Train Accidents Decline for Second Year in a Row Preliminary 2006 Safety Data Show

Special to News Wire

WASHINGTON – The number of train accidents declined for the second year in a row and there were fewer highway-rail grade crossing collisions according to preliminary 2006 rail safety data announced today by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

“The aggressive actions we are taking to improve rail safety are paying dividends,” Secretary Peters said. “As a result, many communities where trains operate are safer,” she added, noting that 36 states experienced fewer train accidents in 2006 as compared to 2005.

The preliminary statistics released today by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reveal that in 2006 railroads had 402 fewer train accidents nationwide, or a 12.4 percent reduction from 2005, Peters said. Specifically, the number of derailments declined 8.3 percent and collisions between trains decreased by 27.1 percent. Texas led the nation with 51 fewer train accidents last year followed by Ohio (34), Nebraska (32), Indiana (29), New Jersey (24), and California (23).

The data for 2006 also reveal that train accidents caused by human error—the leading cause of all train accidents–declined 20.2 percent, Peters said. Train accidents caused by track issues decreased 5.8 percent, and those caused by equipment failure and signal problems fell by 8.2 percent and 27.0 percent, respectively, she added.

In addition, last year the number of highway-rail grade crossing collisions fell by 5.0 percent. However, grade crossing fatalities increased by 1.4 percent to 362. And, trespass fatalities, the number one cause of all rail-related deaths, increased by 14.5 percent to 530.

FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman emphasized that some of the safety gains are attributable to aggressive implementation of the Department’s National Rail Safety Action Plan which 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.

Boardman said that during 2007, the FRA is planning additional action to further improve rail safety, including: adding two new automated track inspection vehicles to its fleet to triple the number of track-miles inspected each year; issuing a final rule to address the most common human factor causes of train accidents such as misaligned track switches; and completing several grade crossing safety and trespass prevention initiatives.

He noted that last month the Department submitted a rail safety reauthorization bill to Congress seeking authority to address key safety issues like regulating railroad employee hours of service and establishing new risk reduction programs.