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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

U.S. DOT Takes Action to Reduce Train Accidents Caused by Human Error, Greater Accountability Placed on Railroad Management and Employees for Safety

Document Series
Press Releases
Press Release Number
Contact Name
Steve Kulm or Warren Flatau
Contact Phone Number
(202) 493-6024

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 (Washington, DC)

U.S. DOT Takes Action to Reduce Train Accidents Caused by Human Error, Greater Accountability Placed on Railroad Management and Employees for Safety

Reducing common mistakes that result in nearly half of all human factor-caused train accidents is the aim of a new federal regulation that places greater accountability on both railroad management and employees for complying with basic operating rules, announced U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

"We are tackling several commonplace errors that can lead to serious train accidents," said Secretary Peters, noting issuance of this rule is the centerpiece of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) National Rail Safety Action Plan.

Peters explained that relatively simple errors such as improperly lined track switches, shoving rail cars without a person in front to monitor for clear track ahead, and leaving rail cars in a position that obstruct or foul an active track may now result in a violation of federal rail safety regulations. At present, these types of mistakes are generally only subject to internal railroad standard operating procedures and addressed through employee disciplinary procedures or other corrective actions.

"We want everyone to know how to do their jobs safely every time, every day, no matter what task they are performing," said FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman, stressing that stricter adherence to core operating rules will prevent train accidents and employee injuries.


Boardman said the federal rule essentially defines three distinct levels of responsibility and accountability including: railroad managers for putting in place programs designed to test employees for proficiency in abiding by applicable operating rules; supervisors for properly administering such operational tests; and employees for complying with the rules. Under the regulations, employees will have a "right of challenge" should they be instructed to take actions that, in good faith, they believe would violate the rules. FRA will actively monitor compliance with these requirements through inspections and audits, and certain violations may result in a fine ranging from $7,500 to $16,000. In some cases, individuals may also be subject to personal liability, he said.

FRA undertook development of this final rule after detecting an increase in human factor-caused train accidents in recent years. Additional impetus was provided by a January 2005 accident in Graniteville, SC, that killed nine people. The accident occurred when a train was erroneously diverted off a mainline track due to an improperly lined switch, then collided with a parked train, and resulted in the release of toxic chlorine gas from three tank cars.

For an overview of the operating practices final rule, please click here
A complete copy of the final rule can be found by clicking here

Last updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2008
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