The derailment in Helper a couple of weeks ago and a few others Sun Advocate personnel have covered over the years made us wonder about how many of these take place a year in the United States.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) there are between 1,500 and 2,000 derailments per year. Tracks are heavily inspected, but still these things seem to happen.
Tracks are inspected visually several times a week and examined regularly with an ultrasound device to find hidden defects. The inspection process focuses largely on tracks that carry passengers and hazardous materials.
According to the FRA the majority of derailments occur in railroad yards, typically at speeds of around 5 miles an hour.
Apparently yard track isn't often as well maintained as main tracks and train cars are often shaken about during switching. This can leads to derailments.
The FRA is always working on improving track inspection methods and ways to improve safety on and around trains.
However the country has over 230,000 miles of track and the agency only has a few hundred inspectors.