Recently released statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reveal a mixed safety story for the rail industry with 2017 marking the lowest rate of track-caused and human factor-caused accidents ever, but the year also saw an increase in crossing incidents and in trespassing casualties.
First, the good news, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) credits rail employee’s commitment to safety, as well as investments in maintenance and new technologies from railroads as reasons behind the industry’s strong safety record. The AAR points to several notable safety statistics that are on a downward trend since 2000 and include a 44 percent decline in the train accident rate, a 38 percent decline in the equipment-caused accident rate, a 55 percent reduction in the track-caused accident rate, a 45 percent reduction in the human factor-caused accident rate and a 42 percent decline in the derailment rate.
“While the safety of rail operations remains strong, our job is not done,” said AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger. “The rise in pedestrian deaths in 2017 is a stark reminder of the perils of risky behavior around railroad tracks.”
The FRA’s statistics show a 22 percent increase in trespass deaths between 2016 and 2017, as well as increases in crossing collisions, crossing deaths and trespass injuries. Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI), notes that the 2017 rail trespass casualty rate (deaths and injuries per million train-miles) was 1.55, its highest level in the past decade.
“We are very concerned about the increase in crossing incidents and deaths, and alarmed by the sharp rise in trespass deaths,” said Interim OLI President Wende Corcoran.
She continued by saying OLI would focus public attention on these issues during September’s Rail Safety Week and pledged to continue a close working relationship between FRA and OLI’s state programs to continue to spread the safety message.
“Increasing public awareness is absolutely paramount to helping people make better decisions around railroad grade crossings and tracks,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The Federal Railroad Administration, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has re-launched our national ‘Stop. Trains Can’t.’ campaign to further educate people about the dangers of grade crossings and to reach key, at-risk demographics. The Department of Transportation is unwavering, deliberate and committed to this important issue.”
States with the most crossing collisions in 2017 were Texas, California, Illinois, Florida and Georgia. States with the most trespasser casualties (deaths and injuries combined) in 2017 were California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois. There were 888 total fatalities in 2017, 575* (64.7 percent) were trespass deaths and 274 (30.8 percent) were crossing deaths.
*The FRA’s trespasser fatality statistics exclude highway-rail crossings