Railroads will have to "harden" their trains' event recorders and collect more operating data from locomotives under a Federal Railroad Administration rule released June 30.
The rule gives railroads four years to replace older-style event recorders that use magnetic tape to store data with new electronic memory modules. The rule also requires railroads to improve inspection, testing and maintenance procedures.
The FRA wants event recorders hardened to prevent the loss of data from exposure to fire, impact shock, fluid immersion, and other potential damage resulting from train accidents.
Trains' "black boxes" also must capture more data, including a record of the use of cruise control functions, the horn and train control operating directives sent to the engineer's onboard display. Currently, event recorders capture such information as train speed, use of automatic air brakes, throttle position and cab signal indications, the FRA said.
"We are making sure that investigators have more and better information available when working to find the cause of an accident," said FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman. "The more we can learn from train accidents, the more we can prevent them from occurring."
The rule requires railroads to keep data stored on event recorders involved in accidents for one year, up from the current 30-day requirement. This will allow federal accident investigators greater flexibility in reviewing data, even if no immediate accident investigation is undertaken.
The final rule is available on the FRA's web site at www.fra.dot.gov and in docket number FRA-2003-16357 at dms.dot.gov.