FRA rule calls for improved 'black box' standards

The survivability of railroad locomotive event recorders or "black boxes" will be improved to enhance the quality of post-accident investigations as a result of a final rule entered into the Federal Register on June 30.

Under the rule, developed by the Federal Railroad Administration through the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) process, event recorders will be hardened to prevent the loss of data from exposure to fire, impact shock, fluid immersion, and other potential damage resulting from train accidents. Older event recorders that rely on magnetic tape for data storage will be phased out over the next four years.

Currently, locomotive event recorders capture many pieces of information, including train speed, use of automatic air brakes, throttle position and cab signal indications. The new rule requires that new data required be captured by event recorders, including horn activation, cruise control functions and train control operating directives sent to the engineer's onboard display.

Through the RSAC process, the BLET did a tremendous amount of work on this project to ensure that the final rule addresses many concerns locomotive engineers and trainmen have regarding new technologies in the industry.

The FRA is amending its existing regulations in four major ways:

The rule requires railroads to keep data stored on event recorders involved in accidents for one year, up from the current 30-day requirement.

This regulation has been developed over the past eight years through the RSAC process and has been driven by recommendations from the NTSB.

The Final Rule effective date is October 1, 2005. The final rule is available on the FRA's web site at and in docket number FRA-2003-16357 at

It is also available on the BLET website at:


© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen