Rail among the Safest Modes of Transportation

The Eno Center for Transportation released a report on Rail Safety in September 2021. The report features research from Amtrak, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, Association of American Railroads, and more. Let’s look at the overall findings.

The report found that strong public policies and private and public investment has made freight and passenger railroads among the safest modes of transportation for workers, riders, and the public. Much safer than freight truck and passenger car transport on all measures. Incidents on U.S. railroads have declined nearly 60 percent over the past three decades, but have hovered around 12,000 incidents annually since 2009. Overall fatalities declined by 45% between 1991 and 2012, but have risen by 31% since 2012.

One area of concern is that 97% of railroad-related fatalities involve grade crossings and trespassing. Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas each have more than 80 grade crossing incidents per year. Further, Georgia has the highest rates of trespassing-related injuries and fatalities, and California, Colorado, Florida, and Oregon have worsening trends. While the most acute problems in railroad safety are with trespassing and grade crossing incidents, most federal safety policies and funding focuses on rail accidents and incidents not at grade crossings.

OneRail has supported significant increases in funding for highway-grade crossings. Learn more about our policy provisions and funding priorities. 

So how should the country combat these issues? Eno recommends a new, tailored framework that includes expanding eligibility for federal railroad grade crossing grants to include comprehensive engineering, education, and enforcement approaches. For example, statistics suggest that efforts to prevent collisions between trains and road vehicles should be less focused on upgrading warning devices, but instead more focused on educational and engineering efforts to deter risky behavior and redesign or eliminate the types of crossings that have been shown to be more dangerous. Additionally, expanded funding to organizations like Operation Lifesaver as well as engaging policy areas of homelessness, addiction, and mental health can create multifaceted strategies, including those involving new technologies to monitor and address problem areas, to address persistent problems.