California High-Speed Rail Safety: Planning and Operations

The CPUC is one of the entities responsible for safety oversight in the planning, development, construction, and operation of the California High-Speed Rail project. California’s high speed rail proposal uses new technologies that are unique to high-speed rail and to the California rail safety program.  During the preliminary planning phases, federal and state oversight agencies are conducting proceedings to develop a regulatory and policy framework tailored to the high speed rail project. 


ROSB railroad safety inspectors will work to ensure that the California High Speed Rail Authority adheres to all applicable requirements. Specifically, the ROSB railroad safety inspectors perform the following:


  • During planning and construction phases, ensure compliance with CPUC rules, decisions, general orders, and statutes regarding clearances, standards for construction and maintenance of walkways, etc. in addition to FRA regulations regarding track and other infrastructure specifications; 
  • Prior to and during operations, ensure the accuracy of high speed rail train consist records, observe crews performing safety operations, review the accuracy and completeness of safety manuals and security procedures, etc.;  
  • After construction, perform ongoing rail safety inspections in the five safety disciplines; 
  • Perform safety audits of the High Speed Rail System Safety Program Plan, which must be a comprehensive document covering all safety issues. ROSB audits will include focused inspections and involves all aspects of construction and testing phases of rail equipment and control systems. 


CPUC high speed railroad safety inspectors plan to monitor high speed rail much the way that Crude Oil Reconnaissance Team is monitoring crude oil. ROSB railroad safety inspectors monitor construction progress, in design and in the field.


CPUC monitoring also includes oversight of electrification to power the trains, as well as any interface with conventional railroad infrastructure such as track design and construction processes. In March 2013, the California High Speed Rail Authority petitioned the CPUC to create regulations governing safety standards for the use of 25 kilovolt (kV) electric lines to power high-speed trains.The CPUC opened a proceeding (R13-03-009) to establish uniform safety requirements governing the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of overhead 25 kV railroad electrification systems and the specific safety challenges the system presents. Evidentiary hearings are scheduled to commence in December 2014.   


Certain rules for high speed rail are already in place.  49 CFR, Part 213, specifies track requirements for train operations at track classes 6 and higher. Track Classes 6 and higher include all tracks used for the operation of trains at a speed greater than 90 miles per hour (mph) for passenger equipment and greater than 80 mph for freight equipment.


New state and federal regulations will likely be promulgated as high speed rail moves forward. Through the testing phase of HSR, such issues in California will be addressed, as well as lessons learned from other high speed rail programs in the US that may advance faster than in California.

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