Passenger rail equipment research in the U.S.
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Passenger rail equipment research in the U.S.

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  • Alternative Title:
    Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on the Passive Safety of Rail Vehicles
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    In 1989 the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) initiated a program of research into the safety aspects of high-speed passenger train systems. Collision safety – the balancing of collision avoidance measures of the system with the crashworthiness features of the train – was part of this program of research.

    This program was initiated in response to growing interest in high-speed passenger rail. In the late 1980’s high-speed passenger train service, with train speeds up to 320 kph (200 mph), was proposed (and subsequently cancelled) for Florida and Texas on a triangular route with San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas/Fort Worth at the corners. In the early 1990’s Amtrak demonstrated the German ICE and Swedish X200 in the Northeast Corridor.

    One of the first results of this research was a risk-based approach for assessing collision safety [1]. This approach was used in the development of the crashworthiness specifications for Amtrak’s high-speed trainset, which is now in service in the Northeast Corridor. Additional studies of alternative crashworthiness approaches and occupant protection measures were also carried out to support the development of the high-speed trainset crashworthiness specifications [2, 3, 4].

    The scope of the crashworthiness research was later broadened to include inter-city and commuter rail passenger trains operated at speeds less than 200 kph (125 mph). In 1996, a Rail Equipment Crashworthiness Symposium was held at the Volpe Center, with sessions on collision risk, structural crashworthiness, and occupant protection. Researchers from England and France made presentations, as did researchers from the U.S. [5]. This Symposium was held to support the development of the FRA passenger equipment safety standards. A number of other studies on occupant protection [6] and structural crashworthiness [7] were also carried out in support of this rulemaking effort.

    The results of the FRA’s research on rail equipment crashworthiness were made available to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for development of its Manual of Standards and Recommended Practices, by allowing ex officio representation of the FRA and Volpe Center on APTA Passenger Rail Equipment Safety Standard (PRESS) Construction/Structural Subcommittee and by conducting several studies requested by APTA, including cost/benefit analysis of alternative structural crashworthiness strategies and sled tests of commuter rail passenger seats. Research studies on passenger equipment crashworthiness are being carried out to develop the base of information required for the next phase of rulemaking. Ongoing research into rail equipment crashworthiness ranges from field investigations of the causes of occupant injury and fatality in train accidents, to full-scale testing of existing and modified designs under conditions intended to approximate accident conditions [8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15], to investigations of the fundamental mechanics of structural crush.

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