Transportation plan targets rail safety

The Transportation Department has unveiled a national plan to improve railroad safety by deploying new technologies to detect track defects, reduce human error that contributes to accidents and better monitor and share information about hazardous materials shipments.

Although railroad safety has improved overall during the last decade, serious accidents continue to occur, Transportation secretary Norman Mineta said yesterday. 'This step-by-step action plan targets the fundamental factors that cause rail accidents,' he said.

Mineta also announced a national inspection plan for deploying inspectors and resources to safety hot spots before accidents occur. As part of that effort, the Federal Railroad Administration is investing in special high-tech rail cars that automatically inspect tracks to detect cracks as they roll along the rails. Testing is slated to begin in October.

The federal rail agency is also beginning field tests on new technology that automatically controls train movements and speed, including bringing a train to a stop.

The railroad industry will begin providing local emergency responders a ranked listing of the top 25 hazardous materials transported through their communities. By July, the federal rail agency will launch a pilot providing emergency responders with real-time information about the hazardous materials involved in train accidents through a secure Web site.

Transportation is also working with railroad management and labor organizations to develop pilots for a 'close-call' reporting system next year, similar to that used in aviation. The federal rail agency plans to use the aggregate data to make changes to improve safety.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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