Review of Industrial Organization

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 371–398 | Cite as

The Regulatory Determinants of Railroad Safety

  • Jerry Ellig
  • Patrick A. McLaughlin


The dramatic improvement in railroad safety since the 1970s has been accompanied by a substantial increase in safety regulation and a substantial reduction in economic regulation after 1980. We assess the effects of both regulatory changes on railroad safety with the use of RegData: a new data set that was developed by one of the authors that measures the amount of regulation that is imposed by specific regulatory agencies on specific industries. We find that partial economic deregulation is associated with improved safety. Safety regulation was most closely associated with improved railroad safety during the period when economic regulation curtailed railroads’ incentives to operate safely.


Railroad Railroad safety Regulation Safety regulation Staggers Act RegData 

JEL Classification

D61 K23 L51 L92 R41 



The authors would like to thank Tyler Richards for research assistance; Oliver Sherouse for steadfast development of new versions of RegData; Richard Schmalensee, Lawrence J. White, Wesley Wilson, three anonymous referees for this journal, three anonymous referees at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and participants at the Georgetown University’s Research Colloquium on the Economics and Regulation of the Freight Rail Industry and at the Association of American Railroads brown bag lunch for helpful comments. The authors also thank Brenda Moscoso of AAR for facilitating our gathering of financial and operational data from AAR, and Andy Martin of the Federal Railroad Administration for helping find data from FRA’s safety database.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mercatus Center at George Mason UniversityArlingtonUSA

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