49 CFR Appendix A to Part 209, Statement of Agency Policy Concerning Enforcement of the Federal Railroad Safety Laws

Status message

There are 2 Updates appearing in the Federal Register for 49 CFR Part 209. View below or at eCFR (GPOAccess)
Appendix A to Part 209 - Statement of Agency Policy Concerning Enforcement of the Federal Railroad Safety Laws

The Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) enforces the Federal railroad safety statutes under delegation from the Secretary of Transportation. See 49 CFR 1.49(c), (d), (f), (g), (m), and (oo). Those statutes include 49 U.S.C. ch. 201-213 and uncodified provisions of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (Pub. L. 110-432, Div. A, 122 Stat. 4848). On July 4, 1994, the day before the enactment of Public Law 103-272, 108 Stat. 745, the Federal railroad safety statutes included the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (“Safety Act”) (then codified at 45 U.S.C. 421et seq.), and a group of statutes enacted prior to 1970 referred to collectively herein as the “older safety statutes”: the Safety Appliance Acts (then codified at 45 U.S.C. 1-16); the Locomotive Inspection Act (then codified at 45 U.S.C. 22-34); the Accident Reports Act (then codified at 45 U.S.C. 38-43); the Hours of Service Act (then codified at 45 U.S.C. 61-64b); and the Signal Inspection Act (then codified at 49 App. U.S.C. 26). Effective July 5, 1994, Public Law 103-272 repealed certain general and permanent laws related to transportation, including these rail safety laws (the Safety Act and the older safety statutes), and reenacted them as revised by that law but without substantive change in title 49 of the U.S. Code, ch. 201-213. Regulations implementing the Federal rail safety laws are found at 49 CFR parts 209-244.. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100-342, enacted June 22, 1988) (“RSIA”) raised the maximum civil penalties available under the railroad safety laws and made individuals liable for willful violations of those laws. FRA also enforces the hazardous materials transportation laws (49 U.S.C. ch. 51 and uncodified provisions) (formerly the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, 49 App. U.S.C. 1801 et seq., which was also repealed by Public Law 103-272, July 5, 1994, and reenacted as revised but without substantive change) as it pertains to the shipment or transportation of hazardous materials by rail.

The Civil Penalty Process

The front lines in the civil penalty process are the FRA safety inspectors: FRA employs over 300 inspectors, and their work is supplemented by approximately 100 inspectors from states participating in enforcement of the federal rail safety laws. These inspectors routinely inspect the equipment, track, and signal systems and observe the operations of the nation's railroads. They also investigate hundreds of complaints filed annually by those alleging noncompliance with the laws. When inspection or complaint investigation reveals noncompliance with the laws, each noncomplying condition or action is listed on an inspection report. Where the inspector determines that the best method of promoting compliance is to assess a civil penalty, he or she prepares a violation report, which is essentially a recommendation to the FRA Office of Chief Counsel to assess a penalty based on the evidence provided in or with the report.

In determining which instances of noncompliance merit penalty recommendations, the inspector considers:

(1) The inherent seriousness of the condition or action;

(2) The kind and degree of potential safety hazard the condition or action poses in light of the immediate factual situation;

(3) Any actual harm to persons or property already caused by the condition or action;

(4) The offending person's (i.e., railroad's or individual's) general level of current compliance as revealed by the inspection as a whole;

(5) The person's recent history of compliance with the relevant set of regulations, especially at the specific location or division of the railroad involved;

(6) Whether a remedy other than a civil penalty (ranging from a warning on up to an emergency order) is more appropriate under all of the facts; and

(7) Such other factors as the immediate circumstances make relevant.

The civil penalty recommendation is reviewed at the regional level by a specialist in the subject matter involved, who requires correction of any technical flaws and determines whether the recommendation is consistent with national enforcement policy in similar circumstances. Guidance on that policy in close cases is sometimes sought from Office of Safety headquarters. Violation reports that are technically and legally sufficient and in accord with FRA policy are sent from the regional office to the Office of Chief Counsel.

The exercise of this discretion at the field and regional levels is a vital part of the enforcement process, ensuring that the exacting and time-consuming civil penalty process is used to address those situations most in need of the deterrent effect of penalties. FRA exercises that discretion with regard to individual violators in the same manner it does with respect to railroads.

The Office of Chief Counsel's Safety Division reviews each violation report it receives from the regional offices for legal sufficiency and assesses penalties based on those allegations that survive that review. Historically, the Division has returned to the regional offices less than five percent of the reports submitted in a given year, often with a request for further work and resubmission.

Where the violation was committed by a railroad, penalties are assessed by issuance of a penalty demand letter that summarizes the claims, encloses the violation report with a copy of all evidence on which FRA is relying in making its initial charge, and explains that the railroad may pay in full or submit, orally or in writing, information concerning any defenses or mitigating factors. The railroad safety statutes, in conjunction with the Federal Claims Collection Act, authorize FRA to adjust or compromise the initial penalty claims based on a wide variety of mitigating factors. This system permits the efficient collection of civil penalties in amounts that fit the actual offense without resort to time-consuming and expensive litigation. Over its history, FRA has had to request that the Attorney General bring suit to collect a penalty on only a very few occasions.

Once penalties have been assessed, the railroad is given a reasonable amount of time to investigate the charges. Larger railroads usually make their case before FRA in an informal conference covering a number of case files that have been issued and investigated since the previous conference. Thus, in terms of the negotiating time of both sides, economies of scale are achieved that would be impossible if each case were negotiated separately. The settlement conferences, held either in Washington or another mutually agreed on location, include technical experts from both FRA and the railroad as well as lawyers for both parties. In addition to allowing the two sides to make their cases for the relative merits of the various claims, these conferences also provide a forum for addressing current compliance problems. Smaller railroads usually prefer to handle negotiations through the mail or over the telephone, often on a single case at a time. Once the two sides have agreed to an amount on each case, that agreement is put in writing and a check is submitted to FRA's accounting division covering the full amount agreed on.

