A PRELIMINARY report by the US Federal Railroad Administration shows that remote control of locomotives in marshalling yards reduces accidents and employee injuries. The study covering May 1 to November 30 2003 found that the accident rate was 13·5% lower than with conventional shunting, while the injury rate was down by 57·1%.

’This data shows that Remote Control Locomotive technology has great potential to reduce train accidents and dramatically increase worker safety’, said FRA Administrator Allan Rutter, adding that nearly all the accidents or incidents involving RCL have been caused by human error, with virtually no technology-related malfunctions.

The technique has been common in Europe for some time, but in the USA opposition from trade unions has limited its application. Following the release of the FRA figures, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen issued a statement saying the results were suspect as they originated from the railway companies. Nonetheless, use of RCL is steadily increasing, with 20% of all shunting on CSX now assigned to remote control operators. The final report is due to be issued within a year.