FRA Issues Final Rule to Improve Rail Inspections

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last month announced new regulations governing rail inspections the agency says will help identify rail flaws and further eliminate the risk of derailments.

The new regulations require performance based inspections, a process designed to minimize rail defects that will generally result in an increase in tests performed over a designated area of track.

“Safety is our highest priority, and this new rule will make rail transportation even safer for everything from passengers and rail employees to crude oil and other freight shipments,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The final rule was published in the Federal Register. According to the FRA, the new rule will:

  • Require the use of performance-based rail inspection methods that focus on maintaining low rail failure rates per mile of track and generally results in more frequent testing
  • Provide a four-hour period to verify that certain less serious suspected defects exist in a rail section once track owners learn that the rail contains an indication of those defects
  • Require that rail inspectors are properly qualified to operate rail flaw detection equipment and interpret test results
  • Establish an annual maximum allowable rate of rail defects and rail failures between inspections for each designated inspection segment of track

The Federal Track Safety Standards require railroads to regularly inspect track conditions, and to also conduct separate rail inspections with specially equipped hi-rail motor vehicles that operate over rail tracks. This equipment employs ultrasonic technology to identify internal rail defects that could potentially lead to a crash.