Cases brought under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, 49 App. U.S.C. 1801 et seq., are, due to certain statutory requirements, handled under more formal administrative procedures. See 49 CFR part 209, subpart B.

Civil Penalties Against Individuals

The RSIA amended the penalty provisions of the railroad safety statutes to make them applicable to any “person (including a railroad and any manager, supervisor, official, or other employee or agent of a railroad)” who fails to comply with the regulations or statutes. E.g., section 3 of the RSIA, amending section 209 of the Safety Act. However, the RSIA also provided that civil penalties may be assessed against individuals “only for willful violations.”

Thus, any individual meeting the statutory description of “person” is liable for a civil penalty for a willful violation of, or for willfully causing the violation of, the safety statutes or regulations. Of course, as has traditionally been the case with respect to acts of noncompliance by railroads, the FRA field inspector exercises discretion in deciding which situations call for a civil penalty assessment as the best method of ensuring compliance. The inspector has a range of options, including an informal warning, a more formal warning letter issued by the Safety Division of the Office of Chief Counsel, recommendation of a civil penalty assessment, recommendation of disqualification or suspension from safety-sensitive service, or, under the most extreme circumstances, recommendation of emergency action.

The threshold question in any alleged violation by an individual will be whether that violation was “willful.” (Note that section 3(a) of the RSIA, which authorizes suspension or disqualification of a person whose violation of the safety laws has shown him or her to be unfit for safety-sensitive service, does not require a showing of willfulness. Regulations implementing that provision are found at 49 CFR part 209, subpart D.) FRA proposed this standard of liability when, in 1987, it originally proposed a statutory revision authorizing civil penalties against individuals. FRA believed then that it would be too harsh a system to collect fines from individuals on a strict liability basis, as the safety statutes permit FRA to do with respect to railroads. FRA also believed that even a reasonable care standard (e.g., the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act's standard for civil penalty liability, 49 U.S.C. 1809(a)) would subject individuals to civil penalties in more situations than the record warranted. Instead, FRA wanted the authority to penalize those who violate the safety laws through a purposeful act of free will.

Thus, FRA considers a “willful” violation to be one that is an intentional, voluntary act committed either with knowledge of the relevant law or reckless disregard for whether the act violated the requirements of the law. Accordingly, neither a showing of evil purpose (as is sometimes required in certain criminal cases) nor actual knowledge of the law is necessary to prove a willful violation, but a level of culpability higher than negligence must be demonstrated. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston,469 U.S. 111 (1985); Brock v. Morello Bros. Constr., Inc. 809 F.2d 161 (1st Cir. 1987); and Donovan v. Williams Enterprises, Inc., 744 F.2d 170 (D.C. Cir. 1984).

Reckless disregard for the requirements of the law can be demonstrated in many ways. Evidence that a person was trained on or made aware of the specific rule involved - or, as is more likely, its corresponding industry equivalent - would suffice. Moreover, certain requirements are so obviously fundamental to safe railroading (e.g., the prohibition against disabling an automatic train control device) that any violation of them, regardless of whether the person was actually aware of the prohibition, should be seen as reckless disregard of the law. See Brock, supra, 809 F.2d 164. Thus, a lack of subjective knowledge of the law is no impediment to a finding of willfulness. If it were, a mere denial of the content of the particular regulation would provide a defense. Having proposed use of the word “willful,” FRA believes it was not intended to insulate from liability those who simply claim - contrary to the established facts of the case - they had no reason to believe their conduct was wrongful.

A willful violation entails knowledge of the facts constituting the violation, but actual, subjective knowledge need not be demonstrated. It will suffice to show objectively what the alleged violator must have known of the facts based on reasonable inferences drawn from the circumstances. For example, a person shown to have been responsible for performing an initial terminal air brake test that was not in fact performed would not be able to defend against a charge of a willful violation simply by claiming subjective ignorance of the fact that the test was not performed. If the facts, taken as a whole, demonstrated that the person was responsible for doing the test and had no reason to believe it was performed by others, and if that person was shown to have acted with actual knowledge of or reckless disregard for the law requiring such a test, he or she would be subject to a civil penalty.

This definition of “willful” fits squarely within the parameters for willful acts laid out by Congress in the RSIA and its legislative history. Section 3(a) of the RSIA amends the Safety Act to provide:

For purposes of this section, an individual shall be deemed not to have committed a willful violation where such individual has acted pursuant to the direct order of a railroad official or supervisor, under protest communicated to the supervisor. Such individual shall have the right to document such protest.

As FRA made clear when it recommended legislation granting individual penalty authority, a railroad employee should not have to choose between liability for a civil penalty or insubordination charges by the railroad. Where an employee (or even a supervisor) violates the law under a direct order from a supervisor, he or she does not do so of his or her free will. Thus, the act is not a voluntary one and, therefore, not willful under FRA's definition of the word. Instead, the action of the person who has directly ordered the commission of the violation is itself a willful violation subjecting that person to a civil penalty. As one of the primary sponsors of the RSIA said on the Senate floor:

This amendment also seeks to clarify that the purpose of imposing civil penalties against individuals is to deter those who, of their free will, decide to violate the safety laws. The purpose is not to penalize those who are ordered to commit violations by those above them in the railroad chain of command. Rather, in such cases, the railroad official or supervisor who orders the others to violate the law would be liable for any violations his order caused to occur. One example is the movement of railroad cars or locomotives that are actually known to contain certain defective conditions. A train crew member who was ordered to move such equipment would not be liable for a civil penalty, and his participation in such movements could not be used against him in any disqualification proceeding brought by FRA.

