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Although train derailments and accidents at grade crossings have declined over the past decade, rail safety improvement "still has a long way to go" toward reaching the goal of zero accidents, injuries and fatalities, Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), told a gathering of public transportation agency leaders on Monday.In prepared remarks delivered to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., Feinberg praised the rail industry for its efforts to improve safety over the past decade. "Over the last decade, total train accidents are down. Derailments are down. Highway grade crossing incidents have declined," she said. "The rail industry, in many ways, is safer than it has ever been in history."However, "some of those numbers look to be ticking up on us again," she noted."Over the last year, the number of incidents at grade crossings increased by 9 percent, and the number of fatalities at grade crossings increased by 16 percent," Feinberg said. "Those most recent statistics alone serve as a stark reminder that our work is not done."The fatal Feb. 3 collision between an MTA Metro-North train and an SUV at a grade crossing in Valhalla, N.Y., that killed six people occurred just two weeks after Feinberg started her job as acting FRA administrator. Three weeks later, a Metrolink train and a truck-trailer collided at a grade crossing in California; that accident resulted in one fatality and 27 people injured."Stark and painful reminders that we have a ways to go to make grade crossings safer," Feinberg said.As a result, following the Metro-North grade-crossing incident, she said she asked FRA staff to take a fresh look at grade-crossing safety and called on law enforcement agencies to "step up patrols at grade crossings, to increase their efforts to write citations to drivers who don't obey the rules of the road, and to immediately begin employing best practices to better safeguard communities."And in the coming weeks, the FRA will have more to announce — "about increasing public awareness about grade crossing dangers, about how to better employ technology, and about how we might be able to increase funding to assist local communities that want to improve safety features at grade crossings," Feinberg said.
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