Methods to Increase Safety

Safety is a commuter railroad’s top priority. Across the country, railroads have introduced myriad safety systems to keep their passengers and personnel safe. Year after year, safety innovations have served to maintain rail’s standing as the safest mode of transportation.

Positive Train Control

Positive Train Control (PTC) is a system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, unauthorized incursions into work zones, and train movement through switches left in the wrong position. PTC monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. [See PTC Primer, HERE]

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Screening

An estimated 25 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, depriving the brain of oxygen and the body of restful sleep. People who have OSA frequently feel tired even if they have been sleeping for hours. 

NTSB places reducing fatigue-related accidents at the top of its “most wanted” list.   And USDOT requires screening and treatment of airline pilots; 4,900 are currently in treatment as a condition of their continued employment. 

In August 2017, however, the FRA (and Federal Highway Administration) withdrew a proposed rulemaking that would have mandated OSA screening for certain job categories.  Despite that withdrawal, many commuter railroads have implemented programs to further ensure the safety of their passengers and employees. 

OSA screening in the railroading environment identifies individuals who meet the risk profile and puts those employees through further testing, and, if needed, a treatment program.

Such a program, when followed, helps ensure the railroad’s confidence in an employee’s fitness for duty.


Confidential Close Call Reporting Systems (C3RS)

Modeled after a program already in practice in the airline industry, C3RS enables employees to report unsafe events and conditions without worrying about job repercussions. To encourage reporting, employees receive protection from discipline within the C3RS framework, while railroads receive the detailed information necessary to take respond to potential hazards.  

Many commuter railroads across the US have voluntarily adopted and implemented C3RS programs. 


Inward and Outward Facing Cameras

Railroads have been installing inward- and outward-facing audio and video recording devices to assist in incident investigations and to ensure safety compliance. While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended such devices, DOT has only recently approached mandating them.


Civil Speed Enforcement 

Civil Speed Enforcement provides trains with positive enforcement of “civil” speed restrictions (those based on the physical characteristics of the line). While CSE does not reduce as many risks for collisions as does PTC – because PTC is a more complex system – it does provide immediate safety improvements in advance of PTC system implementation, and all technical components of CSE are compatible with PTC. 

By keeping track of a train’s position and continuously calculating a maximum safe braking distance for each upcoming track segment, CSE mitigates the human error factor. If the train exceeds the continuously-calculated safe braking distance, the train brakes automatically activate.