Feds Announce New Safety Standards for Freight and Passenger Trains

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Joseph Szabo on Jan. 12 announced historic safety regulations requiring that Positive Train Control (PTC) technology be installed on the nation’s major rail lines as well as commuter and intercity passenger rail routes.

PTC is an integrated set of technologies that will help avert train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, accidents caused by human error or misaligned switches, and harm to roadway workers.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we believe the installation of this equipment will make our nation’s railroads safer,” LaHood said.

PTC sends and receives a continuous stream of data transmitted by wireless signals about the location, speed, and direction of trains. PTC systems utilize advanced technologies including digital radio links, global positioning systems and wayside computer control systems that aid dispatchers and train crews in safely managing train movements.

“We believe this final rule, as mandated by Congress, is a giant step forward toward ensuring the safety and reliability of our freight, commuter and intercity passenger rail routes,” Szabo said.

The final rule will also allow railroads to immediately begin finalizing their PTC Implementation Plans, which are required by statute to be submitted to FRA by April 16, 2010.

The final rule issued today is the result of over a decade of work by FRA and its stakeholders, carried out in partnership through the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandates that interoperable PTC systems must be fully instituted by the end of 2015. Train control systems such as PTC are now mandatory for most passenger rail operations and for trains hauling certain hazardous materials, but they are not required for closed passenger rail systems such as light rail, rapid transit and subways.

Unrelated to any deadlines contained in this final rule, FRA is seeking additional comments on a few specific provisions of this final rule as to whether clarity can be improved and whether further opportunities for cost savings, consistent with safety, are available.