View Full Version : Secretary Mineta Unveils National Rail Safety Action Plan

05-17-2005, 01:13 AM
Monday, May 16, 2005

A new plan to improve safety along the nation’s railroads was unveiled today by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta during a visit to Columbia, S.C. The plan will help prevent train accidents caused by human error, improve the safety of hazmat shipments, minimize the dangers of crew fatigue, deploy state-of-the-art technologies to detect track defects, and focus inspectors on safety trouble spots.

Secretary Mineta today outlined the new National Rail Safety Action Plan, which represents the Department of Transportation’s aggressive new approach to improving safety throughout the railroad industry. The plan will target the most frequent, highest-risk causes of accidents, focus federal oversight and inspection resources, and accelerate research into new technologies that can vastly improve rail safety.

“The aggressive and comprehensive plan I am unveiling today will bolster safety along America’s rails and help prevent the tragic and costly rail accidents that still plague the nation’s railroad network. This step-by-step action plan targets the fundamental factors that cause rail accidents,” Secretary Mineta said.

One of the primary safety issues addressed in the plan is human error, the largest single factor accounting for 38 percent of all accidents over the last five years. Preliminary findings from the tragic accident in Graniteville this January point to human error as the cause – the failure of a train crew to properly line a switch back to the mainline track.

Under the plan, Secretary Mineta, with guidance from some of the nation’s top rail safety advisors, is seeking to develop a new federal rule to address human factor accidents. He said the Department is also accelerating research into the role fatigue plays in accidents to help railroads set better crew schedules.

The Secretary also announced the implementation of a new National Inspection Plan for deploying inspectors and resources to safety hot spots before accidents occur. And as part of that reinvigorated inspection effort, the Federal Railroad Administration is investing in special high-tech rail cars that automatically inspect tracks integrity as they roll along the rails.

The safe transport of hazardous materials by rail is also a major focus of the action plan. In response to FRA’s call to action, the railroad industry will now provide local emergency responders a ranked listing of the top 25 hazardous materials transported through their community. And by July, Mineta said, the FRA will launch a new pilot program providing emergency responders with real-time information via secure website about the hazardous materials involved in train accidents.

Additionally, to help alleviate risk in so-called “dark territory” – or railroad lines without signal systems, the Department is investigating new devices to detect if switches are in the correct position, and low-cost circuits to detect broken rails. FRA is also beginning field-tests on new technology that automatically controls train movements and speed, including bringing a train to a stop.

“While the railroad industry’s overall safety record has improved over the last decade, very serious accidents continue to occur. Growth in both freight and vehicle traffic has created new opportunities and new challenges in the form of more trains on our tracks than ever before. But safety must remain the core principle that guides operations on our nation’s rail system,” Secretary Mineta said.

“We’ve got to stay focused on safety to keep our trains moving,” he said.