FRA Investigations of Railroad Accidents
The FRA Office of Safety Accidents Analysis Branch continuously monitors the occurrence of train accidents and incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. FRA field personnel are routinely dispatched to the scene of serious train accidents in order to determine their cause, or whether a formal investigation is warranted.
Factual Investigation Reports that provide a detailed narrative describing the event, including a determination of probable cause can be found in the eLibrary. Please note that due to size constraints and other considerations, attachments and exhibits associated with these reports are not posted online, and will continue to be available only through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Most accidents assigned for investigation fall into one of the following categories:
- Rail Equipment (collisions and derailments)
- Highway-Rail Grade Crossing incidents
- Fatalities (employee and contractor)
Headquarters Assigned Accidents
FRA Headquarters assigns about 100 accidents for investigation each calendar year, including all fatalities to railroad employees or contractors. All Headquarters accident investigation assignments are communicated to one of the eight FRA regions. The regions decide who will be assigned to the investigation, and who will be the IIC. For Headquarters-assigned accidents, the IIC must be a Federal employee; participating State inspectors may not take this role.
Most Headquarters assignments result from a railroad's telephonic notification of an accident or incident to the National Response Center, as required by 49 CFR § 225.9. For the most part, railroads are very conservative when considering this requirement, and many of the accidents reported telephonically don't meet the severity thresholds. For this reason, Headquarters reviews each accident to determine whether or not it should be assigned for investigation.
Regional Office Assigned Accidents
Regions sometimes investigate rail equipment and highway-rail grade crossing accidents that were not assigned by Headquarters. These are commonly referred to as regional assigned accidents. Some of these accidents are from those reported to the National Response Center; others are accidents the region learned about during day-to-day business. Regions are required to use form F6180.39a for these investigations and to enter the data into the FRA Safety Data site.