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Train accidents decline for third consecutive year in US

The number of train accidents across the United States declined for the third consecutive year according to preliminary 2007 data released by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters. “Our strong focus on improving rail safety is achieving significant results for three years running now,” Secretary Peters said, noting there has been 833 fewer train accidents, or a 24.6 percent reduction when comparing the period from 2004 to 2007.

Peters stressed that some of the safety gains are attributable to aggressive implementation of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) National Rail Safety Action Plan first launched in May 2005. It focuses on the most frequent, highest-risk causes of train accidents; optimizes the use of data to target federal inspection and enforcement resources; and accelerates research initiatives that hold promise to mitigate the greatest potential safety risks, she explained.

“We are targeting our safety activities on specific problem areas,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman, highlighting that the two leading causes of train accidents–human error and track—have declined 28.8 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively since 2004.

Comparing the preliminary full-year 2007 data to 2006, Peters stated that last year railroads had 406 fewer train accidents nationwide, or a 13.7 percent reduction. California (down 46), Texas (down 45), and New York (down 30) led the way among the 34 states that experienced reductions, she said.

Also, last year the number of highway-rail grade crossing incidents fell by 6.9 percent and grade crossing fatalities decreased by 8.1 percent to 339. And, trespass fatalities, the number one cause of all rail-related deaths, decreased by 6.2 percent to 486.

Boardman said that in 2007 the FRA added two new automated track inspection vehicles to its fleet enabling the agency to triple the number of track-miles inspected annually; announced approval of new Positive Train Control (PTC) technology for deployment in regular freight rail service, issued a proposed rule to encourage expanded use of safer Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) train braking systems, and undertook several wide-ranging grade crossing safety initiatives.

Thus far in 2008, the FRA issued a final rule designed to reduce common operating practice mistakes that result in nearly half of all human factor-caused train accidents. And, this spring the FRA intends to issue a proposed rule to strengthen the design standards and structural integrity of rail tank cars that carry hazardous materials, Boardman emphasized.