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After Request from Chair DeFazio and Others, New GAO Study Confirms Trains Are Getting Longer and Will Likely Continue to Increase in Length in Coming Years

Washington, DC – Today, a group of House lawmakers, led by Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), announced the results of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the impact of train lengths. The study showed that while the average train length has increased by about 25 percent since 2008, there is little to no data being collected to measure the impacts on communities or whether train operators are receiving adequate safety training to handle longer trains.

In recent years, Members of Congress have noticed an uptick in the number of constituents reaching out to express concern about trains blocking grade crossings in their communities. In 2017, Chair DeFazio and others asked GAO to take a closer look at the length of trains, noting that while available data showed the average freight train had about 70 cars, press reports indicated some railroads were operating trains with close to 200 cars or more that were more than two miles long. Longer trains can create unusually long delays at grade crossings and may pose safety risks to train crews and the public, including impeding the response time for emergency responders.

In its study released today, GAO made two recommendations:

  • For the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to develop a strategy for sharing FRA’s research with internal and external stakeholders and implement that strategy for its research on the safety impacts of very long trains.
  • For the Administrator of FRA to work with railroads to engage state and local governments to (a) identify community-specific impacts of train operations, including longer trains, where streets and highways cross railroad rights-of-way and (b) develop potential solutions to reduce those impacts.

“This study confirms one thing that so many citizens suspected-- that trains are in fact getting longer, in some cases, by a very significant amount,” said Chair DeFazio. “But the study also raises a big question about why there is a lack of data about how long trains impact public safety, whether that means a longer wait at a grade crossing that could delay an emergency responder from getting to a patient, or a lack of sufficient training for an engineer who needs a better understanding of how a long train handles on certain sections of track. I appreciate the GAO for digging into this issue, and I strongly urge the Federal Railroad Administration to take the recommendations seriously. We cannot turn a blind eye to the changes in the railroad industry and just hope these longer trains don’t cause serious problems in communities across our country.”

“This study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirms that train lengths are increasing and contributing to longer waits for commuters at rail crossings,” said Subcommittee Chairman Lipinski. “This is a major concern for residents of my district and part of the reason why I raised it with FRA Administrator Batory during our recent rail hearing. While I understand the economic benefits of longer trains, those cannot be at the expense of community safety and quality of life for commuters. The FRA needs to start collecting data on the impact of these longer trains.”

Read the GAO study here.

Read the original letter from lawmakers requesting the study here.

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