Frequently Asked Questions

Track Inspection Qualifications

How does a person become qualified to inspect railroad track? 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulates the safety of railroad, track throughout the Nation that is a part of the general system of transportation. Railroads are required to comply with FRA's Track Safety Standards ( Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 213 ). Regarding track inspections under this regulation, railroads are required to designate qualified persons to supervise certain renewals and inspect track. Briefly, employees who inspect track are required to have the minimum experience and/or training specified in the Track Safety Standards. Railroads are also required to maintain records of the employees qualified under this section. As such, the FRA does not currently have a track inspection "certification" process for individuals, but they must be qualified by the railroad under the specific requirements of §213.7 or §213.305 of the Track Safety Standards.

Designated Speed

Does FRA regulate the speed of trains? 

FRA’s Track Safety Standards, found at 49 CFR Part 213 , establish track structure and track geometry requirements for nine separate classes of track (Sec. 213.9 and Sec. 213.307) with maximum speeds designated for each class. Railroads indicate the class to which each track belongs. Once the designation is made, the railroads are held responsible for maintaining each track to specified tolerances for its designated class. A railroad becomes liable for civil penalties if it fails to maintain a track to proper standards, or if it operates trains at speeds in excess of the limits of the designated class.

Does FRA regulate the speed of trains at highway-rail grade crossings?

The Track Safety Standards do not provide for establishing different speeds through grade crossings or urban settings. This omission is intentional. Locally established speed limits can result in hundreds of individual speed restrictions along a train’s route. This would not only cause train delays, but it could increase safety hazards. The safest train maintains a steady speed. Every time a train must slow down and then increase speed, safety hazards are introduced. For example, “buff” and “draft” forces (those generated when individual freight cars are compressed together or stretched out along a train’s length) are increased when a train slows down or speeds up. This, in turn, increases the chance of derailment with its attendant risk of injury to employees, the traveling public, and surrounding communities. The danger inherent in grade crossings is a separate issue from train speed. Stated simply, the physical properties of a train moving at almost any reasonable operating speed would likely prevent it from stopping in time to avoid hitting an object on the tracks. In more than 37 percent of public crossing incidents involving motor vehicles, the train was operating at less than 20 mph. There is little evidence that reductions in train speeds will reduce risk that an accident will occur. Prevention of grade crossing accidents is more effectively achieved through the use of adequate crossing warning devices and through observance by the driving public of crossing restrictions and precautions.

Repair of Track Defects

What are a railroad’s options regarding FRA-type track defects? 

Railroads are required to comply with class of track by making sure the conditions are acceptable for the speeds they desire to operate. If a track does not meet the intended class, a railroad has three basic options: 1) repair the defect; 2) slow the trains to the next lowest class that meets the threshold of the condition; or 3) remove the track from operation. 

Are railroad tracks inside industrial plants subject to the Federal Track Safety Standards? 

The Federal regulations for track safety are contained in Part 213 of Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations. The applicability section of those regulations (Sec. 213.3) specifically excludes track “located inside an installation which is not part of the general railroad system of transportation.” However, this section must be read in conjunction with 49 C.F.R. Part 209, Appendix A , which explains that the owner of any plant railroad trackage over which a general system railroad operates is responsible for the condition of the track used by the general system railroad. Appendix A is not meant to imply that all of the requirements of Part 213, including inspection frequencies and record keeping, become applicable to a plant railroad once a general system railroad enters the property. Rather, it is a statement meant to convey FRA’s intent that plants should maintain in safe condition that portion of their trackage used by a general system railroad.

FRA does not have the manpower or resources to regularly inspect trackage within industrial installations, nor does it currently see the need. However, since the enactment of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, FRA has had at its disposal statutory authority to issue emergency orders to repair or discontinue use of industrial or plant trackage should the agency find that conditions of the track pose a hazard of death or injury. In other words, if FRA learns that a particular plant is using trackage that is in such disrepair that it poses a threat of death or injury to a plant employee, a railroad employee, or the public at large, FRA will inspect that track. If FRA finds that the allegations are true, the agency may issue an emergency order ordering the plant to discontinue using the track until specified repairs are made. It is FRA’s opinion that this emergency-order authority is sufficient power to ensure track safety within plants. If conditions or events in the future tend to demonstrate that track safety within plants or installations should be more specifically regulated, FRA will seek to change the track safety regulations accordingly.

In June 1998, FRA issued a final rule revising the Federal Track Safety Standards. The preamble to the rule discussed FRA’s exercise of jurisdiction over plant railroads and the relationship between the Track Safety Standards in Part 213 and the language in Appendix A of Part 209 .

Roadway Worker Protection (RWP)

Does the FRA require roadway workers to wear reflective vests or other high-visibility type of clothing? 

Section 214.339 requires audible warning from locomotives before trains approach roadway workers on or about the track. The implementation of this requirement will necessitate railroad rules regarding notification to trains that roadway workers are on or about the track. This notification could take the form of portable whistle posts, train movement authorities, or highly visible clothing (e.g., safety vests, high-visibility hard hats, etc.) to identify roadway workers and increase their visibility. See Roadway Worker Protection Final Rule (49 CFR 214), page 65972.

How does a person receive Roadway Worker Protection certification? 

The FRA does not have a “certification” process for roadway workers, but does prescribe minimum training and qualification requirements. Sec. 214.343 (Training and qualification general) requires each employer to provide all roadway workers in its employ initial or recurrent training once every calendar year on the on-track safety rules and procedures that they are required to follow. Additional training and qualification include:

    ·    Sec. 214.347 - Training and qualification for lone workers.
    ·    Sec. 214.349 - Training and qualification of watchmen/lookouts.
    ·    Sec. 214.351 - Training and qualification of flagmen.
    ·    Sec. 214.353 - Training and qualification of roadway workers who
         provide on-track safety for roadway work groups.
    ·    Sec. 214.355 - Training and qualification in on-track safety for
         operators of roadway maintenance machines.