133 Cong. Rec. S.15899 (daily ed. Nov. 5, 1987) (remarks of Senator Exon).

It should be noted that FRA will apply the same definition of “willful” to corporate acts as is set out here with regard to individual violations. Although railroads are strictly liable for violations of the railroad safety laws and deemed to have knowledge of those laws, FRA's penalty schedules contain, for each regulation, a separate amount earmarked as the initial assessment for willful violations. Where FRA seeks such an extraordinary penalty from a railroad, it will apply the definition of “willful” set forth above. In such cases - as in all civil penalty cases brought by FRA - the aggregate knowledge and actions of the railroad's managers, supervisors, employees, and other agents will be imputed to the railroad. Thus, in situations that FRA decides warrant a civil penalty based on a willful violation, FRA will have the option of citing the railroad and/or one or more of the individuals involved. In cases against railroads other than those in which FRA alleges willfulness or in which a particular regulation imposes a special standard, the principles of strict liability and presumed knowledge of the law will continue to apply.

The RSIA gives individuals the right to protest a direct order to violate the law and to document the protest. FRA will consider such protests and supporting documentation in deciding whether and against whom to cite civil penalties in a particular situation. Where such a direct order has been shown to have been given as alleged, and where such a protest is shown to have been communicated to the supervisor, the person or persons communicating it will have demonstrated their lack of willfulness. Any documentation of the protest will be considered along with all other evidence in determining whether the alleged order to violate was in fact given.

However, the absence of such a protest will not be viewed as warranting a presumption of willfulness on the part of the employee who might have communicated it. The statute says that a person who communicates such a protest shall be deemed not to have acted willfully; it does not say that a person who does not communicate such a protest will be deemed to have acted willfully. FRA would have to prove from all the pertinent facts that the employee willfully violated the law. Moreover, the absence of a protest would not be dispositive with regard to the willfulness of a supervisor who issued a direct order to violate the law. That is, the supervisor who allegedly issued an order to violate will not be able to rely on the employee's failure to protest the order as a complete defense. Rather, the issue will be whether, in view of all pertinent facts, the supervisor intentionally and voluntarily ordered the employee to commit an act that the supervisor knew would violate the law or acted with reckless disregard for whether it violated the law.

FRA exercises the civil penalty authority over individuals through informal procedures very similar to those used with respect to railroad violations. However, FRA varies those procedures somewhat to account for differences that may exist between the railroad's ability to defend itself against a civil penalty charge and an individual's ability to do so. First, when the field inspector decides that an individual's actions warrant a civil penalty recommendation and drafts a violation report, the inspector or the regional director informs the individual in writing of his or her intention to seek assessment of a civil penalty and the fact that a violation report has been transmitted to the Office of Chief Counsel. This ensures that the individual has the opportunity to seek counsel, preserve documents, or take any other necessary steps to aid his or her defense at the earliest possible time.

Second, if the Office of Chief Counsel concludes that the case is meritorious and issues a penalty demand letter, that letter makes clear that FRA encourages discussion, through the mail, over the telephone or in person, of any defenses or mitigating factors the individual may wish to raise. That letter also advises the individual that he or she may wish to obtain representation by an attorney and/or labor representative. During the negotiation stage, FRA considers each case individually on its merits and gives due weight to whatever information the alleged violator provides.

Finally, in the unlikely event that a settlement cannot be reached, FRA sends the individual a letter warning of its intention to request that the Attorney General sue for the initially proposed amount and giving the person a sufficient interval (e.g., 30 days) to decide if that is the only alternative.

FRA believes that the intent of Congress would be violated if individuals who agree to pay a civil penalty or are ordered to do so by a court are indemnified for that penalty by the railroad or another institution (such as a labor organization). Congress intended that the penalties have a deterrent effect on individual behavior that would be lessened, if not eliminated, by such indemnification.

Although informal, face-to-face meetings are encouraged during the negotiation of a civil penalty charge, the RSIA does not require that FRA give individuals or railroads the opportunity for a formal, trial-type administrative hearing as part of the civil penalty process. FRA does not provide that opportunity because such administrative hearings would be likely to add significantly to the costs an individual would have to bear in defense of a safety claim (and also to FRA's enforcement expenses) without shedding any more light on what resolution of the matter is fair than would the informal procedures set forth here. Of course, should an individual or railroad decide not to settle, that person would be entitled to a trial de novo when FRA, through the Attorney General, sued to collect the penalty in the appropriate United States district court.

Penalty Schedules; Assessment of Maximum Penalties

As recommended by the Department of Transportation in its initial proposal for rail safety legislative revisions in 1987, the RSIA raised the maximum civil penalties for violations of the Federal rail safety laws, regulations, or orders. Id., secs. 3, 13-15, 17. Pursuant to sec. 16 of RSIA, the penalty for a violation of the Hours of Service Act was changed from a flat $500 to a penalty of “up to $1,000, as the Secretary of Transportation deems reasonable.” Under all the other statutes, and regulations and orders under those statutes, the maximum penalty was raised from $2,500 to $10,000 per violation, except that “where a grossly negligent violation or a pattern of repeated violations has created an imminent hazard of death or injury to persons, or has caused death or injury,” the penalty was raised to a maximum of $20,000 per violation (“the aggravated maximum penalty”).

The Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act (RSERA), Public Law 102-365, 106 Stat. 972, enacted in 1992, increased the maximum penalty from $1,000 to $10,000, and provided for an aggravated maximum penalty of $20,000 for a violation of the Hours of Service Act, making these penalty amounts uniform with those of FRA's other safety laws, regulations, and orders. RSERA also increased the minimum civil monetary penalty from $250 to $500 for all of FRA's safety regulatory provisions and orders. Id., sec. 4(a).

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, Public Law 101-410, 104 Stat. 890, note, as amended by Section 31001(s)(1) of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-373, April 26, 1996) (Inflation Act) required that agencies adjust by regulation each minimum and maximum civil monetary penalty within the agency's jurisdiction for inflation and make subsequent adjustments once every four years after the initial adjustment. Accordingly, FRA's minimum and maximum civil monetary penalties have been periodically adjusted, pursuant to the Inflation Act, through rulemaking.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (“RSIA of 2008”), enacted October 16, 2008, raised FRA's civil monetary ordinary and aggravated maximum penalties to $25,000 and $100,000 respectively. FRA amended the civil penalty provisions in its regulations so as to make $25,000 the ordinary maximum penalty per violation and $100,000 the aggravated maximum penalty per violation, as authorized by the RSIA of 2008, in a final rule published on December 30, 2008 in the Federal Register.73 FR 79700. The December 30, 2008 final rule also adjusted the minimum civil penalty from $550 to $650 pursuant to Inflation Act requirements. Id. A correcting amendment to the civil penalty provisions in 49 CFR part 232 was published on April 6, 2009. 74 FR 15388.

Effective June 25, 2012, the aggravated maximum penalty was raised from $100,000 to $105,000 pursuant to the Inflation Act.

On November 2, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (the 2015 Inflation Act). Public Law 114-74, Sec. 701. Under the 2015 Inflation Act, agencies must make a catch-up adjustment for civil monetary penalties with the new penalty levels published by July 1, 2016, to take effect no later than August 1, 2016. Moving forward, agencies must make annual inflationary adjustments, starting January 15, 2017, based on Office of Management and Budget guidance. Under the 2015 Inflation Act, effective August 1, 2016, the minimum civil monetary penalty was raised from $650 to $839, the ordinary maximum civil monetary penalty was raised from $25,000 to $27,455, and the aggravated maximum civil monetary penalty was raised from $105,000 to $109,819.

FRA's traditional practice has been to issue penalty schedules assigning to each particular regulation or order specific dollar amounts for initial penalty assessments. The schedule (except where issued after notice and an opportunity for comment) constitutes a statement of agency policy, and is ordinarily issued as an appendix to the relevant part of the Code of Federal Regulations. For each regulation or order, the schedule shows two amounts within the $839 to $27,455 range in separate columns, the first for ordinary violations, the second for willful violations (whether committed by railroads or individuals). In one instance - part 231 - the schedule refers to sections of the relevant FRA defect code rather than to sections of the CFR text. Of course, the defect code, which is simply a reorganized version of the CFR text used by FRA to facilitate computerization of inspection data, is substantively identical to the CFR text.

The schedule amounts are meant to provide guidance as to FRA's policy in predictable situations, not to bind FRA from using the full range of penalty authority where extraordinary circumstances warrant. The Senate report on the bill that became the RSIA stated:

It is expected that the Secretary would act expeditiously to set penalty levels commensurate with the severity of the violations, with imposition of the maximum penalty reserved for violation of any regulation where warranted by exceptional circumstances. S. Rep. No. 100-153, 10th Cong., 2d Sess. 8 (1987).

Accordingly, under each of the schedules (ordinarily in a footnote), and regardless of the fact that a lesser amount might be shown in both columns of the schedule, FRA reserves the right to assess the statutory maximum penalty of up to $109,819 per violation where a pattern of repeated violations or a grossly negligent violation has created an imminent hazard of death or injury or has caused death or injury. FRA indicates in the penalty demand letter when it uses the higher penalty amount instead of the penalty amount listed in the schedule.

The Extent And Exercise Of FRA's Safety Jurisdiction

The Safety Act and, as amended by the RSIA, the older safety statutes apply to “railroads.” Section 202(e) of the Safety Act defines railroad as follows:

The term “railroad” as used in this title means all forms of non-highway ground transportation that run on rails or electromagnetic guideways, including (1) commuter or other short-haul rail passenger service in a metropolitan or suburban area, as well as any commuter rail service which was operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation as of January 1, 1979, and (2) high speed ground transportation systems that connect metropolitan areas, without regard to whether they use new technologies not associated with traditional railroads. Such term does not include rapid transit operations within an urban area that are not connected to the general railroad system of transportation.

Prior to 1988, the older safety statutes had applied only to common carriers engaged in interstate or foreign commerce by rail. The Safety Act, by contrast, was intended to reach as far as the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (i.e., to all railroads that affect interstate commerce) rather than be limited to common carriers actually engaged in interstate commerce. In reporting out the bill that became the 1970 Safety Act, the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce stated:

The Secretary's authority to regulate extends to all areas of railroad safety. This legislation is intended to encompass all those means of rail transportation as are commonly included within the term. Thus, “railroad” is not limited to the confines of “common carrier by railroad” as that language is defined in the Interstate Commerce Act.

H.R. Rep. No. 91-1194, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. at 16 (1970).

