Posts Tagged ‘FRA rules’

States Balk at FRA Passenger Safety Plan Rule

December 27, 2017

Transportation officials in several states are resisting a Federal Railroad Administration rule that requires passenger carriers to develop a System Safety Plan.

The states are not opposed to safety plans per se, but object to who is responsible for the plans, particularly in cases in which a state owns the rails over which a carrier such as Amtrak operates.

The FRA rule applies to “states, state agencies and instrumentalities, and political subdivisions of states that own [but do not necessarily operate]” railroads, railroad equipment, or provide financial support for passenger trains.

An analysis published on the website of Trains magazine observed that states are arguing that safety is the purview of the railroad tenant, not the landlord, and forcing a state to create a safety plan imposes a financial burden.

Some states have contended that they lack the experience and expertise to create safety plans. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, which owns a portion of the route used by Amtrak’s Downeaster said that its officials aren’t even allowed on the right-of-way without the railroad’s permission.

Also protesting to the FRA have been the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin joint power authorities in California, Indiana Department of Transportation, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The FRA issued the rule in August 2016, saying that an “intercity passenger railroad” must create a safety plan that “continually and systematically evaluates railroad safety hazards on its system and manages the resulting risks to reduce the number and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries, and fatalities.”

The deadline for creation of these safety plans has been delayed five times in the past 16 months. It is now set to take effect in December 2018.

Some states have also said the rule raises a constitutional question of how far the federal government can go to regulate state behavior.

“In opening the door to application of its [safety plan] rule … the FRA plainly has overreached its grant of enabling authority from Congress,” the Vermont petition states. “Moreover, by exposing such state entities with the untoward consequences of ‘railroad carrier’ status, the FRA will have a chilling effect on activities encouraged by Congress …” including state acquisition of lines threatened by abandonment.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it continues to create its own safety plan. “We are taking action independent of the stay of the rule. We are building a Safety Management System which includes the development of a System Safety Program,” an Amtrak spokeswoman said.