FRA declines SMART TD request to limit long trains

Published: March 19, 2018

The Trump administration’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has declined a request made by SMART Transportation Division to address the safety concerns of excessively long trains.

In an April 25, 2017, letter from National Legislative Director John Risch to Robert Lauby, FRA’s associate administrator for safety, Risch referenced a pair of trains – one CSX train consisting of 234 cars and exceeding 2 ½ miles in length and a BNSF train that had 246 cars that also exceeded 2 ½ miles.

Risch said in the letter that such “incredibly long” trains pose challenges to crew radio communications and maintaining brake pipe pressure, block more rail crossings and that crews are not adequately trained to handle these dangerously long trains.

But those concerns were simply brushed aside by Lauby.

“FRA does not have sufficient data or evidence to justify an Emergency Order limiting the length of trains,” he wrote in his March 7, 2018, response, saying also that the carriers were lengthening trains in an attempt “to enhance service delivery and operational efficiencies.”

Here is the link to Risch’s original letter and the pro-industry response received nearly a year later.

“The letter signed by Lauby looked like it was written by some railroad lobbyist,” Risch said. “Anyone who has ever dealt with a 2-mile-plus-long train knows they are anything but efficient. They tie up the railroad because sidings and rail yards can’t handle them.”

Risch testified last October in a Surface Transportation Board listening session centered on CSX’s service problems about the numerous dangers posed by longer trains.

This testimony plus derailments and other safety concerns, such as blocked crossings, did cause members of the House Transportation Committee to take notice.

A letter from U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio and Michael Capuano, Democratic members of the committee, spurred the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to begin an investigation last month into the effects of excessively long trains and the safety hazards that they pose.

That investigation is ongoing.