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The Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) enforcement of rail safety rules in fiscal-year 2016 led to the highest-ever civil penalty collection rate in its 50-year history, administration officials announced last week.The FRA expects to collect 79 percent of the civil penalties it issued to railroads, hazardous materials shippers and others for violating federal safety regulations, a 4 percent increase over FY2015, according to an administration press release.The total amount of civil penalties in FY2016 was $15.75 million, more than a half-million more than the previous fiscal year. More than 6,268 railroad violations resulted in civil penalties.“The country continues to rely on rail more and more to transport materials and people, and that must happen each day without an incident. A strong enforcement program is a critical element to achieve that goal," said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg.Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials haven't yet had an opportunity to thoroughly read the FRA's civil penalty report, spokesman Ed Greenberg said last week in an email. However, safety is the freight-rail industry's highest priority, he added."We share the FRA’s commitment to making the nation’s rail system even safer," said Greenberg. "That drive to continuous safety improvement can be seen through voluntary actions like ongoing operational reviews, stepping-up emergency response planning and training, increasing track inspections and the use of trackside safety technologies."Greenberg noted that rail safety has been improving over the past several decades, with the past five years among the safest on record for the industry."Freight railroads spend billions of dollars every year on maintaining and further modernizing the nation's freight rail network, spending more than $600 billion on rail infrastructure and equipment since 1980, including more than $30 billion in 2015 alone and averaging $26 billion a year over the past five years,” Greenberg said.
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