North American Railroad Track Classes

References

Federal Railroad Administration – Federal Track Safety Standards Fact Sheet (40~ kb PDF)
Federal Railroad Administration – Track Compliance Manual Chapter 6 (1 January 2002) (330~ kb PDF)

Excepted Track

Type: Freight Only
Maximum Freight Speed: 10 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: Not Allowed
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Weekly

Notes: Not even railfan shortline passenger trains are allowed on Excepted Track.

Class 1 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 10 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 15 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency (Mainline/Sidings): Weekly, or twice weekly if the track carries passenger trains or more than 10 million gross tons of track during the preceding year.
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency (Non-Mainline/Sidings): Monthly

Notes:

Class 2 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 25 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 30 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency (Mainline/Sidings): Weekly, or twice weekly if the track carries passenger trains or more than 10 million gross tons of track during the preceding year.
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency (Non-Mainline/Sidings): Monthly

Notes:

Class 3 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 40 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 60 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency (Mainline/Sidings): Weekly, or twice weekly if the track carries passenger trains or more than 10 million gross tons of track during the preceding year.
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency (Non-Mainline/Sidings): Monthly

Notes:

Class 4 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 60 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 80 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Must be inspected twice weekly, with a continuous search for internal defects in the rail after 40 million gross tons passes over it, or once a year, whichever happens first. Each switch must be inspected every 3 months.

Notes: Most track in the US is Class 4.

Class 5 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 80 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 90 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Must be inspected twice weekly. Further details not known.

Notes: Only a few sections of Class 5 track operate in the US, and is shrinking slowly as the Automatic Train Stop equipment they have is retired.

Class 6 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 110 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 110 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Must be inspected twice weekly. Further details not known.

Notes: Freight equipment used at these speeds must meet the same dynamic performance standards and qualifications as passenger equipment, and their axle loading pattern must be uniform and not exceed the axle loadings used by passenger service at the same maximum speed.

Class 7 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 125 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 125 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Must be inspected twice weekly. Further details not known.
At Grade Crossings: Allowable with FRA-approved warning/barrier system emplaced on crossing.

Notes: Most of the Northeastern Corridor owned by Amtrak is Class 7. Freight equipment used at these speeds must meet the same dynamic performance standards and qualifications as passenger equipment, and their axle loading pattern must be uniform and not exceed the axle loadings used by passenger service at the same maximum speed.

Class 8 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 160 MPH (actually 150 MPH due to regulations)
Maximum Passenger Speed: 160 MPH (actually 150 MPH due to regulations)
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Must be inspected twice weekly. Further details not known.
At Grade Crossings: Strictly Prohibited

Notes: A few sections of the Northeastern Corridor are the only Class 8 Tracks in North America. Freight equipment used at these speeds must meet the same dynamic performance standards and qualifications as passenger equipment, and their axle loading pattern must be uniform and not exceed the axle loadings used by passenger service at the same maximum speed. Operation at speeds above 150 MPH is not yet authorized by the FRA.

Class 9 Track

Type: Freight/Passenger
Maximum Freight Speed: 200 MPH
Maximum Passenger Speed: 200 MPH
Minimum Track Inspection Frequency: Must be inspected three times a week. Further details not known.
At Grade Crossings: Strictly Prohibited

Notes: No Class 9 trackage is currently operational in North America.

Freight equipment used at these speeds must meet the same dynamic performance standards and qualifications as passenger equipment, and their axle loading pattern must be uniform and not exceed the axle loadings used by passenger service at the same maximum speed.