(Following is an edited version of the remarks of The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary of Transportation at the FRA T-18 track inspection demonstration in Baton Rouge, LA on MAY 18, 2005)
It is great to be here in Louisiana’s capital city, and especially to have this opportunity to talk about rail safety.
I would also like to thank Jerry Haven of Kansas City Southern for hosting us for today’s official launch of the Federal Railroad Administration’s newest and most advanced safety track inspection vehicle - the T-18.
We have just experienced an insightful demonstration of what the T-18 can do to help railroads to identify track defects before they lead to derailments. This is good news, not only for the railroads, but also for the communities along these important links.
The T-18 is about to begin its maiden voyage on a national track test that will take this vehicle and its crew throughout the major freight corridors in the Gulf and Midwest regions. As it travels over specific rail lines, it will test track gauge - the distance between the two parallel rails - simulating heavier loads just like a fully loaded freight train.
Wide gauge is the leading cause of train derailments in the nation, and the T-18 - and others like it - will help us reduce those dangerous track risks.
The addition of the T-18 and two similar vehicles under construction to FRA’s fleet of automated track inspection vehicles will allow the agency to triple its track inspection capacity. When the T-18’s two sister cars come on-line within a year and a half, we will be able to inspect over 100,000 miles of track each year. That is crucial, because these vehicles gives us the ability to analyze the integrity of more track more quickly, and to provide results that will enable railroads to make timely repairs where needed.
More track inspections along the nation’s rail lines are good not just for the safety of railroad employees and communities, but good for our economy as well.
Every day, trains travel more than 1.5 million miles across America, transporting passengers to their destinations and delivering goods. Five Class I railroads operate right here in Louisiana, providing customers access to key markets within the United States and to markets abroad.
In order for economic growth to continue, safety must remain the core principle that guides the trains in this rail yard and wherever they are moving. And the T-18 represents only one aspect of the Bush Administration’s larger commitment to enhancing rail safety across the country through an aggressive new Rail Safety Action Plan.
Although the railroad industry’s overall safety record is positive, very serious train accidents continue to occur. And track defects are only one cause.
Here in Louisiana, rail grade crossing safety is a serious challenge. This state has seen 15 grade crossing fatalities over the past several months. Sadly, many of those deaths were preventable.
Grade crossing safety is not just a Louisiana concern, it’s a national concern.
Highway-rail grade crossing collisions are the second leading cause of death associated with railroad operations. The number of grade crossing deaths has declined steadily over the last decade; however, 2004 saw an increase in crossing fatalities over the previous year, and growing rail and vehicle traffic most certainly played a role.
In response, we are renewing efforts to remind railroads of their duty to preserve data from locomotive event recorders - the black boxes in trains. Railroads must report accidents and preserve evidence that can be used to help local law enforcement in their investigations into crossing accidents.
Our plan also takes aggressive aim at the top two leading causes of accidents along the rails - human error and track defects.
All of these rail safety efforts are especially important when hazardous materials are being transported. I know that Louisiana, where the local economy is so heavily focused on supplying chemical and petroleum produc