Volpe Center Highlights
Surface Transportation Safety
Standards and Regulations: A Collaborative Approach
Ensuring the safety of the transportation system is the principal goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Accordingly, DOT has a major role in developing, promulgating, and enforcing regulations covering various aspects of transportation operations. The Volpe Center's ability to analyze complex situations and systems, combined with its long history of working in surface transportation, provides DOT agencies with a unique perspective on their safety regulatory missions. The Center has worked with several agencies on a wide variety of regulatory issues, ranging from development and enhancement of standards and regulations to compliance and enforcement.
DOT recognizes that the role of government is to balance public interest, safety, and the promulgation of enlightened regulations that encourage rather than discourage progress and economic development. The Department also understands that regulations work best when they are developed, modified, and enforced in an atmosphere in which government, industry, and the public are engaged in the process.
Volpe Center staff have demonstrated expertise in participating in and promoting a cooperative rather than an adversarial style of regulation development and compliance. The Center has supported consensus building for several DOT agencies, with particular emphasis on safety issues. The Center brings unbiased technical knowledge to working groups chartered to develop and revise regulations and to determine standards for new technologies. Participants value this impartiality as they address the complex issues involved in shaping reasonable regulations and standards. The Center also brings expertise in organizational development to facilitate mutual understanding of diverse perspectives.
Developing Regulations and Performance Standards
FRA Standards and Regulations
The railroad industry's overall safety record has improved during recent decades. However, train accidents do still occur, and there is room for improvement. In 2005, DOT and FRA launched a National Rail Safety Action Plan. The Action Plan includes initiatives intended to reduce train accidents caused by human factors, improve track safety, enhance hazardous materials safety and emergency preparedness, better focus FRA resources, and improve highway-rail grade crossing safety. The Volpe Center has supported FRA in developing design and performance standards and regulations in each of these areas; selected examples follow.
Passenger Train Emergency Preparedness Standards
FRA regulations are designed to ensure that passenger railroads plan for possible emergencies in order to minimize the potential consequences. Since 1993, Volpe Center experts have assisted the FRA Offices of Research and Development and Safety to ensure that passenger train rules (contained in 49 CFR, Parts 223, 238, and 239) reflect the current state of the art, are technically and economically feasible, and are enforceable. On August 24, 2006, FRA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Part 238 that is intended to enhance passenger train emergency system features, such as emergency exits, rescue access points, and emergency communications. Volpe Center experts played a key role by providing extensive technical assistance and demonstrations to FRA for the original 1998 and 1999 regulations and to the FRA Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) Emergency Preparedness Task Force, which developed the basis for the NPRM. This consensus-based task force consists of a variety of stakeholders, including Amtrak and commuter railroad management, labor organizations, rail car manufacturers, other vendors, and other interested parties, such as the National Transportation Safety Board.
The U.S. Constitution prescribes the responsibilities of the government's three branches- executive, legislative, and judicial- all of which have roles that underpin the nation's transportation system. The U.S. Congress authorizes the executive branch to implement statutes and to develop and enforce regulations. Laws and statutes establish procedures to ensure that regulations are developed in a transparent, interactive manner with the public.
Rulemaking refers to the process that executive agencies use to create, or promulgate, regulations. By bringing detailed technical expertise to bear on policy, the rulemaking process has resulted in enlightened regulations that promote the greater good. This Focus article presents some examples of the Volpe Center's role in this process. There are two kinds of rulemaking- formal and informal. Formal rulemaking calls for a trial-like, on-the-record proceeding. Most federal agencies, however, develop rules through informal rulemaking. The main requirements for informal rulemaking are:
- Publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register
- Opportunity for public participation by submission of written comments
- Consideration by the agency of public comments and other relevant material
- Publication of a Final Rule not less than 30 days before its effective date, with a statement explaining its purpose
Volpe Center experts also assisted the RSAC Task Force in revising the American Public Transportation Association/Passenger Rail Equipment Safety Standards (APTA/PRESS) for Emergency Lighting, Emergency Signs, and Low-Location Exit Path Marking. In 2007, FRA plans to publish an NPRM incorporating the three APTA standards by reference to further enhance the regulations contained in Part 238.
