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Rail News: Safety

Train accidents continue to drop, FRA says


Train accidents have declined for the third-straight year, according to preliminary 2007 data released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

Last year, accidents were down 13.7 percent compared with 2006 data and 24.6 percent compared with 2004. In addition, crossing fatalities decreased 8.1 percent to 339, highway-rail grade crossing incidents fell 6.9 percent and trespasser fatalities declined 6.2 percent to 486.

USDOT attributes the accident reductions in part to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) National Rail Safety Action Plan. Launched in May 2005, the program focuses on the most frequent, highest-risk causes of train accidents, optimizes the use of data to target federal inspection and enforcement resources, and accelerates research initiatives that could mitigate the greatest potential safety risks.

“We are targeting our safety activities on specific problem areas,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman, adding that the two leading causes of train accidents — human error and track — have declined 28.8 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively, since 2004.

FRA expects the safety gains to continue. In 2007, the agency added two automated track inspection vehicles to its fleet, enabling FRA to triple the number of track miles it inspects annually. The agency also approved new Positive Train Control technology for deployment in regular freight-rail service, issued a proposed rule to encourage the use of electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems and launched several grade crossing safety initiatives.

So far in 2008, FRA has issued a final rule designed to reduce common operating practice mistakes that result in nearly half of all human error-caused train accidents. And in spring, FRA plans to issue a proposed rule to improve the design standards and structural integrity of tank cars that carry hazardous materials.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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