Utah is home to seven railroads and nearly fourteen hundred miles of track. Farmers, miners, and manufacturers rely on freight rail to connect Utah to markets across the county and internationally. Intermodal, commonly the movement of consumer goods, accounts for one third of all rail traffic in the State.
The National Retail Federation recently announced that it expects holiday retail sales to increase by 4 percent this year, reaching some $682 billion. A positive indicator of the strengthening economy, this increased demand will require an efficient, reliable transportation network to deliver for consumers. America’s freight railroads—leading the infrastructure pack—expect to spend $22 billion, or $60 million per day, on their network this year alone.
As railroads deliver day in, day out for businesses and consumers, safety is their all-year, round-the-clock priority. Every railroader’s job starts with a focus on keeping train crews, highway crossings and the customers and communities railroads serve safe. Here are five things you may not have realized about rail safety.
Private investments correlate with increased safety
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics announced earlier this year show that 2016 was the safest year on record for freight railroads. Last year not only marked the lowest train accident rate on record, but likewise the lowest derailment rate, which declined 10 percent from 2015. These gains are not anomalies, but examples of how steady rail investment pays safety dividends. For example, since railroads were economically deregulated in 1980, they have spent over $630 billion and the train accident rate has decreased 79 percent.
Railroads are on the cutting-edge of safety
Trains have come a long way since the days of the Iron Horse. State-of-the-art technologies like big data, drones, and ultrasound technology are just a few of the innovations railroads use to advance rail safety. For example, while today’s inspection technology currently makes it possible for railroads to identify 90 percent of track defects before they lead to an incident, multidimensional ultrasonic technology, currently in testing, aims to identify the remaining 10 percent of track imperfections.
Big data is also helping to identify problems before they happen. Every day, railroads receive and store vast amounts of data gathered from the wayside detectors and other monitors along the rail network. This data — hundreds of trillions of bytes — is then used to identify critical risk factors. For instance, this data has led to a new industry standard for when wheels must be removed before they break.
North American railroads partner to run the world’s leading rail research facility
In Pueblo, Colo., railroads jointly support the Transportation Technology Center, Inc., or TTCI, the world’s leading rail research and testing facility. Many of rail’s new technologies — like the world’s first laser-based rail inspection system, or on-board computer systems that analyze track geometry — are developed and tested at TTCI.
Also housed at TTCI, the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC), trains thousands of first responders every year. SERTC is a collaboration between railroads and the FRA, where responders get hands-on experience with simulated hazmat incidents. The center also offers free, web-based training for those who cannot attend in person.
There’s an app for first responders
Thousands of first responders around the country have signed up for one of freight rail’s latest innovations: a mobile app called AskRail. Launched in October 2014, the app is designed to prepare responders for a rail emergency by providing immediate access to accurate, timely data about what type of hazardous materials a railcar is carrying. AskRail can only be downloaded by qualified emergency responders who have completed rail emergency training. Railroads can also offer the app to known emergency responders along their routes. To learn more about the application process visit: www.askrail.us.
Positive Train Control is the largest and most complex safety system in the history of the railroad industry
In 2008, Congress mandated that railroads install Positive Train Control (PTC), a set of advanced technologies designed to automatically stop a train before certain incidents occur, across some 60,000 miles of the rail network. Implementation requires the deployment of hundreds of thousands of technology pieces, the precise geo-mapping of tens of thousands of miles of railroad right-of-way, as well as extensive training and testing to ensure systems are interoperable.
Despite the complexities and challenges of implementing PTC, freight railroads are on track to meet the deadline set out by Congress in 2015. The industry has invested upwards of $7.9 billion so far, spending about $100 million per month on continued development, testing and installation.
[By Michael Gaynor, GoRail.org]
Michael Gaynor is Assistant Vice President of Field Operations at GoRail, a national non-profit promoting the benefits of freight railroads.