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FRA wants Class Is to regularly report train-length information

In a follow-up to its recent safety advisory on train length, the Federal Railroad Administration is calling on Class Is to report every month the number, length and weight of trains operated on their rail lines.

Last week, the FRA announced in the Federal Register that it’s seeking public comment on its information collection request (ICR). Comments are due Sept. 19.

The ICR follows the FRA’s safety advisory issued in May, which noted potential complexities associated with operating longer trains and recommended railroads address those complexities to ensure the safe operation of long trains.

The advisory cited three “significant incidents” that occurred since 2022 involving trains with more than 200 cars, more than 10,000 feet in length and weighing more than 17,000 trailing tons, where train handling and train makeup is believed to have caused, or contributed to, the incidents.

In the advisory, the FRA noted that operating longer trains presents challenges that can be exacerbated by the trains’ weight and makeup. Consequently, FRA recommended that the Class Is review their operating rules and locomotive engineer certification programs to address operational complexities of train length; take action to prevent the loss of communication between end-of-train devices; and mitigate the impacts of long trains on blocked crossings.

The advisory cited a 2019 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found freight-train length, particularly at Class Is, had increased in recent years. The GAO was able to procure only limited data from some of the Class Is, but one Class I provided data showing an average train length of 6,100 feet and another one provided data indicating an average train length of 7,500 feet. That information represented an increase in the average length of a train of about 25% over 10 years.

Also in the safety advisory, the FRA said it was researching the operational complexities of longer trains, including air brake system performance and train dynamics. The FRA is working with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to examine factors associated with freight trains longer than 7,500 feet.

As a next step in that process, the FRA is initiating the ICR to gather more train length data from Class Is. Specifically, the FRA wants Class Is to report the total number of trains operated, the total number of cars in those trains and the total trailing tonnage in specified train length categories, such as less than or equal to 7,500 feet and greater than 7,500 feet.

Additional details on what the FRA wants to collect are available here.