A new federal regulation that places greater accountability on both railroad management and employees for complying with basic operating rules is aimed at reducing common mistakes that result in nearly half of all human factor-caused train accidents, the U.S. DOT has announced.

“We are tackling several commonplace errors that can lead to serious train accidents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, noting that the rule is the centerpiece of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) National Rail Safety Action Plan.

According to PressMediaWire, Peters explained that relatively simple errors such as improperly lined track switches, shoving rail cars without a person in front to monitor for clear track ahead, and leaving rail cars in a position that obstruct or foul an active track may now result in a violation of federal rail safety regulations. At present, these types of mistakes are generally only subject to internal railroad standard operating procedures and addressed through employee disciplinary procedures or other corrective actions.

FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman said the federal rule, which takes effect April 14, essentially defines three distinct levels of responsibility and accountability including:

• Railroad managers, for putting in place programs designed to test employees for proficiency in abiding by applicable operating rules;

• Supervisors, for properly administering such operational tests; and

• Employees, for complying with the rules.

Under the regulations, employees will have a “right of challenge” should they be instructed to take actions that, in good faith, they believe would violate the rules. FRA will actively monitor compliance with these requirements through inspections and audits, and certain violations may result in a fine ranging from $7,500 to $16,000. In some cases, individuals may also be subject to personal liability, said Boardman.

FRA undertook development of this final rule after detecting an increase in human factor-caused train accidents in recent years, including a January 2005 accident in Graniteville, S.C., that killed nine people. The accident occurred when a train was erroneously diverted off a mainline track due to an improperly lined switch, then collided with a parked train, and resulted in the release of toxic chlorine gas from three tank cars.

A complete copy of the final rule can be found atwww.fra.dot.gov.