Federal agencies Rail Transportation

FRA issues advisory on safe railroad operations during temporary signal suspensions

train signal
Photo: yipengge/iStockphoto

Washington — The Federal Railroad Administration has published a safety advisory to address railroad operations during temporary signal suspensions.

The advisory, published in the Nov. 20 Federal Register, identifies best practices railroads should use in such situations, as well as recommendations for developing and implementing safe procedures. It comes in response to recent incidents in South Carolina and Wyoming that occurred while the operating railroads were installing and testing Positive Train Control technology. At the time, the railroads had temporarily suspended signals in the areas.

“Rail operations under the temporary loss of protections provided by an existing signal system have the potential to introduce new safety risks and amplify existing safety risks because railroad employees accustomed to the safety an existing signal system provides must operate in an environment they may not encounter on a regular basis,” the advisory states.


Temporary signal suspensions require rail employees to operate under different practices and rules, many of which may not be familiar to them, FRA cautions. Consequently, workers may need specialized instruction.

“Such risks must be addressed to provide for the safety of train operations during the loss of protection afforded by the signal system,” the advisory states.

FRA published a draft safety advisory in the April 23 Federal Register and collected public comments. Based on the input received, the agency recommends all railroads immediately undertake these seven actions:

  1. Before initiating a planned temporary suspension of a signal system, perform a risk assessment to determine the most effective and safest way to implement a suspension.
  2. Develop and implement procedures and practices consistent with the industry best practices for rail operations conducted under temporary signal suspensions.
  3. Inform employees of the circumstances surrounding the South Carolina and Wyoming incidents, emphasizing the potential consequences of misaligned switches and the relevant federal regulations and railroad operating rules intended to prevent such incidents.
  4. Review and, when appropriate, revise all operating rules relating to hand-operated main track switches (including rules required by 49 CFR 218.105) to enhance them.
  5. Increase supervisory operational oversight and conduct operational testing on the applicable operating rules for hand-operated main track switches.
  6. Enhance instruction on relevant operating rules of hand-operated main track switches in non-signaled territory, including those required by 49 CFR 218.105(d) during initial and periodic instruction required by 49 CFR 217.11.
  7. Stress to train and engine workers the importance of thorough, accurate job briefings when operating hand-operated main track switches, particularly in areas where the signal system is temporarily suspended and specifically when releasing main track authority.

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