FRA's jurisdiction was bifurcated until, in 1988, the RSIA amended the older safety statutes to make them coextensive with the Safety Act by making them applicable to railroads and incorporating the Safety Act's definition of the term (e.g.,45 U.S.C. 16, as amended). The RSIA also made clear that FRA's safety jurisdiction is not confined to entities using traditional railroad technology. The new definition of “railroad” emphasized that all non-highway high speed ground transportation systems - regardless of technology used - would be considered railroads.

Thus, with the exception of self-contained urban rapid transit systems, FRA's statutory jurisdiction extends to all entities that can be construed as railroads by virtue of their providing non-highway ground transportation over rails or electromagnetic guideways, and will extend to future railroads using other technologies not yet in use. For policy reasons, however, FRA does not exercise jurisdiction under all of its regulations to the full extent permitted by statute. Based on its knowledge of where the safety problems were occurring at the time of its regulatory action and its assessment of the practical limitations on its role, FRA has, in each regulatory context, decided that the best option was to regulate something less than the total universe of railroads.

For example, all of FRA's regulations exclude from their reach railroads whose entire operations are confined to an industrial installation (i.e., “plant railroads”), such as those in steel mills that do not go beyond the plant's boundaries. E.g., 49 CFR 225.3(a)(1) (accident reporting regulations). Some rules exclude passenger operations that are not part of the general railroad system (such as some tourist railroads) only if they meet the definition of “insular.” E.g., 49 CFR 225.3(a)(3) (accident reporting) and 234.3(c) (grade crossing signal safety). Other regulations exclude not only plant railroads but all other railroads that are not operated as a part of, or over the lines of, the general railroad system of transportation. E.g., 49 CFR 214.3 (railroad workplace safety).

By “general railroad system of transportation,” FRA refers to the network of standard gage track over which goods may be transported throughout the nation and passengers may travel between cities and within metropolitan and suburban areas. Much of this network is interconnected, so that a rail vehicle can travel across the nation without leaving the system. However, mere physical connection to the system does not bring trackage within it. For example, trackage within an industrial installation that is connected to the network only by a switch for the receipt of shipments over the system is not a part of the system.

Moreover, portions of the network may lack a physical connection but still be part of the system by virtue of the nature of operations that take place there. For example, the Alaska Railroad is not physically connected to the rest of the general system but is part of it. The Alaska Railroad exchanges freight cars with other railroads by car float and exchanges passengers with interstate carriers as part of the general flow of interstate commerce. Similarly, an intercity high speed rail system with its own right of way would be part of the general system although not physically connected to it. The presence on a rail line of any of these types of railroad operations is a sure indication that such trackage is part of the general system: the movement of freight cars in trains outside the confines of an industrial installation, the movement of intercity passenger trains, or the movement of commuter trains within a metropolitan or suburban area. Urban rapid transit operations are ordinarily not part of the general system, but may have sufficient connections to that system to warrant exercise of FRA's jurisdiction (see discussion of passenger operations, below). Tourist railroad operations are not inherently part of the general system and, unless operated over the lines of that system, are subject to few of FRA's regulations.

The boundaries of the general system are not static. For example, a portion of the system may be purchased for the exclusive use of a single private entity and all connections, save perhaps a switch for receiving shipments, severed. Depending on the nature of the operations, this could remove that portion from the general system. The system may also grow, as with the establishment of intercity service on a brand new line. However, the same trackage cannot be both inside and outside of the general system depending upon the time of day. If trackage is part of the general system, restricting a certain type of traffic over that trackage to a particular portion of the day does not change the nature of the line - it remains the general system.

Of course, even where a railroad operates outside the general system, other railroads that are definitely part of that system may have occasion to enter the first railroad's property (e.g., a major railroad goes into a chemical or auto plant to pick up or set out cars). In such cases, the railroad that is part of the general system remains part of that system while inside the installation; thus, all of its activities are covered by FRA's regulations during that period. The plant railroad itself, however, does not get swept into the general system by virtue of the other railroad's activity, except to the extent it is liable, as the track owner, for the condition of its track over which the other railroad operates during its incursion into the plant. Of course, in the opposite situation, where the plant railroad itself operates beyond the plant boundaries on the general system, it becomes a railroad with respect to those particular operations, during which its equipment, crew, and practices would be subject to FRA's regulations.

In some cases, the plant railroad leases track immediately adjacent to its plant from the general system railroad. Assuming such a lease provides for, and actual practice entails, the exclusive use of that trackage by the plant railroad and the general system railroad for purposes of moving only cars shipped to or from the plant, the lease would remove the plant railroad's operations on that trackage from the general system for purposes of FRA's regulations, as it would make that trackage part and parcel of the industrial installation. (As explained above, however, the track itself would have to meet FRA's standards if a general system railroad operated over it. See 49 CFR 213.5 for the rules on how an owner of track may assign responsibility for it.) A lease or practice that permitted other types of movements by general system railroads on that trackage would, of course, bring it back into the general system, as would operations by the plant railroad indicating it was moving cars on such trackage for other than its own purposes (e.g., moving cars to neighboring industries for hire).

FRA exercises jurisdiction over tourist, scenic, and excursion railroad operations whether or not they are conducted on the general railroad system. There are two exceptions: (1) operations of less than 24-inch gage (which, historically, have never been considered railroads under the Federal railroad safety laws); and (2) operations that are off the general system and “insular” (defined below).

Insularity is an issue only with regard to tourist operations over trackage outside of the general system used exclusively for such operations. FRA considers a tourist operation to be insular if its operations are limited to a separate enclave in such a way that there is no reasonable expectation that the safety of any member of the public'except a business guest, a licensee of the tourist operation or an affiliated entity, or a trespasser'would be affected by the operation. A tourist operation will not be considered insular if one or more of the following exists on its line:

•A public highway-rail crossing that is in use;

•An at-grade rail crossing that is in use;

•A bridge over a public road or waters used for commercial navigation; or

•A common corridor with a railroad, i.e., its operations are within 30 feet of those of any railroad.

