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FRA Tier III Rule Issued

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According to Progressive Rail:

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently served notice that it's issuing a final rule to amend track and passenger equipment safety standards in order to promote the safe interaction of rail vehicles and track under a variety of conditions at speeds up to 220 mph.

To take effect July 11, the final rule revises standards for track geometry and safety limits for a vehicle's response to track conditions, enhances vehicle/track qualification procedures and adds flexibility for permitting high cant deficiency train operations through curves at conventional speeds, FRA officials said in a notice published in the Federal Register.


This will enable ordering of off the shelf HSR equipment and mixed operation of them with Tier I equipment below 125mph.

Additional rulemaking focused on NEC continues, which will allow mixed operation of Tier II and Tier III equipment in intermingled operation in appropriately equipped positive train separation regime. This will allow operation of current Acelas and new higher speed Acela IIs on the same track without temporal separation.

Thought y'all might be interested in this important development and will drink to it.

 

You can read the whole article here.

Edited by jis

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It's 9:19 in the AM here, so I'll wait a touch before toasting. But, great news Jis!

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Guest Nathanael

I just skimmed this. It does NOT allow anyone to buy off-the-shelf European vehicles, because it does not modify the "deadweight", "corner pillar", or other "built like a tank" requirements.

 

What this does is (roughly speaking) to allow better curve design, and to allow tilting according to European standards. That's an improvement, but it's a minor one. The big kahuna is the 'built like a tank' rules.

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Long Barred from American Tracks, European Train Designs Could Get Rolling by 2015

For decades, the Federal Railroad Administration had effectively banned modern European trains from American mainline rail networks. European and Asian manufacturers have been slimming down their rolling stock for years to improve performance — energy efficiency, braking and acceleration, even track and train maintenance — while U.S. transit agencies were stuck with bulked-up versions of sleek European cars, weighted down and otherwise modified to meet FRA regulations....

But not for much longer. Beginning in 2015, regulators and manufacturers expect the FRA to allow modern European designs on tracks throughout the country, running side by side with heavy freight at all times of day. There will be no special signaling requirements for trains purchased under the new rules, although a separate requirement for more advancing anti-collision signaling, called positive train control, is set to kick in around the same time....

“It’ll take a while to get the [new] regulations in place,” said Robert Lauby, associate administrator for railroad safety and chief safety officer at the FRA. The new rules have already been drafted and now await approval from various federal agencies, followed by a period of public review. Many in the industry don’t expect significant revisions to what the FRA’s safety committee has already drafted, and Lauby suggested that the new rules should clear the final hurdles sometime in 2015.

 

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A search for Tier III regulations turned up this three year old thread. The wheels of federal rule making turn slowly. The FRA released their proposed Tier III rules on November 21 to be posted in the Federal Register with 60 days allowed for comments and feedback.

 

FRA press release: FRA Proposes Safety Standard Updates to Allow for High-Speed Passenger Trains

 

FRA eLibrary page for the proposed rule: Passenger Equipment Safety Standards; Standards for Alternative Compliance and High-Speed Trainsets

 

Excerpt from the press release:

 

The proposed updates would establish a new category of passenger equipment, Tier III, for trains traveling up to 220 mph. The updates would offer an alternative method for evaluating how well passengers and crews are protected in an accident, often called crashworthiness. The public, railroad industry, railroad labor, manufacturers and other stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide feedback and comment on the proposed rule during the next 60 days.

 

In addition to measuring a train’s crashworthiness based on whether it meets current prescriptive strength standards, the proposed changes would allow a train’s crashworthiness to be evaluated based on it meeting an equivalent level of safety achieved through crash energy management technology or other innovative engineering methods.

 

“We look forward to hearing from everyone on how this proposal can help our country build a stronger passenger rail network – one that is not only faster but allows for new technologies to make passenger trains even safer,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.

 

Although Tier III trains will be required to have exclusive track to operate at speeds above 125 mph, the new standards will allow Tier III trains to safely share track with current Tier I and Tier II commuter, intercity, and Acela trains. Compatibility between equipment types is a key strategy to allow trains to share existing corridors to reach downtown stations.

