The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) began promulgating regulations for the structural crashworthiness of passenger rail equipment at 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 238 on May 12, 1999. These Passenger Equipment Safety Standards (PESS) [1] include requirements affecting the designs of sidewall structures on passenger rail equipment. The FRA’s Office of Research, Development and Technology and the DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center are conducting research to evaluate the side impact strength of Tier I passenger rail equipment designs that have been constructed according to the current side structure regulations in §238.215 and §238.217.

Following a fatal 2011 accident in which a highway semitrailer truck impacted the side of a passenger train that was transiting a grade crossing in Miriam, NV, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the FRA “develop side impact crashworthiness standards (including performance validation) for passenger railcars that provide a measurable improvement compared to the current regulation for minimizing encroachment to and loss of railcar occupant survival space” [2].

This paper describes the status of the current FRA research related to side structure integrity and describes the planned next stage of the research program which will include analyzing the performance of generalized passenger railcar structures in side impact collision scenarios. A discussion of the technical challenges associated with analyzing side impacts on passenger rail equipment is also presented.

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