U.S. rail-safety regulators plan to issue new crashworthiness standards this year that would eventually let faster and lighter passenger trains run on lines including the Northeast Corridor.
The Federal Railroad Administration said yesterday it will follow the recommendations of a safety advisory council and write rules for how well equipment on high-speed passenger trains should be able to survive a crash.
The recommendations are designed to make dedicated high-speed lines in California and along the Northeast Corridor available for use at speeds of as much as 220 miles (354 kilometers) per hour and as fast as 125 mph on some tracks where freight trains also run.
New standards mark a “move away from prescriptive regulations towards more performance-based regulatory environment,” Joseph C. Szabo, the agency’s administrator, said in a statement. “They will better align our approach to passenger safety and the use of rail equipment with the rest of the world.”
The standards would create baseline safety requirements for a new generation of trains, according to the statement. Trains would also have the flexibility to operate along lines used by freight and passenger systems at lower speeds.
The railroad agency, the Transportation Department unit that regulates interstate freight and passenger operators, updated its crashworthiness standards in 2010. It said further strengthening of passenger railcars would cost $4.1 million over 20 years, mostly for engineering and testing development.
Passengers in a May 17 Metro-North Railroad crash in Connecticut were protected by strengthened railcar frames and designs intended to absorb and dissipate impact energy through the structures, rather than transferring it to passengers.
The accident involving two commuter trains injured 76 people out of about 700 riders, with no immediate fatalities. Casualties would have been worse if lawmakers and regulators hadn’t acted to improve car designs in recent years, said a safety advocate who helped write the laws.
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