U.S. railroads had the lowest train accident rate on record in 2016, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Derailment rates, which declined 10 percent in 2016 from 2015, as well as track-caused accident rates, are also both all-time lows. The 2016 rail safety statistics continue a string of record-setting years, showing this period has been the safest ever for the rail sector.
The freight rail industry believes there is a strong correlation between safety gains and the research, development and implementation of new technologies, as well as sustained private spending averaging $26 billion annually in recent years. Notable statistics, calculated per million train miles using March 2017 FRA data, include:
- Train accident rate is down 44 percent since 2000.
- Equipment-caused accident rate is down 34 percent since 2000.
- Track-caused accident rate is down 53 percent since 2000.
- Derailment rate is down 44 percent since 2000.
"Safety is a never-ending, constant pursuit for the freight rail industry," said Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. "Our goal remains zero incidents and zero injuries, but it is still noteworthy that railroads today are the safest they have ever been. We see clear benefits of our investments - made possible through an economic regulatory framework that allows railroads to earn the revenues needed to invest $635 billion since partial deregulation - and believe strongly in the application of new and transformative technologies." Recent years have also been the safest in terms of employee on duty injury rates. In 2016, the employee on duty injury rate dropped by 1.8 percent relative to 2015. Incidents at grade crossings rose by almost 5 percent, an unfortunate circumstance tied partly to increased highway transportation and highway accidents nationwide. Nonetheless, the freight rail industry believes that safety improvements support its goal to streamline government processes, incentivizing the FRA and other government entities to focus less on prescriptive steps and more on desired outcomes. "From an advanced system that uses multidimensional ultrasonic technology to locate defects in tracks before they create problems, to the use of drones for track and bridge inspections, freight railroads are increasingly technology-focused," added Hamberger. "Such a dynamic environment requires flexible oversight, less focused on decades' worth of mandates - inspections, tests, certifications - and more on the safety metrics the industry continues to meet. Operating a safe railroad is ultimately good business."