When tourist operations are conducted on the general system, FRA exercises jurisdiction over them, and all of FRA's pertinent regulations apply to those operations unless a waiver is granted or a rule specifically excepts such operations (e.g., the passenger equipment safety standards contain an exception for these operations, 49 CFR 238.3(c)(3), even if conducted on the general system). When a tourist operation is conducted only on track used exclusively for that purpose it is not part of the general system. The fact that a tourist operation has a switch that connects it to the general system does not make the tourist operation part of the general system if the tourist trains do not enter the general system and the general system railroad does not use the tourist operation's trackage for any purpose other than delivering or picking up shipments to or from the tourist operation itself.

If a tourist operation off the general system is insular, FRA does not exercise jurisdiction over it, and none of FRA's rules apply. If, however, such an operation is not insular, FRA exercises jurisdiction over the operation, and some of FRA's rules (i.e., those that specifically apply beyond the general system to such operations) will apply. For example, FRA's rules on accident reporting, steam locomotives, and grade crossing signals apply to these non-insular tourist operations (see 49 CFR 225.3, 230.2 amd 234.3), as do all of FRA's procedural rules (49 CFR parts 209, 211, and 216) and the Federal railroad safety statutes themselves.

In drafting safety rules, FRA has a specific obligation to consider financial, operational, or other factors that may be unique to tourist operations. 49 U.S.C. 20103(f). Accordingly, FRA is careful to consider those factors in determining whether any particular rule will apply to tourist operations. Therefore, although FRA asserts jurisdiction quite broadly over these operations, we work to ensure that the rules we issue are appropriate to their somewhat special circumstances.

It is important to note that FRA's exercise of its regulatory authority on a given matter does not preclude it from subsequently amending its regulations on that subject to bring in railroads originally excluded. More important, the self-imposed restrictions on FRA's exercise of regulatory authority in no way constrain its exercise of emergency order authority under section 203 of the Safety Act. That authority was designed to deal with imminent hazards not dealt with by existing regulations and/or so dangerous as to require immediate, ex parte action on the government's part. Thus, a railroad excluded from the reach of any of FRA's regulations is fully within the reach of FRA's emergency order authority, which is coextensive with FRA's statutory jurisdiction over all railroads.

FRA's Policy on Jurisdiction Over Passenger Operations

Under the Federal railroad safety laws, FRA has jurisdiction over all railroads except “rapid transit operations in an urban area that are not connected to the general railroad system of transportation.” 49 U.S.C. 20102. Within the limits imposed by this authority, FRA exercises jurisdiction over all railroad passenger operations, regardless of the equipment they use, unless FRA has specifically stated below an exception to its exercise of jurisdiction for a particular type of operation. This policy is stated in general terms and does not change the reach of any particular regulation under its applicability section. That is, while FRA may generally assert jurisdiction over a type of operation here, a particular regulation may exclude that kind of operation from its reach. Therefore, this statement should be read in conjunction with the applicability sections of all of FRA's regulations.

Intercity Passenger Operations

FRA exercises jurisdiction over all intercity passenger operations. Because of the nature of the service they provide, standard gage intercity operations are all considered part of the general railroad system, even if not physically connected to other portions of the system. Other intercity passenger operations that are not standard gage (such as a magnetic levitation system) are within FRA's jurisdiction even though not part of the general system.

Commuter Operations

FRA exercises jurisdiction over all commuter operations. Congress apparently intended that FRA do so when it enacted the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, and made that intention very clear in the 1982 and 1988 amendments to that act. FRA has attempted to follow that mandate consistently. A commuter system's connection to other railroads is not relevant under the rail safety statutes. In fact, FRA considers commuter railroads to be part of the general railroad system regardless of such connections.

FRA will presume that an operation is a commuter railroad if there is a statutory determination that Congress considers a particular service to be commuter rail. For example, in the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981, 45 U.S.C. 1104(3), Congress listed specific commuter authorities. If that presumption does not apply, and the operation does not meet the description of a system that is presumptively urban rapid transit (see below), FRA will determine whether a system is commuter or urban rapid transit by analyzing all of the system's pertinent facts. FRA is likely to consider an operation to be a commuter railroad if:

•The system serves an urban area, its suburbs, and more distant outlying communities in the greater metropolitan area,

•The system's primary function is moving passengers back and forth between their places of employment in the city and their homes within the greater metropolitan area, and moving passengers from station to station within the immediate urban area is, at most, an incidental function, and

•The vast bulk of the system's trains are operated in the morning and evening peak periods with few trains at other hours.

Examples of commuter railroads include Metra and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District in the Chicago area; Virginia Railway Express and MARC in the Washington area; and Metro-North, the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and the Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) in the New York area.

Other Short Haul Passenger Service

The federal railroad safety statutes give FRA authority over “commuter or other short-haul railroad passenger service in a metropolitan or suburban area.” 49 U.S.C. 20102. This means that, in addition to commuter service, there are other short-haul types of service that Congress intended that FRA reach. For example, a passenger system designed primarily to move intercity travelers from a downtown area to an airport, or from an airport to a resort area, would be one that does not have the transportation of commuters within a metropolitan area as its primary purpose. FRA would ordinarily exercise jurisdiction over such a system as “other short-haul service” unless it meets the definition of urban rapid transit and is not connected in a significant way to the general system.

