Taking a Look Back at 2005 for Railroads

ATHENS, Ga. — For better or worse, 2005 began and ended with the railroad industry in the headlines.

On Jan. 6, two Norfolk Southern trains collided in Graniteville, S.C. The National Transportation Board later ruled the crew of a Norfolk Southern train failed to return a main line switch to the normal position after the crew completed work at an industry track.

Fast forward 12 months.

In December, the subway drivers in New York City went on strike, an illegal strike at that. It was eventually resolved, with the union coming out of the deal with what it wanted.

But there were more headlines throughout the months in between, though some didn’t crack the pages of the mainstream media.

Beleaguered Amtrak decided to dump David Gunn in November.

Hurricane Katrina caused major disruptions to the railroad industry after it pummeled New Orleans on Aug. 29.

In case Amtrak’s financial woes weren’t enough, the railroad on April 15 suspended Acela operations after the discovery of cracks on the spokes of brake discs. They returned to service in July.

The year 2005 also marked the 25th anniversary of the Staggers Act, deregulating the industry. It was perhaps the single most influential railroad-related legislation last century.

And railroads still are not immune to terrorism and remain a possible target.

But the news in the railroad industry wasn’t all doom and gloom in 2005.

During the first half of the year, the overall number of “rail-related accidents and incidents” declined by 12 percent, the Federal Railroad Administration announced.

Among the improvements: The number of people who died in a train wreck at a grade crossing dropped by 11.7 percent, according to the FRA.

Let’s hope we can continue with that trend in 2006.

In reality, in 2006, we’ll probably be continuing to discuss some of the same issues, such as terrorism and what the government is doing to keep America’s rails safe.

In the coming year, and years for that matter, let’s hope we’re not writing about what railroads did wrong after it’s too late.

Published in the January 2006 edition of The Cross-Tie.