FRA Seeks Comment On Whether Railroad Operations Should Be Automated

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) was enacted 110 years ago to place economic pressure on the railroad barons to spend money to make it safer to work in the interstate railroad industry.  The FELA makes interstate railroads legally responsible for providing their employees with a reasonably safe place to work.  This has been interpreted over the years to include a legal obligation to provide: proper supervision; necessary training; reasonably safe equipment and tools; necessary manpower, etc.  If an interstate railroad negligently fails to provide a reasonably safe place to work, and that failure is a cause, even in the slightest degree, the railroad can be held liable for the employee’s personal and economic injuries (i.e. pain and suffering, lost wages, lost fringe benefits including lost pensions, lost enjoyment of life).  The FELA is the exclusive legal remedy for an injured interstate railroad employee who is exempt from state workers’ compensation laws.  For 110 years, the railroad industry has attempted to have the FELA repealed by Congress and, more recently, replaced with a federal workers compensation system.  

Over the course of time, railroads have been eliminating employees.  In the freight railroad business, the elimination of a caboose was accompanied by the elimination of one or more train crew members.  Automated coupling of freight train cars and automated switches have further reduced the number of railroad employees.  Now, the prospect of fully automated railroads may provide the ultimate vehicle to eliminate claims under the FELA.  Consistent with the current administration’s efforts to ease regulations on industry, the Federal Railroad Administration is now seeking comment regarding the extent to which the railroad industry can and should be automated.




Federal Railroad Administration

[Docket No. FRA-2018-0027]

Automation in the Railroad Industry

AGENCY: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Department of Transportation


ACTION: Request for Information (RFI).


SUMMARY: FRA requests information and comment on the future of automation in the

railroad industry. FRA is interested in hearing from industry stakeholders, the public,

local and State governments, and any other interested parties on the extent to which they

believe railroad operations can (and should) be automated, and the potential benefits,

costs, risks, and challenges to achieving such automation. FRA also seeks comment on

how the agency can best support the railroad industry’s development and implementation

of new and emerging technologies in automation that will lead to continuous safety

improvements and increased efficiencies in railroad operations.

DATES: Comments and information responsive to this request should be received by



ADDRESSES: You may submit information and comments identified by the docket

This document is scheduled to be published in the

Federal Register on 03/22/2018 and available online at, and on


number FRA-2018-0027 by any one of the following methods:

• Fax: 1-202-493-2251;

• Mail: U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, West

Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE,

Washington, DC 20590;

• Hand Delivery: U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations,

West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue,

SE, Washington, DC 20590, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through

Friday, except Federal holidays; or

• Electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Follow the online instructions for submitting


Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket name, and

docket number for this RFI (FRA-2018-0027). Note that all comments and data received

in response to this RFI will be posted without change to,

including any personal information provided. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act

information related to any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read comments received, go to at any time or to U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket

Operations, M-30, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey

Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday,


except Federal holidays.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Cipriano, Special Assistant to

the Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE,

Washington, DC 20590 (telephone: 202-493-6017), [email protected].


I. Overview

FRA seeks to understand the current stage and development of automated railroad

operations and how the agency can best position itself to support the integration and

implementation of new automation technologies to increase the safety, reliability, and the

capacity of the nation’s railroad system. As in other transportation modes, there are

varying levels of automation that already are, or could potentially be, implemented in the

railroad industry. Currently, U.S. passenger and freight railroads do not have a fully

autonomous rail operation in revenue service; however, railroads commonly use

automated systems for dispatching, meet and pass trip planning, locomotive fuel trip time

optimization, and signaling and train control. Railroads conduct many switching and

yard operations by remote control and automated equipment and track inspections

technologies are used to augment manual inspection methods. Modern locomotive cabs

are equipped with intelligent information systems designed to provide operating crews

with up-to-date situational awareness as train sensor data and alarms are continuously

updated and displayed in operator consoles within the cab. Railroads often now utilize

energy management technology (the equivalent of automobile cruise-control) to optimize

fuel consumption based on specific operational and equipment factors, as well as


movement planner systems designed to optimize in real-time, train movements on the rail

network. Railroads are implementing statutorily mandated positive train control

technology (a processor-based/communications-based train control system) to prevent

train accidents by automatically controlling train speeds and movements if a train

operator fails to take appropriate action in certain operational scenarios. These various

systems of automation and technologies have transformed rail operations in recent years,

improving railroad operational safety and efficiency.

FRA has helped developed many of these technologies and enhancements to these

technologies are currently underway to support more advanced train control schemes and

fully autonomous operations. In the fall of 2017, the Association of American Railroads,

the freight rail industry’s primary industry organization that focuses on policy, research,

standard setting and technology, formed a Technical Advisory Group on autonomous

train operations (ATO TAG). The focus of the ATO TAG is to define industry standards

for an interoperable system to support enhanced safety and efficiency of autonomous

train operations. The ATO TAG intends to develop standardization to support common

interfaces and functions, such that technology may be applied in an interoperable fashion,

while also allowing some flexibility in the specific design, implementation and packaging

of the technology.

