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Development of a Hazard-Based Method for Evaluating the Fire Safety of Passenger Trains (NISTIR 6588)



Richard W. Bukowski, Richard D. Peacock, Paul A. Reneke, Jason D. Averill, S. H. Markos


The fire safety of U.S. passenger rail trains currently is addressed through small-scale flammability and smoke emission tests and performance criteria promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA approach relies heavily on test methods applied to the primary combustible materials of rail vehicle components. As building fire safety regulations move toward performance codes, there has been interest in the application of fire hazard assessment to rail vehicles using modeling techniques. Accordingly, with FRA funding, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) have been working on such an alternative approach. This effort included a systematic study of the fire performance characteristics of current rail car materials. First, the heat release and smoke production of actual materials in use were characterized in the Cone Calorimeter. Next, full-scale assembly tests of components such as seats and interior panels constructed of these same materials were conducted in a furniture calorimeter. Full-scale tests of rail cars incorporating the tested components are planned. The predictive accuracy of fire hazard modeling techniques will be assessed against the full-scale test results and the model's utility in evaluating alternative fire safety improvements, such as automatic suppression or smoke exhaust will be demonstrated. The paper provides an overview of five years of work and the findings to date. It is expected that this work could lead to Ihe recognition of fire hazard-based methods as an alternative the current prescriptive requirements.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 6588
Report Number


fire science, fire safety, passenger trains, cone calorimeters, test methods, fire hazard, hazard analysis, large scale fire tests, furnishings, seats, walls, curtains, fabrics, floor coverings, heat release rate, fire growth, fire spread


Bukowski, R. , Peacock, R. , Reneke, P. , Averill, J. and Markos, S. (2001), Development of a Hazard-Based Method for Evaluating the Fire Safety of Passenger Trains (NISTIR 6588), NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed April 19, 2024)
Created October 14, 2001, Updated November 10, 2018