FRA Audit of Remote Control Locomotive Operations Shows Fewer Accidents and Employee Injuries

WASHINGTON – A preliminary report released in May indicates that the deployment of remote control locomotives in and around rail yards has resulted in significant safety benefits, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said.

The findings are contained in the agency’s Interim Report: Safety of Remote Control Locomotives Operations.  The report finds the safety record of Remote Control Locomotives (RCLs) has been positive. For the period covering May 1, 2003 through Nov. 30, 2003, the RCL train accident rate was found to be 13.5 percent lower than the rate for conventional switching operations over the same period and the employee injury rate was 57.1 percent lower.

“This data shows that RCL technology has great potential to reduce train accidents and dramatically increase worker safety,” Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter said. “As the use of RCL expands to more rail yards around the nation, its safe implementation will continue to be a top priority.”

To date, nearly all of the accidents or incidents involving RCL operations have been the result of human error. There have been virtually no accidents or incidents caused by RCL technology malfunctions.

RCL operations are a significant departure from traditional railroading. It involves the use of a radio transmitter and receiver system, rather than a person physically located in the locomotive cab, to control a train’s movement. Previously used mainly for in-plant rail operations, many railroads have begun to make wider use of the technology.

“The use of RCL is presently restricted to rail switching operations,” Rutter said. “The FRA does not believe the current state of RCL technology and the current level of RCL operator training are sufficient to support the use of RCLs for heavy-haul train operations on the general rail system.”

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation requested that FRA assess the impact of Remote Control Operations (RCOs) on rail safety. FRA will issue a final report on RCOs within one year that will contain additional findings and recommendations regarding the adoption of best practices and possible legislative or regulatory action.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, however, questioned the data used in the FRA report.

“It is well known that self-reporting of accident/incident data by railroads has been problematic,” BLE said in a statement. “And in the case of the FRA’s ‘Preliminary Findings and Initial Accident/Injury Statistics,’ all data is based on self-reporting by railroads.”