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2009 safest year ever for nation’s freight railroads

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The Association of American Railroads said that 2009 was the safest year in freight railroad history, with preliminary year-end data indicating the train accident rate, employee casualty rate and grade crossing incident rates were all at record low levels last year.

"This record of
accomplishment shows the depth of the freight railroad industry’s commitment to
the safety of our employees, the communities we serve and the country’s rail
network infrastructure," said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger.
"Our industry is only as safe as our employees make it. From their very
first day on the job, they learn that safety is the most important aspect of
their railroading job."

Another factor leading to
improved safety, Hamberger noted, was the industry’s continued near-record
investments in maintaining and improving track, signaling systems, freight cars
and locomotives. In spite of a poor economy, freight railroads last year
invested more than $9 billion in capital improvement programs, the third
highest investment in history. Since 1980, freight railroads have invested more
than $460 billion – 40 cents of every revenue dollar – to maintain and improve
the nation’s rail network.

The Federal Railroad
Administration’s preliminary data shows that the total number of train
accidents involving freight railroads declined by 26 percent last year, with
the rate per million train-miles falling 12 percent from the previous record,
which was established in 2008. The number of employee casualties on freight
railroads fell by 14 percent while the casualty rate declined 4 percent from
2008 when the previous record was established.

The number of grade
crossing collisions last year on freight railroads (1,670) fell below 2,000 for
the first time ever, and the rate 2.96 per million train miles bested the
previous low set in 2008 by more than 9 percent.

Also at a record low
level was the total number of rail-related fatalities (497) reported last year
on freight railroads. Some 93 percent of them involved either grade crossing
collisions or trespassers, incidents over which railroads have little control.

Hamberger noted that at a
time when the nation’s railroads face a $10-billion federal mandate to install
positive train control systems, the primary purpose of which is to prevent
train collisions, the industry is seeing record low collision rates, of 0.23
per million train miles. The collision rate has dropped by 87 percent since 1980
and 35 percent since 2000. Also reaching new lows last year were derailments
per million train-miles and accidents caused by defective track and human
error.

"The safety
challenge is a never-ending one," said Hamberger. "That’s why
railroads will never become complacent where safety is concerned.  Freight
railroads have extensive employee training programs, and continue to invest
heavily to maintain and improve both equipment and track. We look forward to
making 2010 another year of railroad safety improvement."

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