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Fire Safety Requirements for Transportation


Transportation vehicles contain different types of products, from seats and linings to batteries and electrical cables. In order to improve fuel efficiency and lower vehicle weights, the materials involved are often plastics, textiles and foams. The fire safety requirements are based on the type of vehicle, the function of the product used and its location in the vehicle.  The highest level of fire safety is required for products used in commercial aircraft, regulated in the U.S. and worldwide by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Most plastic products in airplanes must meet a very stringent heat release test, the Ohio State University (OSU) calorimeter. Aircraft seats do not have to meet the requirements of the OSU heat release test but must meet other flammability requirements that test heat release.

For automobiles, materials exposed to the air in the passenger compartment must meet the flame spread test in FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) 302, as regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA also regulates school buses, which are required to meet the same fire safety standards as cars. The National Congress on School Transportation recommends an additional fire test for school bus seats, but there is no regulation. Other buses also are regulated by NHTSA, which has not mandated any flammability requirements beyond FMVSS 302. But most commercial bus operators use a set of voluntary guidelines based primarily on a flame spread test and a smoke test. These two standards were developed by ASTM, an organization that develops international voluntary standards.

Trains traveling between cities and between states are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, but most train operators use a set of requirements outlined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and contained in NFPA 130, many of them similar to those used for buses. NFPA 130 is updated regularly to ensure improved fire safety for passenger trains and for subways (with the same requirements). NFPA 130 focuses heavily on requirements for electric cables and they must meet a vertical cable tray test with pass/fail criteria for both flame spread and smoke.

Ships are regulated primarily by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) convention, which has important requirements for flame spread of surface linings using the IMO/LIFT apparatus and for electric cables (for flame spread and smoke). The U.S Coast Guard voluntarily adheres to the IMO requirements.

Internationally, requirements for aircraft and ships are the same as in the U.S., as they are set by the FAA and IMO, respectively. The FMVSS 302 test is called ISO 3795 in Europe, and sets the fire safety requirements for automobiles. With regard to trains, the European Union has developed a set of requirements, which parallel many of the requirements in NFPA 130. However, NFPA 130 is, in fact, extensively used in many countries by rail and subway operators.

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