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New train rules aim to protect passengers

Federal regulators are pushing new railroad safety standards that would protect against the doors of a train swinging open while in motion.

The new rules proposed Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would be phased in through all new passenger train cars that are built, though old trains and locomotives would not have to comply.

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The rules would establish safety procedures for both powered and manually-operated exterior doors.

"The proposed rule is intended to limit the number and severity of injuries involving passenger train exterior side doors and enhance the level of safety for passengers and train crew members," the agency plans to write in Wednesday's edition of the Federal Register.

The new rules would equip new passenger cars that have powered side doors with an obstruction detection system, among other safety features such as a door by-pass feature.

Another safety feature would prevent the train from running by cutting the track power when an exterior door is open.

The train crew would also receive safety training to know what to do when an exterior side door opens.

The Federal Railroad Administration explained that in some cases problems with train doors can be deadly.

"For example, on Nov. 21, 2006, a New Jersey Transit Rail Operations (NJT) train was departing a station in Bradley Beach, New Jersey when the closing exterior side doors of the train caught and held a passenger attempting to exit the train," the agency wrote. "The passenger was then dragged by the train along the station platform as the train was leaving the station. The passenger died as a result of his injuries."

But the agency estimates the new safety procedures would prevent 19 injuries each year, and save one life every five years, even though the agency says the rules would only have a 50 percent "effectiveness rate."

The rules would cost train manufacturers $15 million to comply with over the next 20 years, the agency said.

But taking this into consideration, the safe standards would still lead to a total economic benefit of $67 million, because of the casualties that would be prevented, according to the agency.

Some of the other potential benefits include fewer passenger claims for personal property damage, maintaining passenger trust by reducing the number of highly-publicized accidents, and lowering future maintenance costs, the agency said.