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The FAST Act and the railroad industry

New federal legislation increases railroad safety by improving funding and requiring technology and infrastructure upgrades.

Trains fill important transportation and shipping roles in Nevada, and ensuring safety is a federal and state concern. While legislation has been in place requiring the implementation of technology that would reduce the likelihood of train accidents, until recently the industry has not had the resources to fully carry out these responsibilities, according to Railway Age. Now, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act has updated the requirements, and addressed funding issues, as well.

Provisions affecting passenger train safety

To lower the risk of derailments, injury accidents and fatalities on passenger and commuter trains, the FAST Act calls for improvements in alerters, action plans for speed limits, redundant signal protection and others. In addition, cameras must be set up to record internal and external activities. This will assist in holding crews responsible for mistakes as well as helping to identify problems with the tracks and other components of the system.

The assets for implementing these and other improvements will be supplemented and maximized through federal and state collaboration.

Freight train requirements

Hazardous materials are a concern on freight trains because of the increased threat they pose in an accident. The U.S. Department of Transportation rules for tank cars have been tightened by the FAST Act to ensure that they include thermal blankets, which reduce the risk of rupture and fires.

There is also a provision in the legislation mandating that companies provide real-time data at all times. In the event of an accident, emergency responders would have access to critical information such as which cars contain hazardous materials and how they should be dealt with.

Technology implementation

The FAST Act sets aside funding to put Positive Train Control, or PTC, into operation. According to the American Association of Railroads, this technology is an automatic braking system. Wireless communication transfers information about the train and tracks to identify the stopping distance that would be necessary in a given situation.

Although the system cannot override all operator errors or prevent crashes that occur due to vehicles or people on the tracks illegally, it can prevent many other types of accidents. For example, risks of speed-related derailments, collisions between trains and some signaling or switch errors are much lower.

Collision data

The FAST Act’s crossing and signaling improvements may help to lower the numbers of collisions between vehicles and trains. While those who travel by train rather than passenger vehicle have a lower risk of a transportation-related crash, Operation Lifesaver reports that collisions between vehicles and trains have remained high. In 2014, there were 2,287 crashes, resulting in 849 injuries and 269 deaths.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data indicates that the chance of death in a collision involving a vehicle and a train is 20 times higher than with another vehicle. These statistics do not include accidents involving only trains.

Whether a victim of a train accident is a railroad employee, a motorist or a train passenger, the results can be devastating. A personal injury attorney may be able to provide assistance in ensuring that all responsible parties are held liable.