AAR to DOT: Automation “at an inflection point”

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Rio Tinto autonomous train

A Rio Tinto driverless iron ore train in Australia's Pilbara region.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) on May 7 filed comments with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that call for the U.S. Department of Transportation “to take the same supportive regulatory approach with railroads that it has with automation of trucks and cars.”

“Railroads share the Department’s safety goals and are poised to innovate in this area if the regulatory climate does not discourage them from doing so,” AAR said. “Automation can and will enhance the safety of the rail network, and the railroads are anxious to work with regulators to facilitate its implementation … Across the industry, automated technology is already reducing or removing the impact of human error, but regulatory barriers to reaping its full benefits remain.”

“Technology has already yielded dramatic rail safety benefits and promises to produce greater improvements in the future,” AAR noted. “Automated track inspections and wayside detectors have been able to pinpoint track and equipment defects that would escape the human eye, so they can be addressed before an accident can occur. Additionally, Positive Train Control (PTC) is, at its core, an automated backup system that will prevent accidents caused by certain types of human error.”

“While railroading in America is safer than ever, we are at an inflection point and further progress requires a paradigm shift,” said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “Emerging automated technology now makes it possible to envision, and more important, build, a future free from the cause of one-third of all train accidents—human error. The Department of Transportation has encouraged the development and deployment of this game-changing technology in other transportation sectors, and we hope this is the beginning of an ongoing conversation about how it can be put to work across the world’s best freight rail network.”

AAR submitted comments in response to the FRA’s RFI (request for information) on the future of automation in the railroad industry, and to PHMSA’s RFI on regulatory challenges to safely transporting hazardous materials by surface modes in an automated vehicle environment.

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