Lesson 2: Evaluating and Inspecting Rail Facilities

Bartlett & West

Any engineering consultant who is hired to inspect, maintain, or build service and maintenance shops must be well-versed in the standards set forth by the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA). AREMA’s standards provide recommended practices for railway infrastructure, such as the height and elevation needed for maintenance personnel on work platforms and other aspects of the layout and design of repair shops.

Along with AREMA standards, an engineering consultant must be familiar with rules set forth by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which focuses on rail safety standards. For example, the FRA issued a new rule in 2020 that wheel stock must now be kept in covered storage at a maintenance facility rather than outside.

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The FRA’s rail-safety agenda can also drive decision-making for where to build maintenance and service facilities. The FRA implements a National Inspection Plan across its eight administrative regions. The NIP focuses FRA safety inspections on locomotives with safety risks, such as transporting hazardous materials or moving on tracks where accidents have been known to occur.

One area of growing interest for the NIP is ensuring that cross-border rail freight coming from Mexico is compliant with U.S. safety standards. Mexico’s Railway Transport Regulatory Agency may inspect rail equipment based on mileage or different in-service periods. But the FRA inspects locomotives for every 92 days of service. If a locomotive is bringing freight up from Mexico into the upper reaches of the U.S. Midwest without an inspection, that can be a red flag for the FRA. The result is that Class I Railroads with cross-border freight are looking to move service and maintenance facilities closer to the border to avoid FRA violations.

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