DOT Issues Rule to Increase Railroad Safety

The Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a new regulation that places greater accountability on both railroad management and employees, urging them to comply with basic operating rules to reduce the common mistakes that result in nearly half of all train accidents caused by human factors.

According to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, simple errors such as improperly lined track switches, shoving rail cars without monitoring the track ahead and leaving rail cars in positions that obstruct active tracks currently may now result in a violation of federal rail safety regulations.

As it stands, such mistakes only are subject to internal railroad standard operating procedures and addressed through employee disciplinary procedures or other corrective actions.

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

“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 Boardman, stressing that stricter adherence to core operating rules will prevent train accidents and employee injuries.

Boardman said the federal rule defines three distinct levels of responsibility and accountability:

  • 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 new regulations, employees have the right to challenge any orders given by a supervisor if they feel that such action would violate the rules. According to DOT, FRA actively will monitor compliance with these requirements through inspections and audits. Certain violations may result in a fine ranging from $7,500 to $16,000. In some cases, individuals also may be subject to personal liability, he said.

FRA developed this final rule after noticing an increase in human factor-caused train accidents in recent years, especially after a January 2005 accident in Graniteville, S.C., 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.

A complete copy of the final rule can be found at

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