New Regulations Require Railroads to Perform Better and More Frequent Inspections of Continuous Welded Rail Track Joints

WASHINGTON – Potentially serious train derailments may be averted as a result of a new federal regulation designed to improve how railroads conduct safety inspections of the joints that connect sections of track made of continuous welded rail (CWR), Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman announced.

“More frequent and more detailed inspections will help identify problems early and prevent hazardous situations from developing,” Boardman said.

Unlike conventional track that has short sections of rail bolted together, CWR consists of long ribbons of rail that may extend for a mile or more between joints. Inspections of CWR joints are expected to increase by at least 11 percent per year as a result of the rule, he added.

Under the new regulation, for most areas where CWR is used, railroads are required to inspect CWR joints at specified intervals up to four times a year based upon track speeds, the amount of train traffic on the line, and whether passenger trains operate over the tracks, Boardman said.

In addition, railroad personnel are required to perform more of these inspections on foot in addition to using on-track inspection vehicles and they must submit a report to FRA whenever a cracked or broken CWR joint is discovered.

Also, railroads must incorporate into their track maintenance and employee training plans detailed written procedures for the inspection of CWR joints, including the types of problems railroad personnel should focus on during track inspections, like visible or detectable cracks in the joint bar, loose or missing bolts and evidence of any rail movement. The rule takes effect on October 31.

FRA developed the new inspection standards to address problems identified after tragic accidents involving the failure of CWR joints, including freight train derailments in Minot, N.D., in January 2002 and Pico Rivera, Calif., in October 2004 and a passenger train derailment near Flora, Miss., in April 2004.

Also, this regulation directly responds to recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after its investigations of those accidents.