Internationally, the only known fully-autonomous freight railroad system is in

Australia. The system is part of the Australia Rio Tinto mining company and began

fully-autonomous train operations on an approximately 62-mile stretch of track in

Western Australia. This Rio Tinto train is equipped with a variety of sensors (e.g., radar,


cameras, kangaroo collisions sensors) and with a switch to toggle between autonomous

operation or operation with an operator on board.

FRA seeks to understand the rail industry’s plans for future development and

implementation of automated train systems and technologies and the industry’s plans and

expectations related to potential fully-automated rail operations. FRA is specifically

interested in the anticipated benefits, costs, risks, and challenges to achieving the

industry’s desired level of automation. FRA also seeks to understand how the rail

industry’s plans for future automation may affect other stakeholders, including railroad

employees, the traveling public and freight shipping industry, railroad industry suppliers

and equipment manufacturers, communities through which railroads operate, and any

other interested parties.

FRA also seeks comment on the appropriate taxonomy to use to provide a

baseline framework for the continued development and implementation of automated

technology in the railroad industry. For example, both SAE, for on-road vehicles, and the

International Association of Public Transport’s (UITP) for public transit fixed guideway

(rail) have developed taxonomies for their respective modes of transportation.

The SAE definitions divide vehicles into levels based on “who does what, when.”


·  At SAE Level 0, the driver does everything.

·  At SAE Level 1, an automated system on the vehicle can sometimes assist the

driver conduct some parts of the driving task.

·  At SAE Level 2, an automated system on the vehicle can actually conduct some


parts of the driving task, while the driver continues to monitor the driving

environment and performs the rest of the driving task.

·  At SAE Level 3, an automated system can both actually conduct some parts of the

driving task and monitor the driving environment in some instances, but the driver

must be ready to take back control when the automated system requests.

·  At SAE Level 4, an automated system can conduct the driving task and monitor

the driving environment, and the driver need not take back control, but the

automated system can operate only in certain environments and under certain


·  At SAE Level 5, the automated system can perform all driving tasks, under all

conditions that a driver could perform them.

Using the SAE levels described above, the Department has drawn a distinction for

non-road vehicles between Levels 0-2 and 3-5 based on whether the human driver or the

automated system is primarily responsible for monitoring the driving environment.

Automatic Train Operation of public transit fixed guideway (rail) systems is an

operational safety enhancement to automate operations of trains. It is mainly used on

fixed guideway rail systems which are easier to ensure safety of agency staff and

passengers. Basically, each grade defines distinct functions of train operation that are the

responsibility of agency staff and those that are the responsibility of the rail system itself.

Similar to SAE, UITP defines grades of automation (GoA) for fixed guideway

(rail) systems.



·  At UITP Grade 0, on-sight train operation, similar to a streetcar running in mixed


·  At UITP Grade 1, manual train operation where a train operator controls starting

and stopping, operation of doors and handling of emergencies or sudden


·  At UITP Grade 2, semi-automatic train operation where starting and stopping is

automated, but the train operator or conductor controls the doors, drives the train

if needed and handles emergencies (many ATO systems worldwide are Grade 2),

·  At UITP Grade 3, driverless train operation where starting and stopping are

automated but a train attendant or conductor controls the doors and drives the

train in case of emergencies.

·  At UITP Grade 4, unattended train operation where starting and stopping,

operation of doors and handling of emergencies are fully automated without any

on-train staff.

FRA requests comment on the applicability of these or other taxonomies for

automation should be applied to railroads.

II. Questions Posed

Although FRA seeks comments and relevant information and data on all issues

related to the development and continued implementation of automated train systems and

technologies and potentially fully autonomous train operations, FRA specifically requests

comment and data in response to the following questions:



1. To what extent do railroads plan to automate operations? Do railroads

plan to implement fully autonomous rail vehicles (i.e., vehicles capable of sensing their

environments and operating without human input)? If so, for what types of operations?

2. How do commenters envision the path to wide-scale development and

implementation of autonomous rail operations (or operations increasingly reliant on

automated train systems or technologies)? What is the potential timeframe for

technology prototype availability for testing and for deployment of such technologies?

3. As discussed above, the railroad industry is currently taking steps in

developing standards for automation. How does the railroad industry currently define

“autonomous operations”? Would it be helpful to develop automated rail taxonomy; a

system of standards to clarify and define different levels of automation in trains, as

currently exists for on-road vehicles and rail transit? What, if any, efforts are already

under way to develop such rail automation taxonomy? Should FRA embrace any

existing and defined levels of automation in the railroad industry or other transportation

modes such as highways or public transit? For example, should FRA consider SAE

Standard J3016_201609 (see, which provides for

six GoA for on-road vehicles, or the four GoA for public transit fixed guideway


4. What limitations and/or risks (e.g., practical, economic, safety, or other)

are already known or anticipated in implementing these types of technologies? How

should the railroad industry anticipate addressing these limitations and/or risks, and what

efforts are currently underway to address them? Are any mitigating efforts expected in


the future and what is the timeline for such efforts?

5. What benefits and efficiencies (e.g., practical, economic, safety, or other)

do commenters anticipate that railroads will be able to achieve by implementing these


6. What societal benefits if any, could be expected to result from the

adoption of these technologies (e.g., environmental, or noise reduction)? What societal

disadvantages could occur?

