Tales of the Red Tape #13: An “F” for Train Regulation

Diane Katz /

Most folks would reasonably think that a railroad engineer or conductor would be able to distinguish the front of a train from the back of it. Not so the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). To ensure against any possible confusion, the agency requires the letter F to be displayed on the sides of each locomotive to identify … the front!

Most folks might reasonably think that such a rule would be ripe for elimination under the Obama Administration’s executive order to reduce unnecessary regulations. And in fact, the rule was nominated for rescission by Union Pacific Railroad under the regulatory review called for by the President. But although the Department of Transportation listed the rule under “actions being taken” in its recent progress report on the review, officials have only agreed to “consider” a change “to the extent practicable.” And only reluctantly at that.

According to FRA officials, the regulation serves a purpose because it “identifies not only the front end of the locomotive, but also identifies all of the locomotive’s equipment (e.g., wheel R1 is the first wheel on the right side of the locomotive counting from the front end).”

And by way of further explanation:

The identification facilitates recordkeeping related to equipment history. For example, if an inspection finds that wheel R1 is slightly worn out, but not defective, the railroad can note the condition for the next inspection. At the next inspection wheel R1 may be defective.

Most folks might wonder why eliminating the “F” rule would make “wheel R1” anything other than what it is—the first wheel on the right side of the locomotive counting from the front end. Unless, of course, one simply cannot trust railroad workers to know where the front of the train is without the intervention of the federal government.

Want to read more Tales of the Red Tape? Check out these stories below:

#1: We See Dead People

#2: The EPA Is Fueling Nonsense

#3: Don’t Touch That Dial!

#4: The Unwitting Peddlers of Toxic Tomes

#5: Calorie Counts Forced Down Our Throats

#6: Equine Equality Under the ADA

#7: Energy Department Plumbing for More Regulatory Powers

#8: How Many Hazmat Suits Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

#9: Regulators Going Off on Microwave Ovens

#10: The State Department’s Passport Inquisition

#11: Circumcising Principle in San Francisco

#12: Regulatory Grapes of Wrath