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Why the US is at Greater Risk of Rail Accidents Than Ever Before

Image Source: I WALL / Shutterstock

Novel investigations featured in Risk Analysis indicate an augmented chance of derailments for more extended cargo trains. It was seen that trains comprising 100 cars are more than double as prone to derailments compared to those containing 50 cars.

In February 2023, a colossal 151-car, 9,300-foot cargo train experienced a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in the spill of toxic substances and necessitated over 2,000 local inhabitants to leave the area. The trend towards operating such elongated and weightier freight trains has gained momentum, majorly due to their fuel efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and lesser environmental impact.

Augmented Peril with Elongated Trains

Contemporary findings in the journal Risk Analysis validate that the potential for derailments enlarges with the length of freight trains. The investigation revealed that a 100-car train’s susceptibility to derailment is over double that of a 50-car train. Consequently, adopting 100-car trains over 50-car ones (which would cut the total number of trains by half) would elevate the aggregate risk of derailments across the system by approximately 11%.

Scientific Examination and Legislative Action

The quantitative scrutiny by Peter Madsen from the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University analyzed extensive data related to railroad accidents in the U.S., encompassing a decade from 2013 to 2022, obtained from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Rail Equipment Accident and Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Accident databases. Approximately 35,000 occurrences were logged within these databases during the decade. (For their study, the analysts utilized about 3,000 instances where a derailment concurred with a crossing mishap at a similar time and vicinity.)

In the U.S., derailment is the foremost prevalent sort of severe railroad mishap. Following the catastrophic derailment in Ohio, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown put forth the Railway Safety Act, which is under deliberation. Upon enactment, it aims to mandate the formulation of regulations pertaining to cargo train dimensions, among other provisions. Concurrently, various state legislatures are pondering over their own rules concerning the dimensions of freight trains.

“Comprehending the likelihood of derailments is crucial in assessing the rail system’s overall integrity and vital for the ongoing refinement and regulation of cargo railway transport,” comments Madsen. “Considering the current constraints on data regarding train lengths, this research marks a vital stride towards such comprehension.”

Image Source: I WALL / Shutterstock

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