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Rail industry beefs up efforts to boost safety
Freight- and transit-rail traffic might have hit record highs last year, but U.S. railroads posted fewer train and grade crossing accidents, according to preliminary 2006 safety data released last month by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
In 2006, U.S. railroads reported 2,834 train accidents, 12.4 percent or 402 fewer than in 2005 — the second-straight year accidents declined. The number of derailments decreased 8.3 percent and collisions between trains dropped 27.1 percent compared with 2005 data. Train accidents caused by human error — the No. 1 cause — decreased 20.2 percent, according to the FRA. Accidents caused by signal problems, equipment failure and track issues decreased 27.0 percent, 8.2 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.
Keeping a close eye at crossings
Meanwhile, the number of highway-rail grade crossing collisions fell 5.0 percent, but crossing fatalities increased 1.4 percent to 362 and trespasser fatalities — the leading cause of all rail-related deaths — increased 14.5 percent to 530.
Freight and passenger railroads continue to step up efforts to reduce fatalities. For example, last month, Metrolink, the Orange County Transportation Authority, Amtrak, Operation Lifesaver and Union Pacific Railroad launched a rail safety and education and enforcement program in Orange County — the parties’ first-ever county-wide crossing safety program.
More than 20 law enforcement agencies within the county participated, as well. During the two-day event, officers issued $300 citations to 209 motorists and 29 pedestrians that violated crossing laws, says Metrolink Manager of Safety and Security Ed Pederson. The agency currently is planning its next safety event; Metrolink conducts about eight per year, Pederson says.
The FRA will beef up safety efforts, as well. This year, the administration plans to add two new automated track inspection vehicles to its fleet to triple the number of track miles inspected each year; issue a final rule to address the most common human factor causes of train accidents, such as misaligned track switches; and complete several grade crossing safety and trespass prevention initiatives.
— Angela Cotey