The foundation for the 1998 passenger train emergency preparedness regulations contained in Part 239 is a report, "Recommended Emergency Preparedness Guidelines for Passenger Trains," written by a Volpe Center expert and published in 1993 by FRA's Office of Research and Development.
Locomotive Horns Final Rule
For the last decade, the Volpe Center has supported FRA in evaluating locomotive horn systems. This work was prompted by concerns about the audibility of locomotive horns at highway-rail grade crossings in modern sound-insulated highway vehicles. The Center provided FRA with the empirical information necessary to promulgate a final rule by applying its acoustic, engineering, human factors, and field-operational-test research into the safety implications of positioning horns on locomotives, alternate solutions, and the comparative noise levels associated with different horn positions.
A final rule on locomotive auxiliary alerting lights was issued in 1995. As one strategy for reducing accidents at highway-rail grade crossings, the Volpe Center has supported FRA by investigating measures to make trains more visible to motor vehicle drivers at such crossings. Using engineering and human factors research, the Center has evaluated several external visual alerting devices. The results of field operational and laboratory tests indicate that the use of selected alerting light systems on locomotives rather than standard headlights alone is an effective means of enhancing locomotive visibility. Based on the Center's research, FRA's Final Rule identifies several types of auxiliary external alerting light arrangements as acceptable locomotive conspicuity measures.
Improving Tank Car Integrity
As trains get longer and heavier, FRA is investigating the need for enhancing tank car structural integrity. This research involves analyzing train forces in derailments to determine if the current design is adequate or if changes are needed. The first phase is development of a physics-based model to analyze the kinematics of railcars in a derailment; the second phase, development of a dynamic structural analysis model; and the third phase, assessment of the damage created by punctures, which entails application of fracturemechanics testing and analysis methods. The Volpe Center is currently involved in the modeling work. This research will help to provide critical information to guide FRA rulemaking that will address the design of pressurized tank cars. A recent Volpe Center report, "Engineering Analyses for Railroad Tank Car Head Puncture Resistance," is available at http://www.volpe.dot.gov/sdd/docs/puncture-1106.pdf.
Passenger Rail Equipment Crashworthiness
The Center conducts research into passenger rail equipment crashworthiness by applying analytical tools and testing techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of proposed strategies. The information from this research has been used to develop crashworthiness requirements for Amtrak's highspeed trainset as well as FRA's Passenger Equipment Safety Standards, and to draft revisions and additions to current FRA locomotive crashworthiness regulations and the Association of American Railroads standards. The goal of the research is to develop and evaluate practical concepts for increasing survivability in passenger train accidents. Major activities include conducting field investigations of passenger train accidents to determine the causes of injury and fatality, developing alternative strategies for increased occupant protection, and conducting full-scale impact testing to compare the effectiveness of conventional and improved crashworthiness strategies.
In support of FRA's research into strategies for improving the crashworthiness of commuter and intercity rail passenger trains, the Volpe Center has designed and conducted a series of full-scale commuter train crash tests at the Transportation Technical Center in Pueblo, Colorado, and has analyzed the results of these tests. By crashing trains under test conditions, researchers are able to analyze the structural integrity of cab cars and to examine the effects of crashes on passengers and crew members. The Center has also developed computer simulations and models of these test scenarios that are integral to an understanding of the problem. Initial tests of conventional equipment resulted in serious damage. As a result, the test equipment was modified to include a crash energy management (CEM) crush zone. The modified equipment demonstrated that, by distributing the crush to unoccupied spaces within the train, the survivable impact speed could be more than doubled. As a result of this testing, FRA has imposed more stringent specifications for rail cars being purchased for commuter rail systems. Such specifications must now include CEM as a design strategy. Volpe Center staff are also assisting commuter rail systems and manufacturers in meeting these new specifications.
Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) established a federal program to research, develop, and operationally test Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and to promote their implementation. The ITS Joint Program Office (JPO) coordinates DOT's multimodal ITS initiatives. The program focuses on intelligent vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, and the creation of an intelligent transportation system.
One area in which the Volpe Center supports the JPO is its comprehensive work on collisionavoidance systems.
Determining Functional Requirements of Crash Avoidance Systems
The Volpe Center's crash-avoidance work provides a foundation upon which industry can design and deploy safe and effective products. Through rigorous analysis of crash scenarios, Volpe Center researchers have gained a thorough understanding of collision types and causes. From this analysis, Volpe Center staff determine the functional requirements for a potential crash-avoidance system and assess existing technologies. Industry then designs and builds new systems based on these requirements.
Assessing Industry Prototypes
In its role as an independent evaluator, the Volpe Center assesses industry prototypes for safety benefits, driver acceptance, system capability, and deployment potential. The Center is currently evaluating three crashavoidance systems. Two of these systems target a specific type of crash- rear end or road departure- and use sensors to detect potential danger, a computer to evaluate the possibility of a collision, and a driver interface to relay information to the driver who can then act on it before the collision is inevitable. The third system is designed to alert a driver when it detects signs of drowsiness; it uses low-level infrared signals to monitor eye closure.
Regulatory Impact Analyses
The Volpe Center's economic and industry analysis specialists support DOT's agencies in preparing Regulatory Impact Assessments of proposed rulemaking. These assessments are key tools for delivering better regulations and successful policy because they present an analysis of the likely impacts of a policy change and the range of options for implementing it. For example, Center staff recently conducted a regulatory assessment of a proposed regulation for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) designed to ensure that motor carrier operators with a pattern or practice of noncompliance are identified and prevented from establishing new carriers or working for existing carriers until all agency requirements for corrective actions have been met. The regulation will reduce the likelihood of fatalities, injuries, and property and other damage resulting from incidents involving these unsafe carriers.
Enhancing Regulations and Allowing Waivers
Equal in importance to developing standards is the Center's expertise in helping the government to change those standards as technology evolves and circumstances change. Modernizing regulations is an ongoing process, and changes support the original intent of enhanced safety. The Volpe Center understands the complex regulatory change process, from preparing the technical requirements through publication of the Final Rule.
Track Safety Standards
The Center has supported FRA in the area of Vehicle-Track Interaction for more than 25 years. The Center's role has been pivotal in establishing and modifying safety standards designed to reduce the number of trackgeometry- related derailments. In the 1992 FRA reauthorization, Congress specifically mandated a comprehensive review of FRA Track Safety Standards, and in 1998 new track standards were issued. Since then, FRA continues to reexamine the standards in light of new conditions and to identify deficiencies in current laws and regulations, and it has issued several amendments. The Volpe Center has supported FRA's RSAC Track Vehicle Interaction Working Group and conducted numerous simulation studies designed to identify critical geometry irregularities associated with unsafe wheel forces and acceleration. The results are being used as the technical basis for developing track-geometry standards.
Federal agencies have the power to waive regulatory requirements under certain circumstances. The Center plays an important role in providing agencies with impartial analyses of the impact of the waivers. For example, FRA's Track Safety Standards require railroads to periodically inspect rail on lines where operating speeds exceed 40 mph and to take immediate action to preserve operational safety whenever a rail defect is discovered. The Volpe Center assisted FRA's Office of Safety in evaluating a Union Pacific Railroad request for a waiver. The railroad had proposed that, for defects not exceeding a specified size, deferral of repair or other action be permitted. The Center concluded that there are potential benefits to delayed action, such as an increase in the average number of track miles inspected per day by the detector car. This could in turn lead to a decrease in the number of rail failures. FRA took these findings into consideration in granting a test waiver. A copy of the report is available at http://www.volpe.dot.gov/sdd/docs/ fail/delayed.pdf.
