This month’s rash of high-profile train crashes — in Maryland, Missouri and Connecticut — likely represent a coincidence and are not indicative of a trend, experts said Wednesday.
“I don’t necessarily think there is any long-term trend that we’re seeing develop here,” said David Clarke, director of the University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research. “It was more coincidence than anything that we’ve had three high profile accidents in the last few weeks. Hopefully, we’ll go several months before we have another one.
“The railroad industry is in excellent condition. When you see reports about the transportation infrastructure being dilapidated, that’s not the railroads,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating all three crashes. There is no known or suspected connection between the incidents:
■On Tuesday, a CSX freight train carrying chemicals struck a garbage truck and derailed outside Baltimore, causing a huge explosion that damaged several industrial buildings. The only reported injury was the truck driver, who was hospitalized. Authorities said that 15 cars on the 45-car train derailed and that two caught fire and exploded.
■ On Saturday, seven people were injured in southeastern Missouri after two freight trains collided in southeastern Missouri, causing a nearby overpass to collapse. At least a dozen Union Pacific train cars and a dozen Burlington Northern cars derailed in the crash.
■ On May 17, a Metro-North commuter train from New York to New Haven, Conn., derailed just outside Bridgeport and was hit by a train heading in the other direction, injuring 72 people.
Despite the spate of recent crashes, railroad safety is actually getting better, said Michael England, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration. “Last year was the safest year on record for the railroad industry,” he said.
“Over the past decade, total train accidents declined by 43 percent and highway-rail incidents declined by 34 percent, thanks to a combination of increased inspection audits, periodic spot inspections in strategic locations, and the promotion of a strong safety culture through new partnerships with industry and labor.”
Last year in the USA, nine people were killed and 284 injured in 1,712 train accidents, compared to six fatalities and 207 injured in 2,019 incidents the previous year, according to the FRA.
“Rail traffic is booming,” said Joseph Schwieterman, transportation researcher at DePaul University in Chicago. “Freight trains rarely derail, but they’re getting longer, and when there are accidents they tend to be worse than years ago.”
“I also think the railroad industry seems cursed this year, just plain, old-fashioned bad luck seems to be everywhere,” he said. “Also, authorities are quicker to evacuate (neighborhoods near a train crash) than 20 years ago, and that brings notorious publicity to the whole industry.”
Larry Copeland reports for USA Today.