How to Properly Protect Public Transit

Follow public transit life-safety best practices by getting up to speed on NFPA 130, “Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Service.”

I spend a lot of time using public transportation systems. I’ve been fascinated with these systems since college, so much so that my master’s thesis was on the interconnectivity of a single system and to other systems.

Living in California, I love how it’s possible, with some planning, to take public transportation from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego.

NFPA 130, “Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Service,” is the standard for the fire protection of these systems as well as a tool to design in evacuation from a station in the event of an emergency. The current edition of NFPA 130 is 2017.

This standard looks at stations used for both light and heavy rail and can also apply to bus depots. In most major U.S. cities there are either light rail systems that may be below grade, at grade or above grade.

NFPA 130 addresses fire protection features within a station or on a platform; these stations may be open or enclosed. NFPA 130 consists of 12 chapters and nine annexes. Let’s take a very broad look at some of the chapters.

Fire Alarm Systems & Life Safety in Stations

Chapter 5 covers stations. While it primarily discusses the calculation of exit times and design features within the station, Section 5.4.2 covers “Protective Signaling Systems.” Enclosed stations shall have a fire alarm system installed in accordance with NFPA 72, “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.”

The system shall supervise all flow switches and control valves. Automatic detection shall be provided within all ancillary spaces. Upon activation of the system, it shall transmit a signal to the local station as well as to the operations control center (OCC).

Chapter 6 details the requirements for “Trainways,” or the tracks and rights-of-way. A good part of this chapter is on how to move people safely from a train car to an exit, be it through a tunnel, elevated track or other such locations.

Section 6.4 covers “Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems,” noting automatic detection shall be installed at traction power substations and signal bungalows and shall transmit their signals to the OCC.

Within this section are also the requirements for blue light stations. Per Section, these shall be provided at: the ends of station platforms; cross-passageways; emergency access points; traction power substations; and in enclosed trainways as approved.

Such systems shall upon activation offer an indication as to which station was activated and provided communications from the device to the OCC.

Emergency Signals, Wiring Standards Detailed

Within Chapter 10, “Emergency Communications System,” are requirements for the aforementioned OCC. It’s from there the entire transit system shall be supervised, and as mentioned, where all fire alarm and communications from the blue light system are received and then acted upon.

While Section 10.2 provides some requirements for the construction of the OCC — such as two-hour fire-resistive construction between the OCC and any other occupancies within the building — the requirements are not as prescriptive as what is found within NFPA 72 for the construction of a supervising station. And there are no minimum staffing requirements.

Section 10.4, “Two-Way Wired Emergency Services Communication Systems,” provides the requirements for communications between the stations and other sites to the OCC. The requirements found within NFPA 72 are to be followed for the installation of these systems. The locations for these systems are outlined in 10.4.3:

In addition to those locations identified in NFPA 72, two-way wired emergency communications system telephone handsets shall be provided at:

1. Fire command center, where provided

2. Operations control center

3. Traction power substations

4. Blue light station locations

5. Ancillary rooms and spaces as determined by the authority having jurisdiction

6. Other locations along the trainway as determined by the authority having jurisdiction

When systems are to be installed in accordance with NFPA 130, the wiring must meet the minimum stipulations of Chapter 12, “Wire and Cable Requirements.” This chapter does address more than what may be required for just the fire detection and communications systems, but you will find those here.

Typically, fire-resistive cables will be required. Per Section 12.5.3, the cables and systems shall comply with the following:

1. Be tested as a complete system, in both the vertical and horizontal orientation, of conductors, cables, and raceways, as applicable

2. For fire-resistive cables intended for installation in a raceway, be tested in the type of raceway in which they are intended to be installed

3. Have installation instructions that describe the tested assembly, with only the components included in the tested assembly acceptable for installation

Providing a life-safety system for mass transit is no small task. Get to know NFPA 130. The requirements for wiring could be expensive if you bid standard fire alarm cable and the transit agency is expecting fire-resistive cabling. Check the project spec first.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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