Reducing Human Error and Strengthening Hazardous Materials Tank Cars Top Rail Safety Agenda for 2007, says DOT Secretary Peters

WASHINGTON — The Department will issue a final rule to prevent human factor-caused train accidents and complete research for new hazardous materials tank car design standards this year to continue recent improvements in rail safety, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said as part of a progress report on a Department campaign to improve rail safety.

She noted that preliminary data for 2006 shows the number of train accidents declined for the second year in a row and there were fewer highway-rail grade crossing collisions. Last year, train accidents dropped 11.3 percent over 2005 resulting in a train accident rate near 10-year low, Secretary Peters added. The positive safety trend is, in part, the result of the aggressive implementation of the Department’s National Rail Safety Action Plan, Peters said.

“Our efforts to deploy new technology, change how we conduct inspections, and focus on the major causes of train accidents are helping to improve rail safety,” Secretary Peters said, listing some of the accomplishments contained in a newly updated progress report on the Action Plan.

By the end of 2007, Peters said the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) expects to publish a final rule to prevent common human errors that lead to train accidents such as improperly lined track switches, moving rail cars without a person up front to monitor conditions ahead, and leaving rail cars in a position that obstructs an adjacent track. The rule will place greater accountability on both railroad management and labor to comply with these and other fundamental operating rules, she said.

FRA also will complete a research project into the structural integrity of hazardous materials tank cars, including assessing the dynamic forces acting on a tank car in an accident, testing the ability of tank car steels to resist fracturing when impacted under various conditions, and ranking tank car risk or vulnerability to catastrophic failure, Peters added.

The information will be used to develop new federal design standards for hazardous materials tank cars.

The Secretary said she also expects FRA to issue a report on safety at private highway-rail grade crossings, publish a proposed rule to facilitate installation of electronically-controlled pneumatic brake systems that improve train control, and revise agency policy to increase the amount of civil penalties assessed against railroads for violating federal regulations this year.

The National Rail Safety Action Plan was launched in May 2005 and targets the most frequent, high-risk causes of train accidents; optimizes the use of data to better target federal inspection and enforcement resources; and accelerates research initiatives that hold the most promise to mitigate the greatest potential safety risks.

— Special to News Wire