Eno Study: ‘Safety Trends Moving in the Wrong Direction’

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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A new report from the Eno Center for Transportation, “Safer Railroading: A Guide Toward Targeted Safety Policy,” points out that, although freight and passenger railroads “are among the safest modes of transportation for workers, riders, and the public,” and “strong federal standards for railroad track and operations, technological investments like PTC, and communities’ infrastructure improvements have yielded significant gains,” most of the gains “have plateaued and, in some cases, safety trends are moving in the wrong direction.”

“A new strategy and framework is needed to address the most significant safety issues facing railroads,” say authors Paul Lewis of the Eno Center for Transportation and Independent Consultant Malcolm Kenton. “This research examines trends in railroad safety data and the ways safety standards are crafted and enforced. It presents actionable recommendations for federal, state, local, and private sector actors to improve recent trends and make a demonstrable improvement in passenger and freight railroad safety. Based on these findings, more targeted policies are needed to address the significant and growing trend associated with trespassing and highway grade crossing fatalities. This report’s review of the policy framework finds that the federal government is primarily focused on addressing train crashes and workforce incidents.”

“The deadly Amtrak derailment in Montana over the weekend demonstrates that while investments in safety and safety culture have produced a decline in railroad incidents, there is much more to do,” notes Eno President and CEO Robert Puentes. “Data from the Federal Railroad Administration show that incidents on all U.S. railroads declined nearly 60% over the past 30 years. In the past decade, the total number of levelled off at about 12,000 annually, at a time when rail traffic increased. Unfortunately, while overall incidents have dropped, the number of fatalities has not. Railroad incidents that result in the loss of human life have risen 31% since 2012. Less than 1% of railroad incidents that resulted in death occur because of a train accident, like the one Montana. The largest share of fatalities come from trespassing on railroad property and incidents where trains collide with cars, trucks and buses where rails and roads intersect.

“Fortunately, the bipartisan infrastructure package winding its way through Washington has the potential to address parts of the problem, with $5 billion for rail improvement and safety grants, and another $3 billion for grade crossing safety improvements. But we need to go further. Many grade crossing and trespassing incidents need to be addressed using combined education, enforcement, and engineering approaches. In the report, we lay out a comprehensive policy agenda.”

Railroad Development Corp. helped fund the study, which an advisory panel consisting of the following individuals supported: 

  • Carol Comer, Georgia Department of Transportation.
  • Chris Zappi, Amtrak.
  • Chuck Baker, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
  • Henry Posner, Railroad Development Corporation.
  • John Gray, Association of American Railroads.
  • Kate Fox Wood, American Equipment Manufacturers.
  • Robyn Boerstling, National Association of Manufacturers.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT:

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