Date: 10/16/2018

In a recent op-ed in The Hill, Ian Jefferies, Senior Vice President of AAR Government Affairs, discusses the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) new guidance for automation in the transportation sector, applauding the inclusion of rail but urging action on combatting grade crossing incidents and modernizing the regulatory approach at the DOT.

Agreeing with the DOT’s call on government and agencies to “explore the interaction between automated vehicles and highway-rail grade crossings,” Jefferies also sees an opportunity to further improve safety beyond grade crossings by expanding freight rail’s place in the automation discussion.

“Doing so could help federal policy keep pace with innovation within the sector and ensure that railroads are on equal footing with their transportation peers, like commercial trucking,” Jefferies says. “Unbeknownst to many, freight railroads — which operate across a 140,000-mile, privately-financed network responsible for moving virtually every sector of the economy — use myriad technologies that improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of incident prevention and mitigation.”

Jefferies goes on to highlight recent government data, which show that recent years have been the safest on record for the rail sector, including a 41% reduction in accidents since 2000.

“Observers rightly credit investment — averaging $25 billion in recent years – for this success, much of which has gone towards technological solutions such as Positive Train Control (PTC), wayside detectors along track to assess equipment in real-time and ground-penetrating radar that similarly allows railroads to evaluate infrastructure conditions. By the end of 2018 alone, the industry will have PTC — which will automatically stop a train before certain accidents caused by human error can occur — in operation across 80% of the miles required to feature the system.”

Although the public should be thankful for clear leadership from the DOT, Jefferies hopes for even more progress in the future.

“Modernizing the approach at the Federal Railroad Administration to regulate in a way to achieve desirable outcomes, not mandating narrow prescriptions, will generate further gains. The current paradigm, which sometimes fails to define the problem at hand, increases compliance costs and chills innovation. Ideal policymaking would center on demonstrated outcomes — such as improving safety in a specific area — and be rooted in complete and sound science.”

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