Article Author: Paul E. Godlewski
Serious train accidents are caused by a variety of mechanical and/or human factors. A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington and others have suggested that many mechanical failures are actually a result of deferred maintenance. The railroad companies, he said, in an effort to eke out greater profits have reduced or postponed maintenance to both their rolling stock and tracks. In fact, the number of rail maintenance workers is now half what it was 20 years ago.
Human factors causing train accidents involve three areas:
While catastrophic health problems are largely unavoidable, and post-accident drug testing has dramatically reduced the incidence of substance abuse, fatigue remains a key factor in a large number of train accidents.
Many train workers agree that sleep deprivation and the grueling schedules were the most serious safety issue on the nation’s freight trains. Because of past concerns about fatigue-related crashes, Federal Railroad Administration law now limits train-operator work shifts to 12 hours. But workers contend that being marooned repeatedly in a company motel far from home is not their idea of restful time off.
"The rules are written in blood here," one engineer said. "The only time they change is when people are injured or die."
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