Feds relax safety rules for railway shipments

The Federal Railroad Association moved Thursday to relax automated train control regulations designed to prevent wrecks along the nation’s rail lines.

Seeking to relieve undue burdens facing the rail industry, the association is expanding exemptions to the regulations for certain operations that pose a minor risk of an accident.

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A final rule to be published in Friday’s edition of the Federal Register is aimed at freight lines “where the burdens of the regulation would yield a gain of trivial or no value.”

The 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act requires implementation by the end of next year of “positive train control” technology on freight lines that carry hazardous materials or at least 5 million tons annual traffic or that share their tracks with passenger rail services.

Initial regulations offer certain exemptions to the rule. Industry groups filed a petition in 2011 seeking to expand those exceptions. The new rule further exempts from the requirements trains carrying only a residue of poisonous or toxic materials.

“This conclusion does not change DOT’s underlying position on the risk posed by tank cars containing a residue of hazardous materials,” the agency wrote.

The new rule also allows for trains without positive train control technology to operate on freight lines in support of certain rail yard operations.