The title might have been dry, but the session was fascinating (not just because I'm a big fan of Amtrak): The Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) Research and Development Agenda to Improve Safety and Safety Culture in the Railroad Industry. Joyce Ranney of the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and Jonathan Morrell of New Vectors reported at AEA on a series of ongoing projects in the industry.
Derailments are a daily occurance on American railroads. Between 1980-85 there was a 50% reduction in human factor accidents (HFAs) on the railroads. Since 1985 the number of HFAs has remained constant. Because most derailments and accidents happen in train yards - and 98% of our railroads carry freight instead of passengers - few injuries occur. (In Europe, by contrast, 98% of trains carry passengers.) But all HFAs cost money, and the Federal Railroad Administration is working diligently to find ways to reduce accident and improve safety.
Part of the problem is the density of traffic moving on railroads. The stats are stunning. Trains move throughout the country pulling as many as 150 cars each. One rail yard might shift 800 cars in a single shift. New tracks are being laid to meet demand on major routes, such as between Los Angeles and Denver. Production of coal in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming alone generates 200 trains with 150 cars each of coal every single day. Rail volume is only expected to increase. The trucking industry is maxed out and expecting railroads to pick up the slack as transportation of intermodal containers continues to grow.
Volpe estimates the railroad industry will need to hire 80,000 new employees over the next five years at all levels, to cover new positions, retirements and other turnover. 100 percent of the railroad labor force is union-represented, although there are thirteen different unions, and they don't all get along. There are five class-one railroads in the U.S. (or check out this article), plus more than 300 small local lines.
Evaluators from Volpe, New Vectors and a few other orgs are conducting a series of quantitative and qualitative evaluations of several new initiatives the FRA has implemented in order to increase safety and create a "safety culture" on the job. They've developed logic models for each of three key initiatives. One initiative is designed to increase the confidential reporting of incidents that didn't lead to accidents but could have (precursers), because getting data on actual accidents is almost impossible. A behavioral-based safety initiative has been developed that trains peers to evaluate and give feedback to each other on safety and workplace behavior.
Each initiative is being implemented at a different level. Most are still at the pilot phase. All of them require the participation of the railroad carriers and unions. If you're interested in more info on railroad safety, the FRA makes a fair amount of data available here, on its website.
This concludes my posts on the American Evaluation Association conference. To read the full coverage from Workforce Developments, click here.