Does the Roadway Worker Protection regulation apply to tourist railroads? 

The RWP regulation applies to all railroads and contractors to railroads in the general system of railroad transportation, including commuter rail operations. This means that tourist and excursion railroads that are not part of the general system of railroad transportation will not be subject to these rules. 

Contractor Responsibilities

What type of contractor employees must comply with the RWP regulation? 

Employees of contractors to railroads are included in the definition if they perform engineering duties on or near the track. They must be provided on-track safety in the same manner as employees of the railroad. The responsibility for on-track safety of employees will follow the employment relationship. Contractors are responsible for the on-track safety of their employees and any required training for their employees. FRA expects that railroads will require their contractors to adopt the on-track safety rules of the railroad upon which the contractor is working. Where contractors require specialized on-track safety rules for particular types of work, those rules must, of course, be compatible with the rules of the railroad upon which the work is being performed. 

How are contractors expected to comply with the RWP regulation? 

Contractors to railroads are expected to comply with this rule in the same manner as their host railroads. In most instances, contractors should not devise their own programs, but would be expected to comply with programs established by the railroads on which they are working. Contractors are responsible for ensuring that their employees received the appropriate training and that their employees complied with the appropriate railroad’s program, but would not necessarily need their own FRA-approved program. The RWP regulation applies to all railroads and contractors to railroads in the general system of railroad transportation, including commuter rail operations (Appendix A, 49 CFR Part 209). 

Are railroads or contractors responsible to ensure that third-party employees are trained in on-track safety? 

Sec. 214.311of the RWP regulation places responsibility with all employers (whether they are railroads or contractors) to see that employees are trained and supervised to work with the on-track safety rules in effect at the work site. The actual training and supervision of contractor employees might be undertaken by the operating railroad, but the responsibility to see that it is done rests with the employer. This section applies to all employers of roadway workers. Employers may be railroads, contractors to railroads, or railroads whose employees are working on other railroads. Although railroads, rather than contractors, will implement most on-track safety programs, both are employers and, as such, each is responsible to its employees to provide them with the means of achieving on-track safety. 

What are the definitions of employee and employer under the RWP?

Sec. 214.7 - Employee means an individual who is engaged or compensated by a railroad or by a contractor to a railroad to perform any of the duties defined in this part.

-Employer means a railroad, or a contractor to a railroad, that directly engages or compensates individuals to perform any of the duties defined in this part. 

Do employers such as cable installers need to comply with the RWP regulation? 

The RWP regulation does not include employers, or their employees, if they are not engaged by or under contract to a railroad. Personnel who might work near railroad tracks on projects for others, such as cable installation for a telephone company or bridge construction for a highway agency, come under the jurisdiction of other Federal agencies with regard to occupational safety dealing with protection from moving trains and other on-track equipment. However, FRA encourages those employers to adopt the same on-track safety principles in order to protect such persons from these dangers. See Roadway Worker Protection Final Rule (49 CFR 214), page 65966.

Track Clearances

What is the required spacing or distance between railroad tracks? 

With respect to track centers (track separation distances), the FRA does not prescribe these distances or any such thresholds (construction or maintenance) for specific speeds of trains. Each State, through its Department of Transportation or other State agency, prescribes railroad “clearance” dimensions, which include track centers. This information is available in compendium format from the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association (AREMA). The AREMA publication containing this information is the Manual For Railway Engineering, and Chapter 28 deals with clearances.

While the FRA does not prescribe track center distances for construction and maintenance of trackage, we do mention track centers in certain portions of our regulations:

o Part 213 (Track Safety Standards), Section 213.4 - Excepted Track. A track owner may designate a segment of track as excepted track provided that -- (a) The segment is identified in the timetable, special instructions, general order, or other appropriate records which are available for inspection during regular business hours; (b) The identified segment is not located within 30 feet of an adjacent track which can be subjected to simultaneous use at speeds in excess of 10 miles per hour. As a matter of quick reference, “excepted track” is a designation of track that permits continued use of such track when the conditions have degraded to a point where there are significant restrictions on the operation of trains.

o Part 214, Subpart C (Roadway Worker Protection), Section 214.7 , definitions - “Adjacent tracks mean two or more tracks with track centers spaced less than 25 feet apart.” This threshold only applies to certain maintenance activities. Specifically, Sec. 214.335, On-track safety procedures for roadway work groups, paragraph (c) states: “Roadway work groups engaged in large-scale maintenance or construction shall be provided with train approach warning in accordance with Sec. 214.327 for movements on adjacent tracks that are not included within working limits.” 

Are there any minimum distance requirements between railroad tracks and structures, such as overhead bridges, buildings, etc.? 

Like track centers, the FRA does not prescribe distances or thresholds relating to the structures near railroad trackage. Each State, through its Department of Transportation or other State agency, prescribes railroad “clearance” dimensions, which include minimum distances between railroad tracks and structures.

For your reference concerning the above questions with respect to clearances, the following web pages may be of some help: AREMA’s at http://www.arema.org/ and the Railway Industrial Clearance Association at http://www.rica.org/

Railroad Construction and Material Specifications

What specifications does FRA prescribe for the construction of track? 

The FRA’s Track Safety Standards, found at 49 CFR Part 213 , establish minimum requirements for structural components and track geometry of all existing railroad tracks in the general system of transportation. The FRA does not prescribe the standards for the construction of track nor does it determine what specifications shall be used during the manufacturing of track-work components.

The group that develops construction standards and material specifications for the railroad industry is the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association (AREMA). AREMA’s web page is www.arema.org