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AAR Presents DOT with List of "Obsolete" Rules under Federal Review Process

April 6, 2011
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) is urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to modify six regulations that cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year. AAR submitted the list in response to DOT’s request for comments regarding regulations issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that are deemed “obsolete, unnecessary, excessively burdensome, or counterproductive.”

“We support this concept of periodically reviewing regulations, and believe DOT is setting a good precedent with this proceeding,” said AAR president and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “Railroads, like many other modern industries, are constantly innovating, implementing new technologies, and finding ways to be safer and more productive. In doing so, railroads and the technology we use, have outpaced some of the rules and regulations related to how we operate. So now is a good time to bring our rules up to speed to meet the realities of railroading in the 21st Century.”

AAR presented six rules for DOT and FRA to consider, noting that the review proceeding is not addressing ongoing or recently concluded proceedings, such as the FRA’s recent review of positive train control (PTC) regulations. Last month, FRA and AAR agreed to put a federal lawsuit on hold while the agency undertakes two separate rulemakings to revisit the most costly federal mandate in U.S. railroad history.
The following are the areas that AAR asked DOT and FRA to revise regulations to better apply to today’s modern railroad operating environment.

Locomotive Inspections – The concept of daily and periodic locomotive inspections dates back to the steam engine era of railroading. Today’s modern diesel locomotive is equipped with electronic and self-diagnostic technology that negates the need to stop to inspect them daily or even periodically. The current FRA rules require daily and periodic inspections every 92 days, costing the nation’s major freight railroads over $400 million annually. AAR noted there is no proof that current inspection regulations are necessary to keep low or reduce locomotive defects tied to accidents.

Track Inspection Technology – FRA requires that minor defects that are irrelevant from a safety perspective be addressed immediately under FRA regulations. Railroads use track geometry and ultrasonic equipment that can detect very small rail defects. As a consequence, these modern inspection technologies result in railroads being forced to address defects that do not need immediate attention. AAR urged FRA to review its requirements, which the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has said could serve as a disincentive to the use of sophisticated technologies used to detect track flaws that pose greater concern to safety and operational efficiency.

Guard Face/Check Gage Standards – FRA has overly stringent standards for guard-check gage and guard-face gage in frogs, a track structure used at the intersection of two running rails. While the agency often cites railroads for violation of these minimum standards, AAR is unaware of deviations from the standard being a factor in any derailment. AAR urged FRA to review these standards which seemingly provide no clear safety benefit.

Intermediate Break Tests – FRA requires that every 1000-1500 miles, railroads must inspect brakes en route to determine if they are properly applying and releasing. For trains equipped with electronically controlled brakes, the interval is 3500 miles. However, modern technology, such as wheel temperature detectors, has made these visual inspections obsolete. AAR urged FRA to revise its rules to eliminate intermediate brake tests where wheel temperature detectors are used.
Signal Inspections – FRA has multiple periodic inspection requirements for railroad signals, which also do not take into account advances in modern railroad operations and technology. Railroads are increasingly relying on electronic health monitoring to provide status updates on equipment. AAR urged FRA to revise its rules to reflect the use of technology in monitoring the health of railroad signals.

Diesel Exhaust – While FRA has applied permissible diesel exhaust exposure limits as outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, the agency’s wording in its own version of the rule has created confusion. In fact, misinterpretation of its rule – which has been interpreted as prohibiting even one molecule of diesel exhaust in the cab – has set an impossible standard for railroads to meet.  AAR urged FRA to amend its rules to more clearly apply OSHA’s standards.

For more information, visit www.aar.org.