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Rail News Home Safety

November 2007

Rail News: Safety

Rail safety bill gets House blessing


The U.S. House on Oct. 17 passed the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act (H.R. 2095) by a 377-38 vote — a “veto-proof” majority, according to the United Transportation Union (UTU).

Introduced in May by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), H.R. 2095 proposes to re-designate the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as the Federal Railroad Safety Administration (FRSA), which would be charged with reducing rail accidents, injuries and fatalities as its highest priority, and be required to double the number of safety inspectors from 400 to 800 by Dec. 31, 2011.

Additionally, the bill would reduce operating crews’ “limbo” time to a maximum of 10 hours monthly, foster the implementation of positive train control (PTC) by 2014, require mainline switching in dark territory, establish minimum and uniform training standards for all rail workers and require conductor certification.

The passage of H.R. 2095 represents “the first of many legislative and bargaining victories we anticipate by combining resources and energies,” said Mike Sullivan, who on Jan. 1, 2008, becomes general president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers, a combination of the UTU and Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Meanwhile, the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act (S. 1889) remained on the Senate floor as of press time. Introduced in July by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, S. 1889 would authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to update hours-of-service rules to provide rail workers more rest time and reduce limbo time.

The bill also would mandate certain usage of PTC to reduce train accidents, and require states to report grade crossing protection measures to the federal government to help identify problem areas and reduce accidents risks.

U.S. roads reduce train accidents, AAR says

During 2007’s first seven months, U.S. railroads reported 1,472 train accidents — the fewest within a January-to-July period in more than a decade, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Thirty-four states reported fewer derailments and collisions compared with 2006’s first seven months.

Preliminary Federal Railroad Administration safety data also shows the roads’ train accident rate — determined as the number of accidents per million train miles — remained 10 percent below the current annual record of 3.54 set in 1997, keeping the railroads on pace to establish an all-time-low rate at 3.19, the AAR said.

Railroads made other safety strides in the first seven months, as well. The number of derailments declined 14.3 percent, train-to-train collisions fell 12.1 percent, grade crossing accidents decreased 7.3 percent and crossing fatalities dropped 11.2 percent year over year.

Plus, the two leading causes of train accidents — human error and track issues — declined 12.5 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively. Incidents caused by equipment failure decreased 11.3 percent and accidents caused by signal problems dropped 36 percent.


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