On November 21, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued an order establishing new safety standards for railroad passenger equipment in an effort to stimulate U.S. high-speed rail development. The FRA rule sets new performance-based safety standards for high-speed railroad equipment and would allow high-speed passenger trains to travel as fast as 220 miles per hour (mph).
The rule establishes a “Tier III” category for passenger trains to travel between 160-220 mph in areas with exclusive rights-of-way and without grade crossings. Notably, the rule also permits high-speed rail to utilize existing railroad infrastructure. Allowing Tier III passenger trains to operate over existing infrastructure at conventional speeds creates more flexibility to expand high speed rail across the country by eliminating the expense and time that would accompany the construction of new rail lines. Additionally, this rule is expected to save more than $475 million in regulatory costs.
Counties play a critical role in planning and developing the nation’s transportation and infrastructure networks, and ensuring compliance with safety protocols. Rail transit connects local and regional economies to the global marketplace and provides a sustainable form of transportation by reducing road maintenance costs. Federal policies that provide more flexibility to safely expand high speed rail will not only transport passengers across the nation in a timelier manner, it will provide economic development opportunities.
The FRA rule also establishes minimum safety standards for Tier III train operations, focusing on core, structural and critical system design criteria. Improvements to railroads are also included to accommodate the operation of high-speed rail equipment on shared rights-of-way.
The rule continues to define Tier I as trains operating in shared rights-of-ways at speeds up to 125 mph and increases Tier II trains maximum travel to 160 mph. According to the FRA, the new standards supports a competitive operating environment for U.S. companies seeking to offer travelers more passenger rail options.
NACo supports efforts to improve and expand regional and national high-speed rail service and we look forward to working our federal partners to ensure safe and efficient development of new projects.