FRA revises defective rail and rail inspection standards, adds new standards for detector car operators

Written by Louis Cerny, Railroad Consultant

Changes are scheduled for March 25, 2014.


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in the Federal Register of January 24, has issued revisions to the Track Safety Standards that are scheduled to go into effect March 25, 2014. These revisions were based mostly, but not entirely, on work completed by an FRA Railroad Safety Advisory Committee group in July 2010, in which railroad and labor representatives participated.

The changes are to existing sections 213.113, defective rails; 213.237, inspection of rail and 213.214, inspection records. A new section 213.238 has been added on qualified operators for rail defect detection equipment. In addition, the requirements for joint bar fracture reports in 213.119(h)(7)(ii) have been eliminated.

213.113 (defective rails) changes

Changes are made in 213.113 which involve tightening and clarifying remedial actions and which allow a four-hour period to verify many types of defects, so as to get more use out of rail defect detection equipment. The four-hour interval is covered in a new 213.113(b) and will apply to all defects found by detector car indications except those requiring remedial actions A, A2 or B. The language in 213.113(a) also clarifies that rails may be repaired instead of replaced using new methods which remove and repair defects in the head without affecting the web or base.

The remedial action table is now designated as 213.113(c). (Note: In the January 24 Federal Register, the table as published did not have all the grouping dividers intended by the FRA. This was corrected on January 29 and the correct table is shown on the next page.) Head defect size groupings for compound fissures remain the same, but those for transverse fissure, detail fracture, engine burn fracture and defective weld have been tightened. A new provision, footnote 2, has been added to the table to indicate that remedial action D applies to a moon-shaped base break, resulting from a derailment, with a length greater than six inches but not exceeding 12 inches and width not exceeding one-third of the rail base width. Regarding footnote 1, the FRA, in its preamble in the Federal Register, makes clear that a chipped rail end is not to be considered as a “break out in the rail head.”

The remedial actions themselves have been revised and clarified. Remedial action C has been tightened by only allowing 10 days instead of the former 20 to apply joint bars through the outermost holes and in remedial action D the tightening is from 10 to seven days. In both cases a provision has been added that if the joint bars are not applied within the time limits, speed must be reduced to 10 mph. Remedial actions F and G have been clarified as to what happens after the 90- and 30-day periods expire, indicating that the reinspection cycle starts over with each successive inspection and that one single inspection is not sufficient. If not reinspected within the time limits, speeds are restricted to 25 mph.

In the 213.113 definitions, a category is added for crushed head, which is distinguished from flattened rail by sagging or drooping visible in the head/wed fillet area. FRA states in the preamble that measurements taken to classify the crushed head defect do not include the presence of localized chips or pitting in the railhead. The compound fissure and damaged rail definition are also altered. It will no longer be necessary to examine both faces of the fracture of a compound fissure.

Joint bar fracture reports eliminated

The controversial and burdensome joint bar fracture reports required by existing 213.119(h)(7)(ii) have been eliminated in the new regulations. FRA states that the reports were providing little useful research data and will be replaced by a new study not requiring regulation.

213.237 (inspection of rail) changes

This section will require that railroads conduct internal rail inspections sufficient to maintain certain service failure rates. A service failure is defined as a broken rail caused by a compound fissure, transverse fissure, detail fracture or vertical split head. Allowable service failure rates vary from 0.08 to 0.1 service failures per year per mile of track, depending on whether or not the track carries regularly scheduled passenger trains or is a hazardous materials route. In cases where a single service failure would cause the rate to be exceeded, compliance will be considered achieved unless a second such failure occurs within a designated 12-month period. As at present, internal rail inspection is not required on Class 1 and 2 track. For determining the rail failure rates, railroads will need to designate inspection segments of their lines by March 25. These initial designations will not require FRA approval, but any changes made thereafter will have to have prior approval of the FRA.

If the service rates are not achieved, additional provisions come into effect, with the ultimate penalty being that, if the performance rate is not met for two consecutive years, then for the area where the service failures are concentrated, either the tonnage inspection interval must be reduced to 10 mgt or the class of track must be reduced to Class 2 until the target service failure rate is achieved.

In addition to requiring keeping service failure rates down, the new rule language tightens up the allowed intervals between inspections regardless of how low the service failure rates are. Whereas now on Class 4 and 5 track and Class 3 track over which passenger trains operate, railroads are allowed to do internal inspection every 40 mgt or once a year, whichever interval is shorter, the 40 mgt figure will now be reduced to 30. For Class 3 track without passenger trains, which previously were required to have internal rail inspection every 30 mgt or once a year, whichever interval is longer (even if the interval for a one mgt track was 30 years), the maximum interval will now be five years, no matter how low the tonnage is.

In 213.237(c), new provisions are added on inspection of plug rails, stating that any rail installed as a plug rail after March 25, 2014, must have been inspected for rail flaws not longer than before it has accumulated 30 mgt in previous and new locations since its last internal inspection.

The new 213.237 rule language changes include adding the factor of being on a hazardous material route (which is defined in the new rule as a track over which a minimum of 10,000 carloads or intermodal portable tank car loads of hazardous materials as defined in 49CFR 171.8 travel over a period of one calendar year or track over which 4,000 carloads or intermodal portable tank car loads of the hazardous materials specified in 49CFR 172.820 travel, in a period of one calendar year). They also change the meaning of passenger train from just “passenger trains” in the present rule to “regularly-scheduled passenger trains” in the new rule. Many other detailed changes are made.

213.238 (qualified operator ) added

A whole new section, 213.238, has been added covering the qualification of detector car operators. The training, qualification and continuing evaluation of the employees are the responsibility of the employer of the of the detector car operator and the new regulation states that a track owner shall not use a provider of rail-flaw detection that fails to comply with the new regulation. To be qualified, the operator shall be trained and have written authorization from his or her employer to conduct a valid search for internal rail defects utilizing the specific types of equipment for which he or she is authorized and qualified to operate. Training and testing requirements to remain qualified are also given.

213.241 (inspection records) changes

Changes are made to require recording the beginning and end points of each internal rail inspection, to require the recording of the size of defects found (unless removed prior to next train movement) and the recording of the remedial actions taken.

General comments

All the changes in the new regulations apply only to track classes up to 5, as corresponding changes have not been made to part G of the Track safety Standards for track classes 6 through 9. FRA states that it “…will consider taking action in a separate, future proceeding as necessary to address the safety of high-speed operation.” As of March 25, then, many regulations will be stricter for Class 4 and 5 than for classes 6 through 9. This situation will also make it cumbersome to test sections of a line where curve or other speed restrictions create situations where track class changes from Class 6 to 5 and back, such as on Amtrak or the Union Pacific Chicago – St. Louis line.
These changes are extensive and it will be a challenge for many to meet the new requirements by March 25, only 60 days after their announcement.

This article was written to acquaint readers with the type of changes being made by the FRA and should not be used as a substitute for reading the rule language and associated official material themselves. Any legal or technical advice regarding these FRA rule changes should be sought from appropriate officials of the reader’s own employer. While the changes are scheduled to go into effect March 25, it is possible that petitions for reconsideration could be entertained by the FRA and result in a changed date at which the new regulations go into effect or even result in changes to the regulations themselves. The reader should look to sources, such as the RT&S webpage, to see if any such changes occur.

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, OFF Track Maintenance, Safety/Training