By T.A. DeFeo, The Center Square

While rail wrecks like the one in East Palestine, Ohio, garner the headlines and turn the national dialogue to regulations, federal data shows that such mishaps have declined over the past three decades.

Numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that since 1990, rail incidents have accounted for about 5% of the more than 519,100 incidents involving hazardous materials. Most incidents (87.6%) were classified as “highway incidents.”

Between 2012 and 2021, the most recent numbers available, the BTS classified 5,432 incidents involving hazardous materials as rail incidents. That is down from 7,518 in the previous 10 years (2002-2011) and 10,786 in the previous 10 years (1992-2001).

“FRA data demonstrates declines in total train accidents for decades,” Benjamin Dierker, executive director at Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure, told The Center Square via email. FRA is an acronym for the Federal Railroad Administration.

“In the past 10 years,” he wrote, “hazardous materials have actually fared better than general rail movement, with the hazmat accident rate declining by around 55% while the general train accident rate declined by around 10%.

“Accidents like the one in East Palestine are very rare, in part because releasing and burning a hazmat payload is incredibly rare. Over the past two decades, fewer than 1% of all train accidents have resulted in a release of hazardous materials.”


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