Enforcing Regulations and Monitoring Compliance: Information Systems and Data Analysis Tools
Regulatory authorities must provide effective and consistent oversight and enforcement. DOT federal and state regulatory agencies employ a variety of tools for measuring compliance with transportation safety regulations.
A key element in both enforcement and industry engagement is the availability of safety databases and automated analytical tools that support effective program decisions and allow both government and industry to assess and monitor compliance and take corrective actions. The Volpe Center has proven expertise in developing safety databases that record the performance of carriers for several transportation modes. In 1985, following a tragic accident in Gander, Newfoundland, where a charter flight carrying more than 200 U.S. military personnel home for the holidays crashed and killed all on board, the Volpe Center worked with the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a safety performance monitoring system for air carriers. This provided DoD with a methodology for evaluating the safety of carriers. The Center expanded this capability by creating the Safety Performance Analysis System for scoring all air carriers. Similar techniques were subsequently used by Center staff to develop SafeStat, a system for assessing the relative safety of motor carriers. The structured data analysis tools described here support enforcement and compliance with safety regulations.
Analysis and Information (A&I) Online: Web-based Motor Carrier
Safety Information Resource
A&I Online provides useful motor carrier safety information quickly and efficiently via the Internet to FMCSA and state personnel, motor carriers, insurers, shippers, and other agencies to promote analytically sound, safety-conscious decisions. The system continues to evolve in response to technological advances and user needs.
The A&I Online website was initially developed in 1997 by the Volpe Center to provide FMCSA headquarters and field staff with access to current motor carrier safety data via the FMCSA Intranet. It soon became clear that this innovative tool could also promote motor carrier selfimprovement. In 1998, A&I became publicly available on the Internet. A&I Online continues to expand in scope and audience and is updated monthly based on user feedback and program goals. As it improves communication among government agencies, industry, and the public, A&I Online encourages a proactive approach to safety. One of the most popular U.S. DOT websites, it logged more than 1.5 million visits in 2006. Find it at http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/ or via the FMCSA homepage at http:// www.fmcsa.dot.gov/.
A&I Online provides comparative analysis, summary reports, and state and national rankings derived from multiple data sources. The site is organized into modules so that users can easily select their areas of interest.
- SafeStat Online is used by FMCSA field staff to identify and monitor carriers with safety deficiencies, and by carriers to obtain their own safety status measured relative to their peers. It provides detailed data on crashes, out-of-service inspections, moving violations, compliance review results, and enforcement cases.
- Crash Profiles Online provides summarized crash statistics for large trucks and buses involved in fatal and nonfatal crashes that occurred in the United States.
- Program Measures provides reports on a variety of performance data for three key FMCSA safety programs: On-Site Compliance Reviews, Roadside Inspections, and Traffic Enforcement.
- Passenger Carrier Safety provides easy-to-understand safety information about for-hire passenger carriers for school trip planners, senior citizen groups, and other buyers of bus services.
- NAFTA Safety Stats provides information and statistics on the U.S. operations of all nationally registered interstate motor carriers and hazardous materials intrastate motor carriers.
- Data Quality provides information and resources related to improving the quality of state-reported crash and inspection data.
- Analysis Results & Reports provides links to the FMCSA periodic publication MCSAFE (Motor Carrier Safety Analysis, Facts, and Evaluation), the SafeStat Effectiveness Study, the New Entrant Safety Fitness Assurance Study, Analysis Briefs, and other reports.
State Safety Data Quality
FMCSA shares a safety goal with the states to reduce the number and severity of crashes involving large trucks and buses on our nation's highways. To meet this common goal, it is essential that states collect and report to FMCSA complete, accurate, and timely data on motor carrier crashes and inspections. In turn, FMCSA uses this data to measure safety programs and monitor safety performance more effectively. The Volpe Center supports FMCSA efforts to improve the quality of state-reported data, which include raising awareness, measuring data quality, and disseminating results online.
FMCSA's State Safety Data Quality (SSDQ) methodology, developed by the Volpe Center, evaluates the completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and consistency of state-reported crash and inspection data, comparing the quality of state-reported data with standards set by FMCSA. The results of the analysis are disseminated via FMCSA's A&I Online website and are updated on a quarterly basis; this analysis helps states to determine where to focus their improvement efforts.
