Feds Propose Rules for High-Speed Rail

The proposed regulations could lead to the proliferation of high-speed trains in the United States.

by / November 21, 2016

Although high-speed rail has not taken as strong a hold in America as it has in Japan and Europe, many states or public enterprises have decided to tackle the project.

California passed a high-speed rail measure in 2008 and is still stuck in the middle of what seems to be an endless slog of bureaucratic and regulatory red tape, while Texas’ privatized bullet train plan is attracting widespread criticism over land use. In the 2009 Recovery Act, President Obama prescribed $8 billion toward intercity passenger rail projects and rail congestion grants, with priority for high-speed rail.

In line with the U.S. Department of Transportation's recent release of regulations for autonomous vehicles, the DOT's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposed on Nov. 21 safety regulation updates for high-speed rail.

“As several regions of the United States build faster passenger rail service, the trains on those tracks must keep passengers safe,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release. “To do that, we want to allow manufacturers to innovate and achieve all-new levels of safety. These proposed changes put us on track to do just that.”

Some say that part of the reason the industry hasn't taken off is the lack of regulations. This regulatory uncertainty, according to Eric Allison, CEO of Zee Aero, is one of the greatest threats to new technologies. Once precedents are set, that allows for the real exploration — and pushing technology to where it is going.

The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) creates a new class of regulations, dubbed Tier III passenger trains, that run between 125 and 220 mph. The proposed rules are broken down into three subject areas: safety standards; crashworthiness and occupant protection performance requirements such as emergency systems, brakes and windows; and the maximum speed authorized for trains on different tracks. Many of the proposed rules are based on foreign precedents.

The NPRM also included a provision that while Tier III trains are operating on shared infrastructure with lower-speed trains, the high-speed engines will operate at a max speed of 125 mph. In order to fully take advantage of a train's speed capabilities, separate tracks will need to be built.

Because they are still proposed, railroad regulators will initiate a 60-day open comment period, where industry, consumer advocates and nonprofits will log comments.

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

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