USA: Following a series of high-profile accidents, federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has established a new advisory committee on urban rail safety, with effect from December 8.

With up to 25 voting members, the Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety will provide recommendations to the Secretary through the Federal Transit Administration, which will appoint the Executive Director. According to FTA Administrator Peter M Rogoff, TRACS will not make determination of facts or policy, but will provide ‘a forum for the development, consideration, and communication of information from knowledgeable and independent perspectives’.

The creation of TRACS was recommended by the Rail Transit Safety Work Group, a body established by LaHood after major accidents in Chicago, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Boston, which included representatives from several government agencies. The working group was asked to evaluate what part the federal government should play in rail safety. At present, metros and light rail systems are not regulated by the FTA.

Although urban rail is amongst the safest modes of transport in the USA, accidents, deaths and injuries have been steadily rising. Between 2003 and 2008, derailments per million train-miles rose from 0·23 to 0·38, collisions soared from 0·2 to 0·8 and fatalities other than suicides jumped from 0·43 to 0·60. Passenger fatality rates from train collisions and fatalities amongst staff working on the track remained steady.