Improved data quality supports more efficient FMCSA data systems and enhances FMCSA's ability to identify potentially unsafe carriers and drivers.
Data Quality Improvement System
In support of FMCSA's emphasis on data quality, the Volpe Center recently developed DataQs, a web-based system that makes it easier for motor carriers to challenge the accuracy and completeness of safety data that has been disseminated to the public and to facilitate corrections to that data. This online system also makes it easier for FMCSA and state personnel to manage and take action on challenges to federal and state motor carrier data. With DataQs, FMCSA successfully streamlined the data-challenge process while meeting the needs of each user, from those filing the challenges to those managing them.
Motor Carrier Safety Enforcement
SafeStat (short for Motor Carrier Safety Status Measurement System) is an automated, data-driven analysis system designed by the Volpe Center to measure relative motor carrier safety fitness. The system is designed to maximize the use of state-reported data and centralized federal data systems. SafeStat allows FMCSA to continuously quantify and monitor changes in the safety status of motor carriers, especially those that are unsafe. This enables FMCSA enforcement and education programs to allocate resources efficiently to carriers that pose the highest risk of crash involvement.
Safety Program Effectiveness Measurement
The Volpe Center supported FMCSA in developing analytical models to measure the effectiveness of its safety programs. These models provide a baseline and an ongoing measurement tool through the use of standard safety performance measures. They also provide FMCSA with the information it needs to address the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993, which obligates all federal agencies to measure the effectiveness of their programs as part of the budget cycle process. To date, two models have been developed: the Compliance Review Effectiveness Model and the Intervention Model, which measures the effectiveness of the Roadside Inspection and Traffic Enforcement Programs. Both models measure the benefits of these programs in terms of crashes avoided, lives saved, and injuries avoided.
Identifying and Targeting High-Risk CMV Drivers
Research on commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes has highlighted driver behavior as an increasingly important factor. Since there was no centralized source of data on the regulatory compliance and safety performance of CMV drivers available to FMCSA and state enforcement personnel, the Volpe Center, in support of FMCSA, developed the Driver Information Resource (DIR), a web-based lookup capability providing crash and inspection histories on 3.8 million CMV drivers.
For a more detailed description of the Volpe Center's work on DIR see "Identifying and Targeting High-Risk Drivers with DIR (FMCSA)"
Supporting the Revised Hours-of-Service Rule
In 2003, FMCSA issued a revision to its Hours-of- Service rule as a result of concern about the effect of fatigue as a contributing factor in CMV crashes. The success of FMCSA's enforcement and education operations for the new rule depends in large part on reliable, up-to-date safety information systems. Center staff worked with FMCSA to ensure smooth implementation of the new regulations into existing FMCSA IT systems.
Pipeline Safety Monitoring and Reporting Tool
Volpe Center staff are currently developing a web-based safety monitoring tool for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The Safety Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) is an information technology project that will provide PHMSA with an integrated information source for identifying pipeline safety trends, targeting solutions, and measuring performance. SMART improves oversight of the pipeline industry by providing an easy-to-use single point of access to pipeline information. The tool can reduce the reporting burden on pipeline operators by fully implementing electronic data collection, using the Internet where possible, and sharing that information with state pipeline safety agencies and other federal agencies.
The Volpe Center's work supporting surface transportation regulations is an ongoing effort. As objectives change, the regulations must change as well. The Center has supported several administrations in developing regulations and performance standards involving detailed collaborative engineering and testing. The staff has also been heavily involved in developing guidelines to modify those standards as needed. The design of collaborative websites and data sources has provided practical tools to help ensure compliance and enforcement. The link between federal and state organizations is crucial to the successful enforcement of regulations; the Center's work for FMSCA in this arena provides a realistic model that could be applicable in other administrations. The Center is proud of its role in supporting the necessary agility of the regulatory process.