The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Aug. 28 submitted to the Federal Register a final rule allowing railroads to use ultrasonic inspection technology, augmented with global positioning system (GPS) technology, to employ continuous rail testing.


These updated regulations are expected to improve safety by making it easier for railroads to test rails more frequently and to identify and repair internal rail flaws before conditions degrade safety, according to a news release.


“This rule will allow railroads to use the latest technology to continually monitor safety, which is a big step forward in strengthening safety and reliability on our nation’s railroads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.


This regulatory reform allows rail testing vehicles to move without stopping along the track, potentially decreasing passenger and freight train delays associated with routine inspections.


Fast-developing technologies challenge regulators to craft and revise regulations that help ensure public safety, while allowing railroads to test and implement innovative inspection methods.


“Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao is a strong advocate for safety through innovation, and these modernized standards will allow railroads to implement innovative inspection methods without the burden of applying for individual waivers with well-established safety records,” said Administrator Ronald L. Batory.


FRA has issued waivers for the past 10 years, allowing larger railroads to develop and utilize this technology, and the updated standards are consistent with the state of the practice.


Between May 2019 and May 2020, there has been a 27% reduction in broken rail-caused train accidents, which is largely attributable to this new technology. Providing all railroads the option of using this technology presents an opportunity to improve the industry’s overall safety record.


The Final Rule on Rail Integrity Amendments & Track Safety Standards focuses more on providing performance-based outcomes, rather than prescribing exactly how companies conduct effective tests. Railroads will be expected to utilize established methods to conduct required rail inspections, but they will also have the flexibility to utilize new technologies and methods as they are proven safe and effective.


The final rule takes effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. View the final rule here: https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/rail-integrity-final-rule-unofficial.