Data released by the Federal Railroad Administration reveals great news: U.S. railroads had the lowest train accident rate on record last year.

Derailment rates, which declined 10 percent in 2016 from 2015, as well as track-caused accident rates, are also both all-time lows. The 2016 rail safety statistics continue a string of record-setting years, showing this period has been the safest ever for the rail sector.

Officials in the freight rail industry attribute the safety gains to sustained investments — an average of $26 billion annually in recent years — and technological innovation.

By the numbers, per million train miles:

  • Train accident rate is down 44 percent since 2000.
  • Equipment-caused accident rate is down 34 percent since 2000.
  • Track-caused accident rate is down 53 percent since 2000.
  • Derailment rate is down 44 percent since 2000.
  • Recent years have also been the safest for on-duty injury rates, according to the AAR.

President and CEO of Association of American Railroads Edward Hamberger said safety has been boosted by investments railroad companies have made and continue to make in infrastructure — an investment eased by federal tax credits — and by new technologies.

Ultrasonic technology, for example, locates defects in tracks before they create problems. Drones can be used for track and bridge inspections.

At Watco Companies, where the emphasis always is “Safety First,” our railroads employ strategies to ensure principle becomes practice. Daily meetings, a focus by Team members on the task at hand each time they change tasks, looking out for one another, and partnering seasoned Team members with new ones, for example, have helped many of our 37 railroads reach safety milestones. This focus extends to our 33 switching operations, and 80 ports and terminals.

It’s paid off: Brooklyn Junction, West Virginia, for example, just celebrated 12 years without a reportable personal injury. The Arkansas Southern and Mississippi Southern are preparing to celebrate 12 years in April. DeRidder MeadWestvaco is celebrating 14 years. And in 2016, Watco received numerous awards from the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association for our safety record.

Watco also has invested in opening a new safety and training center in Birmingham, Alabama, that standardizes ground school conductor training. Classes began earlier this year, and new simulators will be added in April.

A new internal “Take 5” campaign seeks to drive human factor incidents to zero company-wide.

And Travis Herod, who heads up Watco Safety and Training, sends out a weekly safety message to every one of our 4,163 Team members.

“Taking charge and communicating internal to your own Teams, about issues that relate specifically to your locations, is one of the best ways to bring your Team together, all be on the same page, and make lasting changes to your individual safety cultures,” Herod said.