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Train accidents decline in U.S., but increase in North Dakota, Minnesota

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The number of train accidents across the U.S. declined for the third consecutive year but increased in both North Dakota and Minnesota from the previous year, according to preliminary 2007 data released by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

"Our strong focus on improving rail safety is achieving significant results for three years running now," Peters said in a statement. She noted 833 fewer train accidents, or a 24.6 percent reduction when comparing the period from 2004 to 2007.

In North Dakota, there were 86 rail accidents reported in 2007, com-pared with 80 in 2006. Four people were killed, double the figure from the previous year, while 51 people were injured, just one more than the year before.

In Minnesota, 257 accidents were reported, up 15 from 2006. The number of deaths decreased from 20 to 12, while the injured number jumped from 136 to 161.

Peters stressed that some of the safety gains are attributable to aggressive implementation of the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) National Rail Safety Action Plan first launched in May 2005.

The plan focuses on the most frequent, highest-risk causes of train accidents; optimizes the use of data to target federal inspection and enforcement resources; and accelerates research initiatives that hold promise to mitigate the greatest poten-tial safety risks, she said.

"We are targeting our safety activities on specific problem areas," said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman, highlighting that the two leading causes of train accidents --human error and track --- have declined 28.8 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively, since 2004.

In both North Dakota and Minnesota, the number of track-caused accidents during 2007 increased. The number more than doubled in North Dakota, from six to 13.

The number of human error accidents stayed the same in Minnesota compared with the previous year, while dropping from 11 to eight in North Dakota.

Comparing the preliminary full-year 2007 data to 2006, Peters stated that last year railroads had 406 fewer train accidents nationwide, or a 13.7 per-cent reduction. California (down 46), Texas (down 45), and New York (down 30) led the way among the 34 states that experienced reductions, she said.

Also, last year the number of highway-rail grade crossing incidents fell by 6.9 percent and grade crossing deaths decreased by 8.1 percent to 339. And, trespass deaths, the number one cause of all rail-related deaths, decreased by 6.2 percent to 486.