Federal Railroad Administration

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Federal Railroad Administration
Seal of the Department of Transportation
Agency overview
Formed April 1, 1967 (1967-04-01)
Jurisdiction United States Government
Headquarters Washington, DC
Employees 850
Annual budget $1.561 billion (2008)[1]
Agency executive
  • Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator
Parent agency US Department of Transportation
Website Federal Railroad Administration

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is an agency in the United States Department of Transportation. The agency was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.[2] The purpose of FRA is to promulgate and enforce rail safety regulations, administer railroad assistance programs, conduct research and development in support of improved railroad safety and national rail transportation policy, provide for the rehabilitation of Northeast Corridor rail passenger service, and consolidate government support of rail transportation activities.[3]


The FRA is one of 10 agencies within the Department of Transportation concerned with intermodal transportation. It operates through seven divisions under the offices of the Administrator and Deputy Administrator. These divisions are: Financial Management and Administration, Chief Counsel, Civil Rights, Public Affairs, Public Engagement, Railroad Policy and Development, and Safety. It has a staff of about 850.[4]


In December 2008, Clifford C. Eby was named acting administrator, replacing Joseph H. Boardman, who took over as head of Amtrak.[5] Boardman headed the agency since the United States Senate confirmed him on May 3, 2005. Until his appointment with the FRA, Boardman was transportation commissioner for the state of New York. He began working as FRA Administrator on June 1, 2005.[6][7]

On April 29, 2009, the United States Senate confirmed the nomination of Joe Szabo to become the FRA Administrator. Szabo was the first FRA Administrator to be chosen from the ranks of railroad employment: his first railroad job began in 1976 with the Illinois Central Railroad[8] as a switchman; and, more recently, he served as Illinois State Legislative Director for the United Transportation Union (UTU).[9][10] In November 2014, Szabo announced his resignation effective at the end of the year.[11]

On January 12, 2015, United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced that Sarah Feinberg will serve as Acting Administrator of the FRA. Since 2013, Feinberg has served as the United States Department of Transportation Chief of Staff, managing the agency’s ten modal departments, and spearheading the agency’s legislative, policy, and communications efforts. Feinberg becomes the second woman to lead the agency, since its founding in 1966.[12]


The FRA's safety regulations target historical causal factors in order to prevent those same practices from causing additional accidents and employee injuries. Human caused accidents are the greatest single portion of all railroad accidents. Although newer regulations have been enacted to stem these human caused accidents, their numbers have only been in slow decline over the past several years. There are regulations that focus on "crash worthiness" but are not taken at the expense of "collision avoidance".[citation needed] Similar approaches prevail in Europe, where crashworthiness has become a mandatory, legal requirement applying to all new types of rolling stock, both high speed and conventional (see for instance Commission Decision 2011/291/EU) after having been a widespread feature since the eighties. The FRA also oversees distribution of funding to Amtrak and to the High Speed Rail initiatives currently under study in various states.


The FRA's regulations are generally cited as one of the main reasons for the decline of railroads in the US. Many of the rules it operates under were inherited from older organizations and date to the steam engine era. Some of the antiquated rules continue to require specific pieces of technology (since superseded by safer equipment or found to themselves be unsafe), rely on outdated requirements (such as turning radii based on train types no longer in use), require or regulate outdated practices (such as conductors riding on the outside of trains), or outright ignore newer technologies (such as high speed rail). Most trains and railways built since 1950 are illegal under FRA regulations as written. Most operating railroads and companies in the US have individual waivers for some or all of the FRAs regulations, as without them they would be unable to operate at all. These wavers are time consuming, expensive, and often a drag on any railroad business in the US, in large part because every single operating agency must obtain and maintain waivers independently for each and every technology and subsidiary using that technology, creating a huge legal morass.

As far as their goal of keeping the rails safe, most point to the highest crash rate in the world as evidence that the FRA is outmoded and no longer serving a useful purpose. There have been repeated calls for removing regulatory powers from the FRA, or for forcing it to update its regulations. Additionally, many of the FRA's regulatory areas are shared with other branches of the Department of Transportation, most notably the Surface Transportation Board and the Federal Transit Administration, forcing operators to satisfy multiple competing regulatory schemes and requirements.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. Department of Transportation Fiscal Year 2009 Budget In Brief". Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  2. ^ 49 U.S.C. § 103, section 3(e)(1).
  3. ^ Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). "Federal Railroad Administration: About Us."
  4. ^ Federal Railroad Administration (2010). Washington, DC."About the FRA." Accessed 2010-08-28.
  5. ^ "FRA Acting Administrator Named", APTA:Passenger Transport Express, December 5, 2008, accessed December 8, 2008
  6. ^ "Joseph H. Boardman Begins Role as New Administrator for Federal Railroad Administration With Focus on Rail Safety and Intercity Passenger Rail Reform" (Press release). FRA. June 1, 2005. Retrieved 2005-06-06. 
  7. ^ "Senate confirms Joseph Boardman, New York state official, to head FRA". Trains News Wire. May 4, 2005. Retrieved 2005-05-05. [dead link]
  8. ^ "Obama names labor leader to head FRA". Trains 69 (6): p 13. June 2009. 
  9. ^ Progressive Railroading (April 30, 2009). "Senate confirms Szabo's nomination as FRA administrator". Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. Retrieved May 3, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Senate confirms UTU's Szabo to FRA". UTU News (United Transportation Union). April 29, 2009. Retrieved May 3, 2009. 
  11. ^ "FRA's Szabo announces resignation". Metro Magazine. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  12. ^ "U.S Transportation Secretary Foxx Names Sarah Feinberg Acting Administrator of FRA". Federal Railroad Administration. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 

External links[edit]