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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Passenger Protection


A crash test dummy seated in a rear-facing '1st Row Launch Seat' is launched into the '2nd Row Impact Seat,' with its head colliding with the head and chest of another test dummy seated in the 3rd Row seat.The Train Occupant Protection Program (TOP) conducts research on the structural crashworthiness and interior safety of locomotives and intercity and commuter railcars, with the aim of improving the survivability of rail passengers and crewmembers in accidents.

While intercity and commuter passenger train operations in the U.S. have generally been safe, there are hazards involved in rail travel, as in all forms of transportation. In the event of a collision or derailment, train occupants are subjected to risk of injury from loss of occupied space and the secondary forces generated as they impact interior surfaces during the ride-down phase of the incident. 

In the event of a fire, passengers are subjected to the risk of smoke inhalation and burning. Once the train has come to a complete stop, passengers must determine the appropriate action to take and may have to quickly locate, reach, and operate emergency exits to self-evacuate. Should emergency responder assistance be necessary for evacuation of occupants, emergency responders must be familiar with the operating environment as well as the rail equipment involved.

FRA develops Federal regulations and supports industry standards for the safety of passenger rail equipment, including crashworthiness, fire safety, and emergency preparedness. FRA and the industry must remain vigilant to ensure that passenger railroads continue to be operated at a high level of safety, and there are several initiatives underway to promote the safety of passenger rail operations.


The objectives of TOP, consistent with DOT Strategic Goals, are to promote and improve safety on the national passenger rail transportation system. The research program focuses on developing information that will be used as the basis for updating the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and industry standards. The TOP Program is structured into subprogram areas of research outlined below.

A tree diagram detailing the train occupant protection program objectives.