The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today warned against the dangers of increasingly long freight trains and their impacts on safe operations and intersections with roads.
In a notice to rail operators, the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) noted that freight train length has increased in recent years, and asked railroads to address the issue to ensure the safe operation of such trains.
“This Safety Advisory recommends that railroads review their operating rules and existing locomotive engineer certification programs to address operational complexities of train length, take appropriate action to prevent the loss of communications between end-of-train devices, and mitigate the impacts of long trains on blocked crossings,” the FRA notice said.
The notice is the latest action to come from courts, regulators, and lawmakers since a Norfolk Southern Co. train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, spilling noxious chemicals from ruptured tank cars. Several lawsuits and pending Congressional bills have since proposed stricter safety regulations and fines on the company to ensure the environmental cleanup and safety of local residents.
It also follows a long-running negotiation between railroad companies and workers’ unions involving employee working conditions, health and safety allowances, schedule flexibility, and minimum size of train crews. That contentious discussion nearly led to a strike in 2022, but Congress passed a bill imposing an agreement brokered by the Biden administration.
The latest FRA report did not cite those incidents, but referenced three events occurring since 2022 that are believed to have been caused, or contributed to, by the train handling and makeup. Those incidents—in Springfield, Ohio; Ravenna, Ohio; and Rockwell, Iowa—each involved a train with more than 200 cars and a length of 12,250 feet or longer.
FRA believes these incidents demonstrate the need for railroads and their employees to be particularly mindful of the complexities of operating longer trains. Specifically, the agency flagged challenges in: (1) train makeup and handling; (2) railroad braking and train handling rules, policies, and procedures; (3) protecting against the loss of end-of-train (EOT) device communications; and (4) where applicable, protecting against the loss of radio communications among crew members
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