One thing I won't ever get tired of saying is that, at DOT our number one priority is safety. That means protecting your safety in our nation's skies, on our roadways, on our railways, and on our transit systems. It also means protecting our nation's cargo, the goods we need and use every day and the supplies, raw materials and finished products that fuel our economic engine.
America's freight and passenger railroads provide a safe way to help people and freight get where they need to go. And I'm happy to say that by, virtually every statistical measurement, 2012 was the safest rail year on record.
Compared to 2011, last year's train accident rate per million train miles was down 19 percent. And the grade crossing collision rate fell by 8 percent.
According to Federal Railroad Administration data, from 1980 to 2012, the U.S. train accident rate fell 80 percent and the U.S. rail employee injury rate fell 85 percent. Since 2000, those declines have been 45 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Train collisions per million train-miles have dropped 87 percent since 1980 and 36 percent since 2000.
A grade crossing is a location where a highway or road--including sidewalks and paths--crosses railroad tracks at the same level as the street. Every day, trains travel across more than 212,000 highway-rail grade crossings. The FRA is working hard to bring the number of grade-crossing incidents down even further by ensuring that crossings function effectively and by educating the public about the risks of ignoring a train signal and proceeding through a closed crossing.
The one notable exception to the continuous improvement in rail safety is illegal trespassing – one of the most vexing safety issues that the industry faces. Despite efforts to educate the public, some people still choose to trespass and take dangerous shortcuts.
Despite our efforts to educate the public, some people still choose to take dangerous shortcuts along railroad rights-of-way. The number of deaths and injuries from rail trespassing in 2012 increased from 2011. So we have our work cut out for us in continuing to educate the public about the dangers of trespassing on America's rails.
As Association of American Railroads President Ed Hamberger said, “These tragedies affect many communities across the country, and the freight rail industry remains committed to public education efforts that warn youth of the dangers of playing on railroad tracks.”
The AAR's member railroads have done a terrific job in improving the safety of their operations, and they have been good partners in public education. We've also had tremendous help from Operation Lifesaver, a nationwide, non-profit public information program dedicated to reducing collisions, injuries and fatalities at highway-rail crossings and on rail rights-of-way.
2012 was indeed a good year for overall rail safety, but as in all the safety areas DOT covers, we can do better, and we will.