Most of the new measures are aimed at passenger rail safety and one could lead to significant changes in passenger car interior standards. In particular, potential rules arising out of FRA’s analysis of occupant restraint systems and air bags could result in the most significant change in passenger equipment design standards in over 20 years.
- Passenger Train Emergency Lighting: Within a year, FRA must initiate a rulemaking requiring passenger trains to have emergency lighting systems when power is lost. The lighting must be bright enough to allow passengers, crew members, and first responders to orient themselves, identify obstacles, move safety through the rail car, and evacuate safety in the event of a crash or derailment. (Sec. 22406).
- Passenger Safety Systems Evaluation: The new law requires FRA to estimate the costs and benefits of implementing new rail passenger protection, including occupant restraint systems, air bags, and emergency window retention systems. FRA also will examine the costs and benefits of changes in other interior design elements, including seats, baggage restraints, and table configurations. FRA will report results to Congress and FRA will have authority to promulgate regulations based on its findings. (Sec. 22420).
- Operator Training Program Audit: The new law directs FRA to conduct an audit to determine whether locomotive operator training programs provide engineers and conductors with the knowledge and ability to safely operate a locomotive or train. (Sec. 22410).
- Drug Testing for Mechanical Employees: Within six months, FRA must amend its drug and alcohol testing rules (random, reasonable suspicion, reasonable cause, pre-employment, return-to-duty, and follow-up testing) to cover employees who perform mechanical activities. (Sec. 22427).
- Maximum Authorized Speed Enforcement: The new law requires commuter and intercity passenger railroads to identify stretches of track where trains must slow down more than 20 mph from their approach speed and to describe actions to enable warning and enforcement of the maximum authorized speed for passenger trains in these sections. (Sec. 22415).
- Amtrak Safety Processes Review: The new law requires FRA to conduct a review of Amtrak safety-related processes and procedures, compliance with safety requirements, and overall safety culture. FRA is required to report its findings to Congress within one year. (Sec. 22407).
- Railway Crossing Improvements: The new law provides funding for the creation of a portal that bystanders can use to report blocked crossings. It also provides for an FRA review of state laws on highway-rail crossings and periodic updates to crossing reports and plans. (Sec. 22404, 22401, 22403, respectively).
- Accident and Incident Investigations: The new law requires the Secretary to create a standard process for investigators to use to collect information during FRA accident and incident investigations. (Sec. 22417).
The FRA audit of train crew training programs, long sought by rail labor, is likely to lead to recommended changes in training and certification requirements for locomotive engineers and conductors.
Emergency lighting is present on many passenger trains in service today, but the new lighting rule likely will trigger retrofit requirements for some equipment in service.
However, the burden of a passenger train lighting retrofit would be small compared to the cost of new interior restraint systems, if mandated. In fact, we think FRA’s analysis of occupant restraint systems and air bags could trigger proposals for the most significant change in passenger equipment design standards since the promulgation of the Passenger Train Equipment Safety Standards in 1999. Thus FRA’s analysis of passenger car interior restraint systems is by far the most significant new railroad safety measure in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Authored by Kevin Sheys, Emily Kimball, and Christina Bassick.