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In 1977 –the year after I began my railroading career– 48 railroad employees lost their lives in switching accidents. That’s four lives every month in switching accidents alone. That's more than a statistic to me. My father is a retired switchman; I switched box cars; and five of my friends have been killed on duty during my railroading career.

More than three decades later, we have made significant progress. In 2013, only one employee died during a switching operation. And while we still see this as one too many, it shows us what’s possible when the Federal Railroad Administration, the rail industry, and rail labor come together to form safety partnerships and eliminate risks.

Photo of a freight train and worker in a rail yard
Photo courtesy joeknowsphoto
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During the past week, we've been looking at the 2013 accomplishments of some of the agencies within DOT. Today, we're wrapping up our retrospective with a look at some of what we achieved across multiple modes of transportation.

2013 was a year of big changes at DOT. We operated under the first full calendar year of MAP-21, the current national surface transportation law, including its expanded Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program, or TIFIA. We also launched our National Freight Advisory Committee to help guide the Department's freight improvement efforts. And of course, we welcomed aboard our current Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, while saying goodbye to outgoing Secretary Ray LaHood. But as you’ll see below, one thing that didn’t change is our commitment to safety.

Photo of the front of D.O.T. headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Our core goal at the Federal Railroad Administration is to ensure continuous safety improvement. Year after year, this is our measuring stick for success –and we are succeeding.

Photo of F.R.A. Administrator SzaboOver the past decade, train accidents have declined 43 percent, including a 41 percent drop in derailments and a 34 percent drop in accidents at highway-rail grade crossings. Meanwhile, preliminary data for 2013 shows we’re on pace for another record-setting year in railroad safety, with reductions in all categories of accidents.

In 2013 we worked to drive continuous safety improvements by:

  • Advancing technical and human factors;
  • Responding decisively; and
  • Investing in high-performing rail...
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Photo of Chip JaenichenHere at the Maritime Administration (MARAD), we continue working tirelessly to improve our marine transportation system with innovative projects across the country.  As our economy rebuilds and jobs are created, we are reminded just how much the maritime industry has contributed to these growing numbers and more importantly. . . Why Maritime Matters!

That's why we spent 2013 continuing to:

  • Support port infrastructure in advance of a newly widened Panama Canal;
  • Invest in U.S. shipyards;
  • Move more freight on our rivers, Great Lakes, and waterways, as well as through American river, lake, and sea ports; and
  • Work toward a robust national maritime strategy...
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Photo of Victor MendezThe end of the year is a good time for reflection and looking back, 2013 was filled with accomplishments for the Federal Highway Administration. The new I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State is a good example of the outstanding work done this year by FHWA in partnership with state and local transportation agencies and the private sector.

Just four weeks after the old bridge collapsed on the Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend, the Washington State DOT put a temporary span in place.  And fewer than four months after the collapse, a permanent span was open for business on a route that’s vital to motorists and freight movement in the Pacific Northwest. This work is a fitting representative of FHWA, because it shows how our commitment to using innovative tools and solutions is paying off.

The larger themes that make 2013 a year of accomplishment for FHWA are represented in that example:

  • Implementing MAP-21;
  • Continuing to work with our partners through our Every Day Counts innovation initiative; and
  • Helping Americans respond to disaster with Emergency Relief...
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Yesterday, we honored the individual and team achievements of the hardworking professionals of DOT with our 46th annual Secretary's Awards. It was truly a celebration.

But among all of the terrific personnel we celebrated, we had the opportunity to single out one of our family for special distinction: Deputy Secretary John Porcari...

Photo of 46th annual Secretary's Awards at D.O.T.

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Here at the Department of Transportation, a critical part of our mission is to improve our transportation system and help grow our national economy. For the Maritime Administration (MARAD), that means using all of the resources we have available to develop our nation’s ports.

It might surprise you to know these resources include assets other than grant funding, but a couple of weeks ago, I was in New Orleans to participate in the official land transfer of the Poland Street Wharf to the Port of New Orleans.

Photo of Poland Street Wharf

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Last year, for the first time in 55 years, Louisville, Kentucky's "Appliance Park" began running a new assembly line. Refrigerators and washing machines started leaving the loading docks again, and workers' cars started showing up in the parking lot.

Louisville isn’t the only place this is happening. This is just one chapter in larger success story chronicling the recent resurgence of American manufacturing.

At DOT, we’re thinking about the next chapter of this manufacturing renaissance: about how those fridges and washing machines get from the loading dock to American stores and global markets, and about how those workers get home at the end of their shifts...

Photo of workers at G.E.'s Appliance Park

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For those who pay attention to travel, the next five days are the Super Bowl. Airlines and Amtrak have geared up for peak passenger loads. And families and friends are looking forward to holiday gatherings that bring them once again close to their loved ones.

For the men and women we work with here at DOT --in Washington, DC, and in offices and air traffic control facilities across the country-- Thanksgiving is another opportunity to think about your safety. Your safety in the skies, your safety on the rails.

And, in particular, your safety over the road. Because this year, AAA projects that of the 43.4 million Americans who are traveling more than 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving, nearly 39 million of them will head out for their Thanksgiving destinations by car.

Photo of happy family preparing for a road trip
Keep your family smiling throughout your trip by driving safely.
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In preparation for another record Thanksgiving holiday week, Amtrak is running every available passenger rail car in its fleet, while adding additional service in the Northeast Corridor, the Chicago hub, the Pacific Northwest, and in California.

This is hardly a surprise.  As I wrote on this blog recently, Amtrak has set annual ridership records in 10 out of the last 11 years, fueled by a growing demand in more than 500 communities nationwide.  That includes Missouri, where Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner – operating on a 238-mile rail line serving eight cities between St. Louis and Kansas City – has set six consecutive annual ridership records. 

Photo of F.R.A. Administrator Joe Szabo at the rail bridge opening
FRA Administrator Joe Szabo; photo courtesy Cathy Morrison, Missouri Department of Transportation.

Yesterday, in Osage City, I joined Missouri DOT, Union Pacific, and Amtrak at a ribbon cutting for a new railroad bridge that will eliminate the rail line’s last chokepoint between Jefferson City and St. Louis. And in addition to benefiting four daily passenger trains, the new railroad bridge also reduces delays for 60 daily freight trains, which is great news for Missouri’s farmers, manufacturers, and businesses...

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