Abstract: Built from Tragedy: The Emerging Safety Culture among U.S. Inland Waterways Operators

Daniel L. Rust


The safety record of inland waterways operators improved significantly since the mid-1990s. The deaths of 47 passengers and crew aboard Amtrak's Sunset Limited on September, 22, 1993, due to a towboat striking and displacing a railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama, prompted changes throughout the barging industry. The federal government imposed new safety regulations upon the industry, and the American Waterways Operators (the dominant industry trade organization) adopted an industry-driven safety program, insisting that all of the organization's members comply. Additionally, the AWO and the U.S. Coast Guard formed an ongoing partnership to improve vessel and personnel safety. Most significantly, an effective safety culture began to emerge among inland barge companies. After describing the safety culture concept, this paper examines the forces prompting safety culture changes on inland waterways and then details the emerging safety culture at one of America's largest barge companies as an example of trends in the broader industry.