PROPOSALS for a radical reform of railway safety legislation were introduced into the US Congress on May 1 by James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. The Railroad Safety Improvement Act envisages redesignating the FRA as the Federal Railroad Safety Adminstration, with a specific objective to reduce accidents.The FRA's safety remit is currently up for reauthorisation, and the Bush administration unveiled its own Federal Railroad Safety & Improvement Act in March. Although the two proposals differ in detail, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H Boardman anticipates some 'substantive changes in the rail safety laws that we expect will materially improve safety'.The Oberstar bill proposes doubling the number of FRA safety inspectors from 400 to 800 by the end of 2011, and introducing new regulations for certification of train conductors. Hours of service rules would be changed to ensure that train crews and signalling staff (including contractors) have at least 10 hours consecutive rest between turns of duty, and travelling to assignments would be treated as work time.Oberstar also wants all Class Is to submit plans for implementation of Positive Train Control (RG 5.07 p285) within 12 months of the act becoming law. Other initiatives would include fatigue management programmes, a study of cab ergonomics and changes to medical entitlements. Behind these proposals is a growing concern that rail safety standards may be starting to slip as the industry focuses on handling the current traffic boom, recruiting staff with little experience, or postponing maintenance to free up capacity. Several Class I railroads have had high-profile freight train derailments in the past few months.Earlier this year FRA launched another safety inspection blitz on CSX, following five derailments in New York state, plus other serious accidents in Kentucky, Maryland and Ohio, The most serious incident saw 28 tank wagons derail near Rochester and catch fire, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents. The inspectors recorded 3 518 safety violations in four days, leading FRA to recommend fines for 199 'serious regulatory breaches'. Boardman said CSX was 'not doing enough to make safety a priority', but CSX Chairman & CEO Michael Ward responded that the company was 'committed to working closely with FRA on all safety issues'.

  • On May 16 FRA took delivery of two new track inspection cars, which Boardman says will allow the agency to triple the amount of track that it can inspect to more than 150 000 km a year. Cars T-19 and T-20 have been acquired under FRA's Rail Safety Action Plan which is intended to target resources on inspection, enforcement and research 'to mitigate the greatest potential safety risks'.