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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 Rail Equipment Overview

Research efforts in the Passenger Rail Equipment program area focus on the development and improvement of rail equipment. The rail vehicle is integral in the protection of train occupants. The structural integrity of rail vehicles is very important. The rail vehicle’s structural crashworthiness is researched extensively with the ultimate goal of development methods and processes to maintain and improve the safety of the passengers during collisions. FRA Office of Research and Development lends support to the Office of Safety in the monitoring of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) Acela train sets.

Structural Crashworthiness 

The purpose of this project, initiated in 1995, is to develop safety assessment methods and assemble design data to improve the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles. Advances in mathematical modeling methods are sought to bring the methodology up to the state-of-the-art in crash analysis, reflecting improvements in computing capabilities. A series of analyses and tests, involving different collision scenarios, are used to verify the models and evaluate the possible changes of cab and car structures to improve the safety of crew and passengers. As part of this study, several design concepts of crash energy management (CEM) have been evaluated and one CEM design, engineered by using zones of controlled crush, was selected to improve crashworthiness performance over existing passenger car designs. This design causes the collision energy to be absorbed by a series of components with known structural characteristics. A series of full-scale quasi-static and dynamic tests are planned on conventional equipment of various designs to establish the baseline level of performance to loading conditions established based on a review of historical accident consequences or active field investigations.

Passenger Rail Equipment 

Commuter railroads and transit authorities anticipate continued growth in the demand for their services, and at the same time they face constraints in the availability of capital to construct new systems. Consequently, they view the use of existing railroad tracks as a key element of their strategy to initiate new commuter rail services with the lowest possible capital outlay. To keep capital and operating costs for rolling stock low, commuter railroads and transit authorities in some instances are considering service with self-propelled Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) cars, and in other instances are considering use of electric Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs). This research program focuses on ensuring that the next generation of passenger rail cars that are being operated across the country meets the Federal regulatory requirements as outline in 49 CFR § 238. Also, FRA R&D continues to provide support to the Office of Safety on issues related to testing of equipment for use in high-speed operations. This includes the support of testing related to qualifying equipment as required in Subpart G of the Track Safety Standards dated June 1998. Key research activities include the review of test procedures and data associated with high-speed testing. This task typically addresses dynamics related issues that arise during testing and operation of Acela.