We as humans make mistakes and fail to capture and analyze all available information before we act. In most cases, these mistakes are harmless beyond a trip back into the house to grab your forgotten cell phone. When it comes to our transportation systems, however, the cost of what otherwise would be a forgettable occurrence could have real consequences.

Ending the human-error factor

While the train accident rate has dramatically declined in recent years, human-error still causes one-third of all incidents. Thanks to the private freight rail industry’s strong safety culture, training and worker commitment to safe operations, the rate of human-factor-caused accidents has dropped by 42 percent since 2000. But railroads are going even further to reduce these types of accidents by using advanced technologies across their operations.

America’s railroads have been hard at work on critical safety technologies that will serve as an automated backup and prevent certain types of human-error caused accidents. For example, a system known as Positive Train Control (PTC) will reduce train speed to an appropriate level or bring a train to a safe stop if an engineer fails to respond to warnings that he or she is operating above speed limits or in another prohibited fashion. PTC will prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speeding and train movements through misaligned switches.

A revamp of train control

While we humans may make mistakes, America’s railroads know you’re counting on us to get it right.

The charge sounds simple, but making it work on more than 54,000 miles of track is one of the largest technological undertakings ever in the transportation sector. PTC uses a sophisticated series of technologies to account in real-time for factors that may impact train stopping distances, including speed, train composition and topography. PTC locomotives are not your grandfather’s steam engine. They’re 200-ton rolling supercomputers working with trackside detectors, and a secure wireless communications network to precisely monitor train speed and location to automatically apply the brakes if necessary.

The nation's largest freight railroads will have PTC in operation across 80 percent of the required route miles by the end of 2018 — far surpassing Congressional requirements — and will have the technology full-implemented on or before final Congressional deadlines. PTC will add another layer of safety to an already safe network and provide the backbone for future safety-enhancing technological advancements.

Running on time and by the rules

Railroads supplement the manual inspections required by federal regulation with a host of new technologies. These next-generation tools enable railroads to identify flaws that escape the human eye and allow for necessary repairs before problems can arise. But railroads are still required by the federal government to perform manual inspections despite the proof of automated inspection technology being more precise, reliable and posing less risk to workers.

 As the transportation sector makes strides on game-changing automated technologies, the nation’s freight railroads will continue to work closely with the Department of Transportation to deploy the technologies that will help make our network even safer.

Safety is the guiding principle for the railroads, and the industry remains deeply committed to systematically reducing and eliminating safety risks, including human error. While we humans may make mistakes, America’s railroads know you’re counting on us to get it right.