Despite unprecedented freight volumes and an influx of new workers, the U.S. railroads are on track to achieve their best safety record yet. Through the first six months of 2006, railroads reported a train accident rate of 3.39 per million train miles, according to data recently released by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). That's 4.2 percent lower than the current full year "best" record of 3.54 per million train miles established in 1997 and 18.4 percent below the train accident rate for the first six months of 2005.
In addition, the employee casualty rate was down 9.9 percent and the employee fatality rate was down 54.5 percent from 2005, despite a relatively inexperienced workforce. The railroads collectively have hired thousands of new workers to operate trains and maintain tracks, signals and equipment this year.
Commenting on the safety improvements, Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), said he credits training: "Our ability to improve safety ... stands as a tribute to the dedication of our employees and the thoroughness of our training programs for new employees."
Things may get even better in the future. Hamberger notes that the railroads are working on new technology that will make the industry even safer. "Advanced train control technologies that are now being tested will reduce instances of human error, which is still the single largest cause of train accidents."