Saturday, March 4, 2023

FRA Publishes Hot Wheel Bearing Safety Advisory

Yesterday, the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a notice of Safety Advisory 2023-01 in the Federal Register (88 FR 13494-13497) for “Evaluation of Policies and Procedures Related to the Use and Maintenance of Hot Bearing Wayside Detectors”. This safety advisory is at least partially in response to the recent derailment with fire and explosions near East Palestine, OH.

After reviewing background information on the use of hot bearing wayside detectors and how some recent derailments were presaged by ‘hot bearing detector’ (HBD) warnings (Warner Robins, GA, 7-12-22; Sandusky, OH, 10-8-22; and East Palestine, OH, 2-3-23), the Advisory discusses “Journal Bearings and Detecting Journal Bearing Defects”.

Based on the information discussed above, the Advisory goes on to recommend that railroads:

Review existing HBD system inspection and maintenance policies and procedures for compliance with existing industry standards and manufacturer recommendations for HBDs,

Review existing procedures to train and qualify personnel responsible for installing, inspecting, and maintaining HBDs to ensure they have the appropriate knowledge and skills,

Review current HBD detector thresholds in light of recent derailments, and all other relevant available data (including data from any close calls or near misses), to determine the adequacy of the railroad's current thresholds,

Review current procedures governing actions responding to HBD alerts to ensure required actions are commensurate with the risk of the operation involved, and

With regard to trains transporting any quantity of hazardous materials, FRA recommends railroads adopt the procedures outlined in AAR's OT-55 for key trains as an initial measure.

All of the discussions and recommendations described above were preceded by the following disclaimer:

“This Safety Advisory is considered guidance pursuant to DOT Order 2100.6A (June 7, 2021). Except when referencing laws, regulations, policies, or orders, the information in this Safety Advisory does not have the force and effect of law and is not meant to bind the public in any way. This document does not revise or replace any previously issued guidance.”


Perhaps it is time for Congress to specifically require FRA to establish regulations that require the use of wayside detectors and to ensure that they are tied into positive train control (PTC) systems where such systems exist.

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