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House subcommittee testimony: Accidents and incidents are down, but railroads still need to step up safety efforts


At a June 10 hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Railroads, congressional and rail-industry officials acknowledged the industry's rail-safety progress during the past two decades, but called on railroads to make even greater strides.

"The overall accident rate has decreased 63 percent between 1980 and 2001, while the rate of employee injuries has declined 71 percent," said subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), citing Federal Railroad Administration data, according to a prepared statement. "In 2003, railroads have an employee injury rate lower than many other heavy industries and most other modes of transportation."

To improve grade-crossing safety, Quinn in February introduced Surface Transportation Safety Act of 2003 (H.R. 906), which calls for an increase in federal Section 130 Grade Crossing Program funding.

"I will be working with my colleagues on the Highways and Mass Transit Subcommittee for its inclusion in the TEA-21 reauthorization bill," said Quinn. "It is my hope that this legislation will make grade crossings
safer for trains and motorists."

Crossing safety is improving, but the industry needs to do more, said Jo Strang, FRA deputy associate administrator for rail development. In 2002, highway-rail crossings incidents dropped 5 percent; fatalities, 16 percent; and injuries, 14 percent compared with 2001.

"However, trespasser fatalities are up 6 percent and continue to constitute the largest single category of rail-related deaths," she said.

Other safety statistics show promise. Last year, train accidents decreased 11 percent; employee-on-duty casualties, 16 percent, and the incident rate per 200,000 employee-hours, 12 percent.

"While not even a single death or injury is acceptable, progress is being made in the effort to improve railroad safety," said Strang.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is helping some roads reduce accidents and incidents, said John Samuels, Norfolk Southern Railway senior vice president of operations planning and support.

"The rate of train collisions, which PTC is designed to prevent, has been reduced by 80 percent since 1980 and 37 percent since 1990," he said. "The concept underlying PTC is to make use of digital-data communications and computerized information systems in controlling train movement, thereby reducing the opportunity for accidents due to human error."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/11/2003