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WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Friday announced a new rule intended to improve railway safety and lower the risk of derailments, in part by requiring more frequent track inspections and prompt repairs when flaws are detected.
The rule change followed a review that started in October 2012 and took into consideration a number of railroad accidents in the United States dating back to a 2001 Amtrak derailment in Iowa in which one person was killed and 78 were injured.
"Safety is our highest priority, and this new rule will make rail transportation even safer for everything from passengers and rail employees to crude oil and other freight shipments," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
Separately, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has been studying railcar design and the composition of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota after a string of explosive derailments.
Last month, a 106-car BNSF Railway Co train carrying crude oil crashed into a derailed grain train near Casselton, North Dakota. While no one was hurt in the Casselton incident, last July a runaway train carrying Bakken oil derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.
Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who has pressed for railroad safety measures said the rule change "is a good step forward as we continue to press for the smart, long-term measures that will improve rail safety."
A 28-page document of the new rule from the Federal Railroad Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, was published in the Federal Register. A public comment period runs through May 9.
Highlights of the rule include:
- Requiring the use of performance-based rail inspection methods that focus on maintaining low rail failure rates per mile of track and generally results in more frequent testing.
- Providing a four-hour period to verify that certain less serious suspected defects exist in a rail section once track owners learn that the rail contains an indication of those defects.
- Requiring that inspectors are properly qualified to operate rail flaw detection equipment and interpret test results.
- Establishing an annual maximum allowable rate of rail defects and rail failures between inspections for each designated inspection segment of track.