Urban Rapid Transit Operations

One type of short-haul passenger service requires special treatment under the safety statutes: “rapid transit operations in an urban area.” Only these operations are excluded from FRA's jurisdiction, and only if they are “not connected to the general railroad system.” FRA will presume that an operation is an urban rapid transit operation if the system is not presumptively a commuter railroad (see discussion above) the operation is a subway or elevated operation with its own track system on which no other railroad may operate, has no highway-rail crossings at grade, operates within an urban area, and moves passengers from station to station within the urban area as one of its major functions.

Where neither the commuter railroad nor urban rapid transit presumptions applies, FRA will look at all of the facts pertinent to a particular operation to determine its proper characterization. FRA is likely to consider an operation to be urban rapid transit if:

•The operation serves an urban area (and may also serve its suburbs),

•Moving passengers from station to station within the urban boundaries is a major function of the system and there are multiple station stops within the city for that purpose (such an operation could still have the transportation of commuters as one of its major functions without being considered a commuter railroad), and

•The system provides frequent train service even outside the morning and evening peak periods.

Examples of urban rapid transit systems include the Metro in the Washington, D.C. area, CTA in Chicago, and the subway systems in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The type of equipment used by such a system is not determinative of its status. However, the kinds of vehicles ordinarily associated with street railways, trolleys, subways, and elevated railways are the types of vehicles most often used for urban rapid transit operations.

FRA can exercise jurisdiction over a rapid transit operation only if it is connected to the general railroad system, but need not exercise jurisdiction over every such operation that is so connected. FRA is aware of several different ways that rapid transit operations can be connected to the general system. Our policy on the exercise of jurisdiction will depend upon the nature of the connection(s). In general, a connection that involves operation of transit equipment as a part of, or over the lines of, the general system will trigger FRA's exercise of jurisdiction. Below, we review some of the more common types of connections and their effect on the agency's exercise of jurisdiction. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of connections.

Rapid Transit Connections Sufficient To Trigger FRA's Exercise of Jurisdiction

Certain types of connections to the general railroad system will cause FRA to exercise jurisdiction over the rapid transit line to the extent it is connected. FRA will exercise jurisdiction over the portion of a rapid transit operation that is conducted as a part of or over the lines of the general system. For example, rapid transit operations are conducted on the lines of the general system where the rapid transit operation and other railroad use the same track. FRA will exercise its jurisdiction over the operations conducted on the general system. In situations involving joint use of the same track, it does not matter that the rapid transit operation occupies the track only at times when the freight, commuter, or intercity passenger railroad that shares the track is not operating. While such time separation could provide the basis for waiver of certain of FRA's rules (see 49 CFR part 211), it does not mean that FRA will not exercise jurisdiction. However, FRA will exercise jurisdiction over only the portions of the rapid transit operation that are conducted on the general system. For example, a rapid transit line that operates over the general system for a portion of its length but has significant portions of street railway that are not used by conventional railroads would be subject to FRA's rules only with respect to the general system portion. The remaining portions would not be subject to FRA's rules. If the non-general system portions of the rapid transit line are considered a “rail fixed guideway system” under 49 CFR part 659, those rules, issued by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), would apply to them.

Another connection to the general system sufficient to warrant FRA's exercise of jurisdiction is a railroad crossing at grade where the rapid transit operation and other railroad cross each other's tracks. In this situation, FRA will exercise its jurisdiction sufficiently to assure safe operations over the at-grade railroad crossing. FRA will also exercise jurisdiction to a limited extent over a rapid transit operation that, while not operated on the same tracks as the conventional railroad, is connected to the general system by virtue of operating in a shared right-of-way involving joint control of trains. For example, if a rapid transit line and freight railroad were to operate over a movable bridge and were subject to the same authority concerning its use (e.g., the same tower operator controls trains of both operations), FRA will exercise jurisdiction in a manner sufficient to ensure safety at this point of connection. Also, where transit operations share highway-rail grade crossings with conventional railroads, FRA expects both systems to observe its signal rules. For example, FRA expects both railroads to observe the provision of its rule on grade crossing signals that requires prompt reports of warning system malfunctions. See 49 CFR part 234. FRA believes these connections present sufficient intermingling of the rapid transit and general system operations to pose significant hazards to one or both operations and, in the case of highway-rail grade crossings, to the motoring public. The safety of highway users of highway-rail grade crossings can best be protected if they get the same signals concerning the presence of any rail vehicles at the crossing and if they can react the same way to all rail vehicles.

Rapid Transit Connections Not Sufficient To Trigger FRA's Exercise of Jurisdiction

Although FRA could exercise jurisdiction over a rapid transit operation based on any connection it has to the general railroad system, FRA believes there are certain connections that are too minimal to warrant the exercise of its jurisdiction. For example, a rapid transit system that has a switch for receiving shipments from the general system railroad is not one over which FRA would assert jurisdiction. This assumes that the switch is used only for that purpose. In that case, any entry onto the rapid transit line by the freight railroad would be for a very short distance and solely for the purpose of dropping off or picking up cars. In this situation, the rapid transit line is in the same situation as any shipper or consignee; without this sort of connection, it cannot receive or offer goods by rail.

Mere use of a common right-of-way or corridor in which the conventional railroad and rapid transit operation do not share any means of train control, have a rail crossing at grade, or operate over the same highway-rail grade crossings would not trigger FRA's exercise of jurisdiction. In this context, the presence of intrusion detection devices to alert one or both carriers to incursions by the other one would not be considered a means of common train control. These common rights of way are often designed so that the two systems function completely independently of each other. FRA and FTA will coordinate with rapid transit agencies and railroads wherever there are concerns about sufficient intrusion detection and related safety measures designed to avoid a collision between rapid transit trains and conventional equipment.

