The authority of FRA, as a delegate of the Secretary of Transportation, to regulate railroads arises from title 49 of the United States Code, section 20103, which gives the agency plenary authority over “every area of railroad safety.” 49 U.S.C. § 20103; 49 C.F.R. § 1.49. The term “railroad” is defined by the Act as “any form of nonhighway ground transportation that runs on rails or electromagnetic guideways . . . .” 49 U.S.C. § 20102(2)(A). The definition excludes only rapid transit systems that operate in urban areas and are not connected to the general railroad system of transportation (general system). 49 U.S.C. § 20102(2)(B). The term “general railroad system of transportation” is defined at Appendix A to 49 C.F.R. Part 209 as: “the network of standard gage track over which goods may be transported throughout the nation and passengers may travel between cities and within metropolitan and suburban areas.” Portions of the network that lack a physical connection may still be part of the general system by virtue of the nature of the operations that occur. See id. The term ”railroad carrier” is defined by the statute as “a person providing railroad transportation.” 49 U.S.C. § 20102(3).
For resource and policy reasons, FRA does not extend the reach of most of its regulations as far as the statute permits. See Appendix A to 49 C.F.R. Part 209. In an effort to clarify the proper extent of the exercise of FRA’s jurisdiction over tourist railroads, we have recently settled on several principles that we will use as our current guidelines. Read the full text that supports the decision tree.