Shifting 1 Percent of Auto Trips to Rail Could Save Roughly 200 Lives Per Year

Report Highlights 10-Year Safety Trend in Freight and Passenger Rail
Release Date: 
Nov 16 2016

Washington, D.C.  – The OneRail Coalition released a new report today, “Rail Safety in the United States” that highlighted a 31 percent decline in rail accidents over the past 10 years, making rail transport significantly safer than other transit modes. This positive safety trend occurred even as passenger rail traffic grew and freight rail traffic remained steady over the same time frame.

These findings highlight the value of taking a broader look at how people get from A to B. Simply put, getting people and goods out of cars and trucks and onto trains would save lives. For every billion ton-miles of freight the U.S. shifts from highway to rail (an approximate 0.5% increase in freight rail volume), more than seven lives could be saved. On the passenger side, if one percent of the nation’s three trillion annual vehicle miles traveled by motor vehicle were shifted to passenger trains, approximately 200 lives would be saved each year.

“Freight and passenger rail have many benefits, including the overall safety of travel by rail when compared to its primary alternatives,” said Anne Canby, Director of OneRail. “Increasing market share for rail by getting more goods and people onto trains would save lives and reduce injuries, significantly improving the overall safety of the nation’s transportation system.”

The report highlights a number of factors that have contributed to this positive safety trend over the years, including improvements to rail infrastructure such as welded rail and treated wood crossties, grade crossing programs such as Operation Lifesaver and sealed corridors, the introduction new track inspection and monitoring technologies, the strengthening of tank cars, and the introduction of collaborative safety programs such as Confidential Close Call Reporting.

To continue progress, a host of new initiatives are underway focusing on the leading areas of rail-related accidents, including trespassing, grade crossings, human factor-caused accidents, and track issues. These efforts, including increasing public awareness of the dangers of trespassing on rail property and failure to heed warnings at rail-highway grade crossings, furthering knowledge of the Emergency Notification System, the creation of the Short Line Safety Institute, the implementation of Positive Train Control, new uses for drones and big data, and the advancement of phased array ultrasonic rail inspection will all make rail even safer going forward.

“Rail Safety in the United States” is available online at

About OneRail

OneRail is a diverse group of rail stakeholders who have come together to educate America about the benefits of a strong freight and passenger rail system. Our members include the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO), American Public Transportation Association (APTA), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), Amtrak, Association of American Railroads (AAR), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC), Railway Supply Institute (RSI), SMART Transportation Division, States for Passenger Rail Coalition (S4PRC), Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), and the Transportation Communications International Union/International Association of Machinists (TCU/IAM).