7. What, if anything, is needed from other railroad industry participants (e.g.,

rail equipment and infrastructure suppliers, manufacturers, maintainers) to support

railroads’ automation efforts?

8. How does the state of automation of U.S. railroad operations compare to

that of railroads in other countries? What can be learned from automation employed or

under development in other countries? What are the unique characteristics of U.S.

railroad operations and/or infrastructure as compared to railroads in other countries that

may affect the wide-scale automation of railroad operations in this country?


9. How do commenters believe these technologies could increase rail safety?

10. What processes do railroads have in place to identify potential safety

and/or security, including cybersecurity, risks arising during the adoption of these

technologies and that may result from the adoption of such technologies?

11. How should railroads plan to ensure identified safety and/or security risks

are adequately addressed during the development and implementation of these new


technologies? What is an acceptable level of risk in this context?

12. How should railroads plan to ensure the integration of these technologies

will not adversely affect, and will instead improve, the safety and/or security of railroad


13. How do railroads plan to ensure safety and security from cyber risks?

14. How do the safety and/or security, including cyber risks, faced by U.S.

railroads implementing these technologies compare to the risks faced by railroads

operating in other countries? How have railroads in other countries addressed or

mitigated these risks? Are there opportunities for cross-border collaboration to address

such risks?


15. What are the infrastructure needs for effectively, safely, and securely

implementing these technologies? FRA is particularly interested in wayside,

communication, onboard, operating personnel, testing, maintenance, certification, and

data infrastructure needs, as well as any other expected or anticipated infrastructure


16. How can the nation’s existing rail infrastructure be leveraged to support

the implementation of new infrastructure, necessary for the adoption of automated and

autonomous operations?


17. What is the potential impact of the adoption of these technologies on the

existing railroad industry workforce?


18. Would the continued implementation of these technologies, including

fully autonomous rail vehicles, create new jobs and/or eliminate the need for existing jobs

in the railroad industry?

19. What railroad employee training needs would likely result from the

adoption of these technologies? For example, if the technology fails en route, will an

onboard employee be trained to take over operation of the vehicle manually or be

required to repair the technology en route?


20. What potential legal issues are raised by the development and

implementation of autonomous train systems and technologies within the industry?

21. What are the regulatory challenges (rail-specific or DOT-wide) that must

be addressed before autonomous rail vehicles can be made a part of railroad operations in

the United States?

22. Are there current safety standards and/or regulations that impede the

development and/or implementation of automated train systems or technologies in the

railroad industry, including the development and/or implementation of autonomous rail

vehicles? If so, what are they and how should they be addressed?


23. Are there current or anticipated railroad industry, private, international, or

State or local government pilot projects or research initiatives involving automated train

systems or technologies potentially in need of FRA support? If so, what are the needs

(e.g., regulatory, technical)?


24. What data relevant to the development and integration of automated train

systems and technologies currently exists that could be leveraged to address future

government/industry research needs?

III. Public Participation

FRA invites all interested parties to submit comments, data, and information

related to the specific questions listed in Section II above and any other comments, data,

or information relevant to issues related to the development and implementation in the

railroad industry of new automated train systems or technologies.

How do I prepare and submit comments?

Your comments should be written and in English. To ensure that your comments

are filed in the correct docket, please include docket number FRA-2018-0027 in your


Please submit your comments to the docket following the instruction given above

under ADDRESSES. If you are submitting comments electronically as a PDF (Adobe)

file, we ask that the document submitted be scanned using an Optical Character

Recognition process, thus allowing FRA to search your comments.

How do I request confidential treatment of my submission?

Although FRA encourages the submission of information that can be freely and

publicly shared, if you wish to submit any information under a claim of confidentiality,

you must follow the procedures in 49 CFR 209.11.

Will FRA consider late comments?

FRA will consider all comments received before the close of business on the


comment closing date indicated above under DATES. To the extent possible, FRA will

also consider comments after that date.

How can I read the comments submitted by other people?

You may read the comments received at the address given above under

Comments. The hours of the docket are indicated above in the same location. You may

also read the comments on the Internet, filed in the docket number at the heading of this

notice, at

Please note that, even after the comment closing date, FRA will continue to file

any relevant information it receives in the docket as it becomes available. Further, some

people may submit late comments. Accordingly, FRA recommends that you periodically

check the docket for new material.

IV. Privacy Act Statement

FRA notes that anyone is able to search (at the electronic

form of all filings received into any of DOT’s dockets by the name of the individual

submitting the filing (or signing the filing, if submitted on behalf of an association,

business, labor union, or other organization). You may review DOT’s complete Privacy

Act Statement published in the Federal Register on April 11, 2000 (Volume 65, Number

70, Pages 19477-78), or you may view the privacy notice of at!privacyNotice.

Authority: 49 U.S.C. 20101 et seq.

Issued in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2018.



Juan D. Reyes, III,

Acting Deputy Administrator.

[FR Doc. 2018-05786 Filed: 3/21/2018 8:45 am; Publication Date: 3/22/2018]

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