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Another Voice: Ensuring the safety of communities is the railroad industry’s top priority

By Michael J. Rush

New York is home to a crucial segment of the nation’s massive 140,000-mile freight rail network, which is why the industry constantly invests in infrastructure, technology and training to improve its already safe operations.

The Empire State is a big piece of the freight rail puzzle, with railroads such as CSX, Canadian Pacific and Norfolk Southern annually bringing more than 20 million tons of goods to the state. Ensuring these goods are moved safely through the region is critical for both the state and national economies.

While ensuring the protection of communities where railroads operate is the industry’s top priority, railroads are also focused on keeping trains moving without incident to reduce delays for rail customers or the public. For these reasons, the industry is heavily investing in a variety of safety initiatives.

One of those initiatives is extensive emergency response training. While rail incidents involving crude oil or toxic materials are extremely rare, tens of thousands of first responders are trained each year to ensure they can react quickly and effectively in the event of an accident.

Some of this training takes place at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Colorado, where experts train emergency responders from throughout the country on dealing with rail accidents. In 2015 alone, nearly 2,000 first responders learned how to handle derailments and more than 800 others received online training.

The industry also conducts many regional training events across the country, and some of these will make their way to New York.

Additionally, railroads have invested more than $25 billion annually in recent years toward upgrades and maintenance. This investment includes innovative, groundbreaking technologies that will further improve railroad safety. For example, railroads are developing the use of drones to inspect tracks and bridges.

Railroads are also hard at work implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on their trains and tracks. Once complete, this will help override human error and automatically bring a train to a stop before certain types of accidents occur. By the end of 2016, 63 percent of 22,066 locomotives will be equipped with PTC, and 51 percent of the 114,515 employees requiring training will be PTC-qualified.

Due to sensible public policy that allows the industry to compete and produce revenues it can reinvest in its network, the freight rail network is one of the safest transportation networks in the entire world. With extensive initiatives and investments aimed at continuously improving on that record, the industry is ensuring it will be an economic driver for the state and country for years to come.

Michael J. Rush is senior vice president of safety and operations at the Association of American Railroads.