WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Association of American Railroads has deemed 2009 the safest year in freight railroad history. Preliminary year-end data indicates 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, signalling 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% last year, with the rate per million train-miles falling 12% from the previous record which was established in 2008. The number of employee casualties on freight railroads fell by 14% while the casualty rate declined 4% 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%.
Also at a record low level was the total number of rail-related fatalities (497) reported last year on freight railroads. Some 93% of them involved either grade crossing collisions or trespassers, incidents over which railroads have little control, according to AAR officials.
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% since 1980 and 35% 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.”