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Rail News: Communication and Signal

U.S. roads on track to report fewest-ever switching fatalities, FRA's Monro says


This year, U.S. railroads might record the fewest-ever number of switching fatalities, wrote acting Federal Railroad Administrator Betty Monro in a recent letter to the United Transportation Union that's posted on the union's Web site.

So far, railroads have reported five switching fatalties "despite increased freight volumes and train miles," she wrote. In 2002, roads reported an all-time low six fatalities.

"I am confident we can get through the end-of-year, higher-risk peak-shipping season safely and establish a new record low," said Monro.

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group — formed in 1998 by the FRA, rail labor unions and other industry groups — has helped reduce switching accidents, Monro wrote. Group members review and analyze switching fatalities, determine whether patterns have been established, identify best practices and formulate safety recommendations.

A recently released SOFA report determined that 124 switching fatalities between 1992 and 2003 were potentially preventable by adhering to SOFA's five "Lifesaver" rules or increasing awareness of switching hazards.

"Two of the SOFA Lifesavers are particularly significant in preventing fatalities: safety briefings before switching operations begin or when the nature of work changes; and the mentoring of less-experienced employees," said Monro. "In particular, the instruction of new employees will be a growing concern. The combination of new hires and the retirement of thousands of rail workers over the next few years will lead to a new generation of employees."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 9/30/2004