FRA: Study Supports Link Between Fatigue, Train Accidents

As part of an ongoing effort to target the highest risks and major causes of train accidents, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is releasing a study that, according to the agency, provides a strong scientific rationale for evaluating railroad employee work schedules to address worker fatigue.

According to FRA, human factor errors are responsible for nearly 40 percent of all train accidents over the past 5 years. An FRA evaluation of the research findings confirms that fatigue plays a role in approximately one out of four of those accidents, the agency said.

"In almost every other category of train accidents, we've seen a steady decline in recent years, but human-factor-caused accidents are increasing," FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman said. "Widespread acceptance by the railroad industry of the validated findings of this fatigue report could potentially lead to fewer serious train accidents."

Boardman noted that the goal of the research was to determine if a fatigue model can accurately and reliably predict an increased risk of human error that could contribute to the occurrence of a train accident.

A mathematical model for detecting the point at which the risk of fatigue becomes hazardous could be part of a railroad's fatigue management plan. FRA expects that this information will aid the railroad industry in improving crew scheduling practices in order to reduce that risk. A similar approach currently is utilized by the Department of Defense.

Study Analyzed 1,400 Train Accidents

As part of the study, researchers analyzed the 30-day work-schedule histories of locomotive crews preceding approximately 1,400 train accidents and found a strong statistical correlation between the crew's estimated level of alertness and the likelihood that they would be involved in an accident caused by human factors, FRA said.

The relationship, FRA noted, is so strong that the level of fatigue associated with some work schedules was found to be equivalent to being awake for 21 hours following an 8-hour sleep period the previous night. At this level, train accidents consistent with fatigue, such as failing to stop for red signals, were more likely to occur.

Boardman added that this fatigue study is an important part of the FRA's National Rail Safety Action Plan, a comprehensive effort to target the major causes of railroad incidents.

The report, titled "Validation and Calibration of a Fatigue Assessment Tool for Railroad Work Schedules, Summary Report," as well as a supplemental agency evaluation, can be found http://www.fra.dot.gov.

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