In the wake of the Amtrak crash that killed eight and injured hundreds more on May 12, 2015, reports quickly surfaced that the windshield may have been struck by an object just prior to the crash. While this rumor has since been debunked by the FBI, it raises the question: How safe is train glass? What safety protocols must train glazing undergo?
While Guardian’s Custom Glass Solutions did not provide the windshield or glass for the Amtrak train bound from Washington, D.C., to New York on that fateful day, the company does provide train windshields and glass to the railroad industry.
There are two types of glass administered through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA): FRA Type 1: Front Facing Glass; and FRA Type II: Side-Facing Glass, explains Darrell Tiell, director of product management of Guardian Custom Glass Solutions. Both must undergo safety testing protocols.
“The FRA does not define how these types of glass parts are to be constructed. Instead, FRA defines the test parameters that the glass must pass,” he says.
The compliance tests are required for parts which apply to “railroads that operate rolling equipment on standard gauge track that is a part of the general railroad system of transportation,” explains Tiell.
Both types of glass require a ballistics test, which is identified a firing a .22 caliber lead bullet of 40 grains, impacting at a minimum velocity of 960-feet-per-second.
Each type of glass must also meet other impact requirements.
For the FRA Type 1, the manufacturer must drop a 24-pound masonry block of specified parameters, which impacts the glass at 44-feet-per-second, he says.
For the FRA Type II glass, the manufacturer must drop a 12-pound masonry block of specified parameters, which impacts the glass at 12-feet-per-second.
“The passing criteria for FRA Type 1 and FRA Type 2 glass is that no glass particles penetrate a thin aluminum witness plate behind the glass,” explains Tiell. “Each of these tests are administered within a clearly identified structured test protocol.”
Manufacturers that provide both types of train glazing materials “permanently mark the glass and certify that each type of glazing material being supplied has been successfully tested and that test verification data is available to a railroad or to FRA upon request,” he says.
While declining to speculate about the recent Amtrak accident, Matt Eder, marketing manager for Guardian Custom Glass Solutions, did say, “knowing the size and sophistication of Amtrak, one would assume the windshield met or exceeded required industry standards, but that’s just conjecture.”
It appears train windshields and glass have been struck by projectiles in the past, though perhaps not in the instance of the May 12 crash.
“At least two other trains—a regional Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train and an Amtrak Acela—reported being struck with projectiles in the area near the crash site,” according to a local report.
In the case of the deadly Amtrak crash, speed appears to a main factor. In late May, the FRA issued an emergency order to assist in controlling passenger train speeds at certain locations on the Northeast Corridor.
The emergency order requires Amtrak to take a series of steps to improve safety along the Northeast Corridor, including implementing Automatic Train Control (ATC) code changes and modifications, adopting other safety procedures at several curve locations with significant speed reductions, and submitting an action plan to FRA outlining additional steps.
“The emergency order requires Amtrak to immediately implement a code change to its ATC system near the Frankford Junction curve in Philadelphia, Pa. [where the accident took place]. The change must enforce the passenger train speed limit of 50 mph, or lower, for northbound trains approaching the curve. Amtrak implemented this change prior to the restart of service,” according to an FRA statement.
“The Northeast Corridor is the busiest rail corridor in the country, and the steps we have ordered Amtrak to take will immediately improve safety on this busy corridor,” says Sarah Feinberg, acting federal railroad administrator.
Outside of the United States, each country has its own requirements for train glazing, explains Grzegorz Lajca, CEO of Poland-based NordGlass, which fabricates train windshields.
“Each train’s windshield is differently certified depending on the country where it will ride,” he says.
“For example, in Russia, we have to do a ball drop of 160 km/hour in minus 20 Celsius. We learn the certifications and test demands on a project-by-project basis. We follow customer demand on each project,” he says.