Railroad Freight

Railroad Freight Transport

Division of international rail line applies behavior-based safety strategies to reduce incident rate and accident severity.

A division of an international rail line that moves freight through 12 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the province of Quebec used behavior-based safety strategies to significantly reduce incident rate and accident severity for its 3000 employees. Along the way the division won increased employee trust and several industry awards for excellence.


Management of this large railroad freight division realized that, despite diligent safety efforts, their operations failed to address the behaviors that caused sometimes deadly human errors. The division’s diverse operations included a mix of employee skills from train crews, to mechanics to engineers with the primary function of completing track repairs. Most jobs within the division involved potential hazards and many employees were lone workers. The division needed a cohesive and effective way to address safe behavior for every employee and a process that would work in a variety of performance venues.

Solution Implemented:

Employee groups and lone workers, with the help of ADI specialists, identified critical behaviors for staying safe within their particular work zones. Self-observations (for lone workers) and peer-to-peer observations, data collection and consistent positive feedback and recognition enabled the division to bring hundreds of important safe behaviors to habit level. Managers also tracked their own safety support behaviors using a weekly safety index report, earning points and rewards for their active involvement. Within one year the division’s injury rate dropped by 36 percent and the severity of injuries decreased drastically. Lost time days due to injury severity were reduced by 60 percent within the same one-year time period. The side effects of the implementation included a more proactive workforce, a noticeable contrast from a negative to a positive culture and a new sense of commitment and teamwork between employees and management. In addition, the division achieved a decade-long goal. Traditionally, the company had awarded a steam engine bell called the “Hagen Bell” to the division with the lowest injury frequency rate. The company’s president vowed to retire the bell if any division ever maintained a zero rate for an entire month. This division quickly reached those previously unheard of standards and amid much fanfare and celebration the bell was officially retired to reside permanently with the first company group to ever implement a behavior-based safety process. One year later the division won the industry’s silver Harriman Award for railroad employee safety and a special certificate for continuous improvement.

Results of Intervention:

  • 60 percent decrease in lost time due to injury
  • 36 percent drop in injury rate within one year
  • Retirement of the traditional “Hagen Bell” for achieving and maintaining 0.00% injury rate
  • Received prestigious silver “Harriman Award” for railroad employee safety as well as industry’s special certificate for continuous improvement

The positive nature of this process goes along with much of what I already believed about managing people, but now we are able to have real data to back up what we do.

— Railway District Superintendent, Baltimore-Washington, D. C.


This process focused everybody, both labor and management, on behavior, which is really the root cause of most of our problems in safety.

— General Railway Manager


When it comes to gaining trust and cooperation, understanding that our employees’ behavior is a function of their consequences helps to get rid of the blame factor. Our employees seem to be eager to make use of this process and want to work together to make it successful.

— Senior Vice President of Railway Operations