Rail Switch Safety Project Tested in US

November 5, 2005

The US Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta, has announced that a federally funded test is underway to test a new rail switch system which may prevent train accidents in dark or non-signaled rail territory. About 40 percent of all mainline track is located in dark territory and carries only 20 percent of rail traffic. In 2005 alone, there have been nine train accidents—resulting in ten deaths and over 600 injuries—from misaligned switches in dark territory.

"Leaving a switch in the wrong position needlessly puts communities and railroad employees at risk and is simply unacceptable," says Mineta. The new technology, if successful, will protect railroad employees, train passengers, and the community from toxic spills, injuries, and fatal train accidents.

During the test, wireless communication devices will be installed at 49 switches along a 174-mile stretch of BNSF rail track between Tulsa and Avard, Okalahoma. Train dispatchers will monitor the devices from Fort Worth, Texas to determine when hand-operated switches are in the wrong position and direct the train to stop until field railroad workers confirm that it's safe to proceed.

This project is part of the Federal Railroad Administration's National Rail Safety Action Plan. This plan targets, and attempts to mitigate, the highest risk causes of train accidents. If this project is a success, it may produce safety changes which better protect the lives and safety of railroad workers and others.

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