Rail Safety and Risk

The Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has been involved in a broad-based rail safety research related to rail systems, infrastructure and rolling stocks for safe transport of freight and passengers in North America. The overarching objective is to improve railway safety with data analytics and risk-based, integrated, systematic and cost-effective risk reduction strategies. Key research areas include hazardous materials transportation, train accident data analyses, tank car safety design, highway-rail grade crossings and high-speed rail (HSR) shared-corridor safety.

RailTEC has made extensive use of a number of transportation safety and hazardous materials databases related to rail and hazardous materials accidents, and led the preparation of an annual report of hazardous materials transportation statistics for the railroad industry that involves analysis and synthesis of these types of data from several industry and government sources. RailTEC has also been involved in freight train accident and derailment statistical analyses.

RailTEC has developed statistical models to estimate the probability and severity of major accident causes using the Rail Equipment Accident (REA) database from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). This research quantifies train derailment risk by different operating characteristics, evaluates the safety effectiveness of different derailment prevention strategies and prioritizes resources to maximize safety improvement. Ultimately, the results of this research can be applied to address a broad set of risk management problems and facilitate better-informed train safety policy and practice. With the recent surge of U.S. Department of Transportation’s support for development of substantially expanded and improved passenger rail service including high-speed rail (HSR), RailTEC has been involved in research projects related to the safety and risk management of shared operations of passenger and freight trains.

Figure 1: Sequence of events leading to a hazardous materials release incident


Figure 2: Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) Structure for Adjacent Track Accidents

Current Research Projects (Funding Source)

  • Data Analytics and Risk Analyses to Optimize Railway Transportation Safety Risk Reduction Strategies (AAR, BNSF)
  • Route-Specific Petroleum Crude Oil and Other Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Risk Analysis (Various Chemical Companies)
  • Development of the Relationships between Statistical Methods and Structural Dynamics Modeling to Evaluate Railway Tank Car Safety Performance. Under the Advanced Tank Car Collaborative Research Project (ATCCRP)
  • Guidance Document for Risk Assessment of Hazards Associated with High-Speed Rail Operations Adjacent to Conventional Tracks (FRA)
  • Adjacent-Track Derailment Risk on Shared Passenger and Freight Rail Corridors (NURail)
  • Liquid Hazardous Materials Release Consequence Modeling
  • Annual Report of Hazardous Materials Transported by Rail (AAR)

Current Research Sponsors

RailTEC would like to thank the following organizations for their financial support of both basic and applied research projects addressing research questions related to the capacity and efficiency of the rail network.