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U.Va. Center Of Railroad Safety-Critical Excellence Provides Safety Assessment Support For Launch Of New Performance-Based Standards

December 3, 2002-- Ted Giras is working with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Association of American Railroads and the nation’s railroad executives to support the launch of new performance-based safety standards for the U.S. railroad industry. The new standards include the regulatory, processor-based, safety-enforcement standard to be issued later this year.

A few high-profile train accidents in the mid-1990s led the National Transportation Safety Board to encourage the FRA to improve train safety. So a few years ago, the country’s century-old system of prescriptive safety standards was transformed into what regulators hope will be a safer and more effective performance-based system. The new system is based on safety standards that should encourage the development of innovative train-control systems.

Under the new system, equipment manufacturers and railroad operators will no longer have to meet the minimum requirements the FRA used to enforce. Instead, they will have to calculate the risk posed by their products and services. A manufacturer who wants to sell an innovative, new train-control system will have to demonstrate to the FRA that it offers a lower level of risk – in terms of the cost to society per million train miles traveled – than the system currently in use, said Giras, director of the University of Virginia’s Center of Railroad Safety-Critical Excellence.

Quantifying the design for an assessment of the risk of equipment failure and its potential cost to society was not your average math problem. Instead, using a sophisticated Monte Carlo simulation of a specific train line, researchers on Giras’ team developed a process – an Axiomatic Safety-Critical Process, dubbed ASCAP – to assess risk.

By this fall, Giras and his team had secured research contracts worth more than $8 million to support their work – designing the methodologies needed for safety assessment, as well as creating software toolsets and training programs to support the new performance-based standards.

An initial grant from the FRA last year allowed Giras to establish the Center of Railroad Safety-Critical Excellence at U.Va. and create an industry advisory board in collaboration with the Association of American Railroads. It also will enable the center to create a related, Web-based set of software tools – a Design for Safety Assessment Web-based Toolset for Railroad Safety-Critical Systems – and provide industry training.

“U.Va. has developed the methodology and tools to perform sophisticated designs for safety assessments that have broad applications,” Giras said. “What we do goes well beyond research. We produce methodologies, Web-based tools and training programs that set the industry standards. Our goal is to be the global leader in this field.”

Giras and his permanent research staff – in electrical, computer, civil and systems engineering and cognitive psychology – are pursuing several projects linked to train safety. In addition to the initial grant from the FRA, the center has received a grant from Lockheed Martin Corp. to study the safety of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s train-control system between Chicago and St. Louis.

The center also has received a five-year grant from the New York City Transit Authority to provide a design for the safety assessment of a new train control system – including fault injection testing of the safety computer hardware and software – planned for Brooklyn’s Canarsie line and developed by Siemens MARTRA, which is based in France.

The Maglev project involves a high-speed Maglev train, which is elevated and directed along a guide-way by electro-magnets. If a $1 billion proposal pending in Congress passes, the FRA would choose between Pittsburgh and Baltimore early next year as the test site for a 45-mile-long, 250 mph suburb-to-city commuter train line. The U.Va. center has been tapped to do the safety assessment portion of the Pittsburgh project. A cluster, parallel-processing computer, funded by Maglev Inc. of Pittsburgh, will enable the center to develop the Web-based software for the FRA project as well as facilitate the Maglev project, Giras said.

Giras also is looking to extend the reach of his center overseas. The U.Va. center has cooperated with Germany’s University of Dresden and the Technical University of Brunsweigh since 1999.

Last summer, Giras traveled to China and next month he expects to host faculty members from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Together they plan to explore opportunities for exchanges and research collaborations, such as the establishment of a rail safety-critical center in China to support performance-based safety standards in Asia for Maglev and high-speed rail and transit railways.

“Our goal is to create methodologies, tools and training programs that can be used not only by the railroad industry, but also by other vital industries, such as power generation and aerospace, in the U.S. and around the world,” Giras said.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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