FRA and Railroads Take Action to Strengthen Bridge Safety Policy

WASHINGTON — Enhanced bridge safety will be the result of the first standard railroad bridge inspection and maintenance agreement between railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman said.

“Having a common set of baseline inspection and maintenance practices against which all railroads are measured will help ensure the structural integrity and safety of the nation’s rail bridges for years to come,” Boardman said. He added that the agreement is a major step forward in providing transparency within the industry and for the public about how the safety of railroad bridges is managed.

Boardman explained that the new agreement called The Essential Elements of a Railroad Bridge Management Program was developed and approved by the FRA Railroad Safety Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from the FRA, rail management, rail labor, and other industry stakeholders.

The nine essential elements, which apply to both large and small railroads, include: maintaining a detailed bridge inventory; having procedures for the design and safety rating of bridges; ensuring bridge inspectors are properly qualified; establishing procedures for performing bridge inspections; and having a plan to protect train operations following discovery of a critical bridge problem.

The FRA intends to formally incorporate the Essential Elements into the existing FRA bridge safety policy by the end of 2008, Boardman stated. He added that the new policy will be an integral part of a railroad’s bridge management evaluation.

Actions to improve rail bridge safety are moving on several other fronts as well. The FRA is working to generate risk-based criteria used to select which smaller railroads will receive a federal bridge program review. Additionally, the American Railway Engineers and Maintenance of Way Association developed and recently published the first-ever railroad bridge inspection handbook. In August, FRA purchased and distributed copies of this important new reference guide to each of the more than 700 railroads in the U.S.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association is also creating a model rail bridge management program for use by railroads of various sizes based upon the Essential Elements and the FRA bridge safety policy.