Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation will require railroads to inspect certain types of track joint bars more frequently using new uniform standards to help prevent train derailments, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta announced today.
Noting that better inspection of continuous welded rail (CWR) joint bars is essential to improving rail safety, Mineta detailed the new joint bar inspection standards that railroads must incorporate into their track maintenance plans. Unlike conventional track that has short sections of rail bolted together, CWR consists of long continuous rails that may extend for a mile or more between joints.
Specifically, the interim final rule states that railroads must inspect CWR joint bars for visible or detectable cracks, loose or missing bolts, other damage and evidence of any rail movement. In addition, special on-the-ground visual inspections of the joint bars must be conducted on a regular schedule. As a result of the regulation, FRA estimates that the number of detailed inspections of CWR joint bars will increase by at least 11 percent per year, Mineta added.
“Inspections are the best form of prevention against derailments,” Mineta said. “This rule will increase the number of inspections in hopes of immediately reducing the number of accidents.”
Failure of CWR joint bars was identified by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as the probable cause of three serious train accidents, which resulted in two fatalities, more than 350 injuries, and the release of hazardous materials in Minot, ND; Flora, MS; and Pico Rivera, CA.
“These tragic accidents did not have to happen,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman. “They should be a constant reminder to railroads that they simply must do a better job of inspecting and maintaining their tracks.”
The interim final rule, which takes effect Dec. 2, 2005, also supports a primary goal of the Federal Railroad Administration’s National Rail Safety Action Plan to reduce track-related train accidents. The Action Plan also targets the most frequent, highest risk causes of accidents; better focuses the inspection and enforcement resources of the Federal Railroad Administration; and accelerates research efforts that have the potential to mitigate the largest risks.
In addition, this regulation addresses four safety recommendations issued by the NTSB following their investigation of the three accidents referenced above. To view the interim final rule, go to http://www.fra.dot.gov.