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FRA Issues Safety Advisory to All Passenger Railroads in Response to Recent Amtrak and Metro-North Derailments

By: Justin J. Marks

On June 9, 2015, the Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA") issued Safety Advisory 2015-03 requiring passenger railroads to make operational and signal modifications to ensure compliance with speed restrictions.1   The FRA is acting in response to the May 12, 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia and the December 1, 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx, NY.  In both derailments the trains were traveling above authorized speed limits in a section of track with a sharp curve. 

The FRA is issuing the Safety Advisory to specifically assure speed limit requirements where trains travel through sharp curves or other areas requiring speed restrictions.  The FRA recommends passenger railroads and railroads that host passenger services do the following:

  • Survey rail systems and identify "main track locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph" from an approach speed to a curve or bridge which requires a slower speed.
  • "Install additional wayside signage" to remind engineers and conductors of the authorized train speed with emphasis on identified locations such as sharp turns.
  • Review with employees the details of the Amtrak and Metro-North derailments.  Review and implement FRA's 2013 Safety Advisory recommending additional training, 6-month reviews of operational testing data to ensure speed compliance, and additional train crew communication.2

In addition to the recommendations outlined above, FRA also recommends railroads employ Automatic Train Control ("ATC") systems, cab signals, or other signal systems to warn and enforce speed limits.  FRA recommends railroads "make modifications to those systems where appropriate to ensure compliance with applicable speed limits at the identified locations."  If railroads are currently implementing Positive Train Control ("PTC"), FRA recommends implementing these systems immediately as an interim safety measure.

However, FRA does not want these recommendations to interfere with the deployment of PTC.  Therefore, if a railroad does not utilize an ATC, cab signals, or other signal systems, then until PTC is implemented, FRA recommends, for those sections of track with speed restrictions, that the railroad place "a second qualified crew member in the cab of the controlling locomotive."  Alternatively, FRA recommends designating a qualified crewmember located in the body of the train stay in constant communication with the locomotive engineer until the train has passed out of the speed restricted area.

This safety advisory is in addition to Emergency Order No. 31 issued to Amtrak following the Philadelphia derailment and Emergency Order No. 29 issued to Metro-North following the Bronx derailment.3   Passenger railroads and host railroads should expect additional proposals from FRA in the future in the form of Executive Orders, Safety Advisories, or rulemaking proceedings.  According to FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg, speaking at a House Transportation & Infrastructure oversight committee hearing, FRA is preparing a "package of actions" that will address train speeds, engineer distractions in the cab, and additional training for engineers.4


1 Operational and Signal Modifications for Compliance with Maximum Authorized Passenger Train Speeds and Other Speed Restrictions, 80 Fed. Reg. 33585 (June 9, 2015).

2 Operational Tests and Inspections for Compliance with Maximum Authorized Train Speeds and Other Speed Restrictions, 78 Fed. Reg. 76191 (Dec. 16, 2013).\

3 Emergency Order Under 49 U.S.C. 20104 Establishing Requirements for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation to Control Passenger Train Speeds at Certain Locations Along the Northeast Corridor, 80 Fed. Reg. 30534 (May 28, 2015); Emergency Order Under 49 U.S.C. 20104 Establishing Requirements for Controlling Passenger Train Speeds and Staffing Locomotive Cabs at Certain Locations on the Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company, 78 Fed. Reg. 75442 (Dec. 11, 2013).

4 Oversight of the Amtrak Accident in Philadelphia Before the H. Comm. on Transportation and Infrastructure, 114th Cong. (2015)(statement of Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration).

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