 

The proposed rules also raise the maximum speed for Tier II trains (ie the Acela) to 160 mph over approved Class 8 track subject to approval from the FRA.

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Phew! Finally managed to finish reading that tome.

 

Yup. Effectively, the proposed rules make it possible for Acelas to get re-certified for 160mph with no modifications. They do not automatically make them 160mph compliant. There is a slim possibility that they might fail to get certified for 160mph.

 

What is still not clear is whether the Acela IIs can be Tier III compliant and still operate at over 125mph intermingled with Tier II and Tier I equipment, or they will require an additional special waiver if they are Tier III compliant. Alternatively, if they are Tier II compliant that becomes a non-issue, but it is not clear that Tier II allows for the type of CEM that is apparently part of the Acela II design. It should be interesting to see how that plays out.

Edited by jis

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So for those that have read the entire thing, will this really allow for off-the-shelf European non-high speed designs to be used? Like for instance, could Metro North order some GCT-clearance BiLevel EMUs using a European design from Siemens? Could Caltrain use an existing design of BiLevel EMU for their electrification?

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This one FINALLY eliminates the crazy deadweight, corner-post and buff strength requirements. It allows *almost* off-the-shelf European designs to be used, with a fairly short list of tweaks relating mostly to interior fixture attachment. They emphasize repeatedly that no bodyshell, frame, or truck redesigns should be required to make European designs legal for the US. (Though apparently Japanese designs will still not be legal.) It's apparently the Euro spec plus a few weird requirements, but ones which shouldn't affect the shell.

 

It appears to be a set of alternative rules which can be used to comply for "Tier III" and for "Tier I" but not for "Tier II" (go figure), so it should simplify procurement for commuter rail, and for "conventional" Amtrak as well as for "high speed". I could be wrong about that, because this was quite confusing.

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So for those that have read the entire thing, will this really allow for off-the-shelf European non-high speed designs to be used? Like for instance, could Metro North order some GCT-clearance BiLevel EMUs using a European design from Siemens? Could Caltrain use an existing design of BiLevel EMU for their electrification?

The answer to both the MNRR and Caltrain questions would appear to be yes. However, for each FRA has to review and approve the design to be Modified Tier I compliant. So FRA still retains the authority to accept or reject a specific European design, which seems reasonable and similar to how such matters are handled in aviation between US FAA and European JAA.

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I appreciate the answer, but I might should have phrased it better though your answer does help me rephrase a bit. Could a commuter railroad buy off the shelf Tier-III compliant trains and just not ever run them at Tier-III speeds?

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I appreciate the answer, but I might should have phrased it better though your answer does help me rephrase a bit. Could a commuter railroad buy off the shelf Tier-III compliant trains and just not ever run them at Tier-III speeds?

Sure they could. But why spend more money when the additional options in Tier I gives you access to the same off the shelf features that you get with Tier III. Afterall you don't have to worry about 1 Mlb equivalent strength of the end vehicle if you get Tier I. You can get away with 800 klb equivalent in Tier I, which is bound to be cheaper. AFAICT the California EMUs will not need much of a waiver under the modified Tier I. But remember, each design has to be certified compliant by the FRA.

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So what does this all mean for commuter service like Metrolink / Surfliners etc.. Does this mean they can buy trains off the shelf with minor changes or no?

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So what does this all mean for commuter service like Metrolink / Surfliners etc.. Does this mean they can buy trains off the shelf with minor changes or no?

YES. Unless there's a devil hiding in the details. The FRA emphasizes repeatedly that this is supposed to mean that commuter rail -- *and* "regular speed" Amtrak -- and tourist lines -- and Brightline -- can buy European train designs off the shelf with minor changes. And it really looks like it does mean this.

 

It is very, very good news.

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Ok, so I guess the bottom line I was looking for is if there was any advantage to choosing Tier-III, and there isn't. Thanks.

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