FRA Calls on Railroads to Join in a New Safety Program Designed to Reduce Risks that Can Lead to Train Accidents and Employee Injuries

WASHINGTON- Improving upon the historic levels of safety achieved in recent years by the nation’s railroads will require the use of a new risk-based approach to identify and correct safety issues before they result in train accidents and employee injuries, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman told industry leaders at a Rail Safety Summit.

“Fixing something after it breaks or writing rule violation notices is increasingly unlikely to result in significant additional gains in rail safety,” Boardman said, who announced the Risk Reduction Program (RRP) which is aimed at supplementing current federal regulations, inspection requirements, and other compliance and enforcement activities.

Boardman said the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has recently sponsored several risk-reduction pilot projects and now is moving toward establishing the RRP as a formal agency safety program. In addition to input from rail management and labor, the FRA will be accepting public comment this fall on the RRP and how to make it most effective, he said.

The RRP initiative will develop innovative methods, processes, and technologies to address the contributing risk factors that result in train accidents and employee injuries. For example, a conventional approach to prevent train derailments is to search for and fix any broken joint bars that connect two sections of track. A risk-based strategy will focus on identifying the precursors that indicate a joint bar might break followed by proper preventive maintenance before it fails, he said.

Boardman said the RRP framework encourages voluntary participation of railroads and labor on projects that target specific risk categories such as confidential close call reporting systems, peer-to-peer accident prevention strategies, and fatigue risk management programs.

In addition, the RRP supports the strategic use by railroads of technology, such as trackside equipment to monitor trains as they roll by to identify potential safety problems. And, it will be necessary for railroads to develop and strengthen their safety cultures so that the risk-based approach to safety eventually becomes second nature, he said.

At the Rail Safety Summit, Boardman presented awards to the Union Pacific Railroad, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the United Transportation Union for their partnership with the FRA Office of Railroad Development on two effective risk-reduction demonstration projects.

The first is for the Changing At-Risk Behavior (CAB) project that resulted in an 80 percent reduction of the targeted behavior in less than two years. The other is for the ongoing Safety Through Employees Exercising Leadership (STEEL) project that has thus far removed over 75 barriers to safety.