This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Eric McCaughrin from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition puts together a list of ways that antiquated Federal Railroad Administration rules stack the deck against passenger rail in the US.  US trains need to be almost absurdly heavy to withstand potential freight crashes.  This results in slower, more expensive, harder-to-maintain rolling stock.  Trains must also blow their horns loudly at every intersection, raising the ire of nearby residents.

Easing these rules would seem to be something that the FRA could do without congressional approval.  I know that some rules, like the horn rule, were actually legislated by Congress, but is there room for interpretation on this or other rules?

I assume the reason that these rules haven’t been changed is that the freight companies and their allies in congress are petrified of the potential lawsuits from collisions.  Anyone have any more insights?

2 Replies to “Is the FRA Killing Passenger Rail?”

  1. I’m not sure I buy the lawsuit theory. Designing to government codes generally protect against lawsuits, and when codes change so do legal requirements. The other constraint is insurance – in countries with loose regulations, often insurance companies require a more restrictive set of codes*. If the US is too lax with it’s regulations (not likely in the realm of rail), insurance companies will ask the railroads to keep running heavier trains anyway.

    * I know this directly from designing systems for buildings in the middle east – it wasn’t government we had to worry about (the royal family was effectively the building owners anyway), but satisfying the insurance companies. This was especially true for fire codes and structural codes.

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