DOT: Action Plan Contributes to Nearly 25 Percent Decrease in Train Accidents

WASHINGTON — The number of train accidents has decreased by 23.3 percent in the past three years in part because the Department of Transportation has completed an ambitious plan designed to improve safety on the Nation’s railroads, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters says.

“We’ve seen how much can be done when you combine good data analysis, sound strategies, and focused decisions to tackle persistent safety problems,” Peters said, stressing the achievements resulted from the Department’s National Rail Safety Action Plan, the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) comprehensive freight and passenger rail safety programs and the work of railroads, rail employees and others.

Between 2004 and 2007, the improvements in rail safety were numerous, Peters said. For example, there was an across the board decline in every cause category of train accidents, including the two largest causes — human factors and track flaws, which fell 27.2 percent and 13.8 percent respectively.

Also, there were 10.9 percent fewer grade crossing collisions and an 8.9 percent decrease in grade crossing fatalities. And, the train accident rate decreased 25 percent reaching a 10-year low in 2007 at 3.3 accidents per million train miles.

“Our focus will now turn to developing a risk-reduction strategy to further drive down the number of train accidents,” said FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman, noting the new safety approach supplements existing methods of federal safety oversight and compliance enforcement.

Boardman stated the risk-reduction approach helps railroads and FRA identify, analyze, and correct safety issues before they result in a train accident or employee injury. The ongoing FRA Confidential Close Call Reporting System demonstration project is just one example of the risk-reduction strategy at work, he said.

Peters explained the Action Plan was launched in May 2005 and focused on reducing the most frequent and highest-risk causes of train accidents; accelerating research to strengthen rail tank cars carrying the most dangerous hazardous materials; addressing the effects of fatigue on train crews; enhancing highway-rail grade crossing safety; and using data in a new way to better direct federal inspection resources to where they are needed most.