Where these very minimal connections exist, FRA will not exercise jurisdiction unless and until an emergency situation arises involving such a connection, which is a very unlikely event. However, if such a system is properly considered a rail fixed guideway system, FTA's rules (49 CFR part 659) will apply to it.

Coordination of the FRA and FTA Programs

FTA's rules on rail fixed guideway systems (49 CFR part 659) apply to any rapid transit systems or portions thereof not subject to FRA's rules. On rapid transit systems that are not sufficiently connected to the general railroad system to warrant FRA's exercise of jurisdiction (as explained above), FTA's rules will apply exclusively. On those rapid transit systems that are connected to the general system in such a way as warrant exercise of FRA's jurisdiction, only those portions of the rapid transit system that are connected to the general system will generally be subject to FRA's rules.

A rapid transit railroad may apply to FRA for a waiver of any FRA regulations. See 49 CFR part 211. FRA will seek FTA's views whenever a rapid transit operation petitions FRA for a waiver of its safety rules. In granting or denying any such waiver, FRA will make clear whether its rules do not apply to any segments of the operation so that it is clear where FTA's rules do apply.

Extraordinary Remedies

While civil penalties are the primary enforcement tool under the federal railroad safety laws, more extreme measures are available under certain circumstances. FRA has authority to issue orders directing compliance with the Federal Railroad Safety Act, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, the older safety statutes, or regulations issued under any of those statutes. See 45 U.S.C. 437(a) and (d), and 49 App. U.S.C. 1808(a). Such an order may issue only after notice and opportunity for a hearing in accordance with the procedures set forth in 49 CFR part 209, subpart C. FRA inspectors also have the authority to issue a special notice requiring repairs where a locomotive or freight car is unsafe for further service or where a segment of track does not meet the standards for the class at which the track is being operated. Such a special notice may be appealed to the regional director and the FRA Administrator. See 49 CFR part 216, subpart B.

FRA may, through the Attorney General, also seek injunctive relief in federal district court to restrain violations or enforce rules issued under the railroad safety laws. See 45 U.S.C. 439 and 49 App. U.S.C. 1810.

FRA also has the authority to issue, after notice and an opportunity for a hearing, an order prohibiting an individual from performing safety-sensitive functions in the rail industry for a specified period. This disqualification authority is exercised under procedures found at 49 CFR part 209, subpart D.

Criminal penalties are available for knowing violations of 49 U.S.C. 5104(b), or for willful or reckless violations of the Federal hazardous materials transportation law or a regulation issued under that law. See 49 U.S.C. Chapter 51, and 4949 CFR 209.131, 133.. The Accident Reports Act, 45 U.S.C. 39, also contains criminal penalties.

Perhaps FRA's most sweeping enforcement tool is its authority to issue emergency safety orders “where an unsafe condition or practice, or a combination of unsafe conditions or practices, or both, create an emergency situation involving a hazard of death or injury to persons * * *” 45 U.S.C. 432(a). After its issuance, such an order may be reviewed in a trial-type hearing. See 49 CFR 211.47 and 216.21 through 216.27. The emergency order authority is unique because it can be used to address unsafe conditions and practices whether or not they contravene an existing regulatory or statutory requirement. Given its extraordinary nature, FRA has used the emergency order authority sparingly.

[53 FR 52920, Dec. 29, 1988, as amended at 63 FR 11619, Mar. 10, 1998; 64 FR 62864, Nov. 17, 1999; 65 FR 42544, July 10, 2000; 69 FR 30592, May 28, 2004; 71 FR 77295, Dec. 26, 2006; 72 FR 51196, Sept. 6, 2007; 73 FR 79701, Dec. 30, 2008; 77 FR 24418, Apr. 24, 2012; 81 FR 43108, July 1, 2016]

This is a list of United States Code sections, Statutes at Large, Public Laws, and Presidential Documents, which provide rulemaking authority for this CFR Part.

This list is taken from the Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules provided by GPO [Government Printing Office].

It is not guaranteed to be accurate or up-to-date, though we do refresh the database weekly. More limitations on accuracy are described at the GPO site.

United States Code

Title 49 published on 2015-12-03

The following are ALL rules, proposed rules, and notices (chronologically) published in the Federal Register relating to 49 CFR Part 209 after this date.

  • 2016-07-01; vol. 81 # 127 - Friday, July 1, 2016
    1. 81 FR 43101 - Inflation Adjustment of the Ordinary Maximum and Aggravated Maximum Civil Monetary Penalties for a Violation of the Hazardous Material Transportation Laws or Regulations, Orders, Special Permits, and Approvals Issued Under Those Laws
      GPO FDSys XML | Text
      DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Federal Railroad Administration
      Interim final rule.
      This interim final rule is effective August 1, 2016.
      49 CFR Part 209

Title 49 published on 2015-12-03.

The following are only the Rules published in the Federal Register after the published date of Title 49.

For a complete list of all Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices view the Rulemaking tab.

  • 2016-07-01; vol. 81 # 127 - Friday, July 1, 2016
    1. 81 FR 43101 - Inflation Adjustment of the Ordinary Maximum and Aggravated Maximum Civil Monetary Penalties for a Violation of the Hazardous Material Transportation Laws or Regulations, Orders, Special Permits, and Approvals Issued Under Those Laws
      GPO FDSys: XML | Text
      DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Federal Railroad Administration
      Interim final rule.
      This interim final rule is effective August 1, 2016.
      49 CFR Part 209