Train Accidents Fell 14% in 2007; Hazmat Incidents Rose

March 6, 2008

There were fewer accidents and deaths involving trains in the U.S. last year, but more railroad incidents involving hazardous materials.

Last year, 486 people nationwide were killed after trespassing on railroad lines compared with 518 deaths in 2006. Another 339 fatalities involving trains and a car or truck, 30 fewer than in 2006, according to preliminary data released by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The number of fatalities rose in 2006 compared with the previous year.

The total number of train accidents — including derailments, collisions or other accidents — fell by nearly 14 percent last year to 2,547.

A troubling area of incidents that did rise last year involved railroad cars that released hazardous materials, which jumped to 43 reports from 28 in 2006.

More trains carrying ethanol and relatively new technologies used to safely release the fuel likely contributed to that increase, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman told reporters.

The U.S. ethanol industry produced about 6.49 billion gallons of the fuel last year, up from about 4.86 billion gallons in 2006, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

On Monday night, part of a Union Pacific train derailed in Mecca, Calif., causing two of its tanker cars to catch fire and emit a cloud of acid fumes. Boardman said he had not yet reviewed details of the incident.

About 60 residents of the Southern California desert town were evacuated from their homes, but authorities said no one has been hurt. Fire and railroad officials said one of the burning tanker cars contains hydrochloric acid, which is corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes.

A series of accidents in recent years — including a January 2005 train collision and chemical spill in Graniteville, S.C., that killed nine people and injured hundreds– led the FRA to develop a new plan for safety oversight that focuses on the most frequent causes of accidents.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control in January said more than 850 people were injured and sought medical care following the train wreck, and that thousands were evacuated from the area when a Norfolk Southern train car carrying chlorine ruptured and released a poisonous cloud over the mill town near the Georgia state line.

A Norfolk Southern spokeswoman earlier this year said the company settled all nine of the wrongful death cases and has paid about $41 million following the derailment.

The Federal Railroad Administration last year added two automated track inspection vehicles that allowed it to triple the number of track-miles inspected annually, and approved new technologies and grade crossing safety initiatives, Boardman said.

On the Net:

The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis
searchable databases of accidents, incidents, inspections and
highway-crossing information can be accessed at:

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