U.S. Department of Labor

Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Washington, D.C. 20210
Reply to the attention of:

DOL Logo

MARCH 23, 2011

Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs
Urban Path Transit and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA)

We've received some inquiries recently regarding under what circumstances urban rapid transit (URT) can be covered under the whistleblower provisions of FRSA. Examples of URTs include the Metro in the Washington, D.C. area, CTA in Chicago, and the subway systems in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. As a preliminary matter, public transportation agencies operating URT will be covered under the whistleblower provisions of NTSSA, but some complainants may elect to file under FRSA instead for a variety of reasons. URT systems may be covered under either FRSA or NTSSA, provided that the URT is connected to the general railroad system.

This raises the sometimes-thorny issue of how to evaluate whether a given URT is in fact connected to the general railroad system. We begin that analysis by seeking to determine whether the URT:

  • Has a portion of operation conducted as part of or over the lines of the general system;
  • Shares track with other railroad;
  • Crosses other railroad's tracks; or
  • Connects to the general system by operating in a shared right-of-way.

If any of those criteria are satisfied, then the URT will qualify as a "railroad" and will be covered as a respondent for purposes of FRSA. Or, if the URT is truly unconnected, then there would only be coverage under NTSSA.

Yesterday, I came across an FRA report, which can be found online at http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/research/ord0316.pdf. This report catalogs all "common use" rail corridors, which the report defines as corridors where light rail or rail rapid transit vehicles operate adjacent to, or on track shared with, rail freight or passenger operations. Three types of common corridors are defined:

  • shared corridor (track centers 25 to 200 feet apart)
  • shared right-of-way (track centers less than 25 feet)
  • shared track

The report describes, as of the date of its publication (April 2003), all common use corridors in the U.S. in operation or under construction, with maps and photographs. This information will be very valuable to us in evaluating whether a given URT is connected to the general railroad system and therefore subject to FRSA's whistleblower provisions. I have placed a copy of it in O:\DEP\OWPP\9-11 Act\FRSA-Rail\Other FRA Materials\FRA Report on Connected URTs April 2003.pdf.

* This document was originally sent as an email from the Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs (OWPP) to Regional Administrators on March 23, 2011. It has been reformatted for public viewing.