FRA Proposes to Improve Crash Survivability of Locomotive ‘Black Box’

WASHINGTON – Event recorders, the train equivalent of an airplane’s “black box,” will be improved to make sure critical information survives train accidents according to a proposed rule issued June 30 by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

“The survival of data is key to understanding why a train accident happened,” said FRA Acting Administrator Betty Monro. “Having a better ‘black box’ will improve our ability to prevent future accidents.”

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in today’s Federal Register addresses several safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board to improve the quality of data available for post-accident analysis. The regulations proposed today are intended to prevent the loss of data resulting from train accidents involving fire, water, and significant mechanical damage.

The proposed rule would establish standards to make sure event recorders survive accidents in new and existing locomotives. It would also phase out the use of magnetic tape as a data storage medium within current “black boxes.”

The FRA also is proposing that improved event recorders collect and store additional data, including emergency braking systems, locomotive horns and text messages sent to the engineer’s display regarding directives and authorized speed. The proposed rule would also simplify existing standards for inspecting, testing, and maintaining event recorders by railroads.

The proposed regulations are based upon recommendations of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, a consensus-based rulemaking body comprised of representatives of railroads, industry labor organizations, manufacturers, suppliers and others.

Comments on the NPRM, entitled “Locomotive Event Recorders,” may be submitted through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s online docket management system website at

The docket number for the proceeding is FRA-2003-16357. Comments must be received by August 31, 2004.