and give the FRA greater enforcement power," he said.

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More News from 7/15/2010