The National Transportation Safety Board, the US government agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation including those involving railroads has unveiled its 2016 Most Wanted List of safety improvements calling it a “road map from lessons learned to lives saved.”
The list focuses on 10 broad safety improvements on which the NTSB has made recommendations that have not yet been implemented. This year’s list has a major focus on technology in saving lives, preventing accidents and lessening the number and severity of injuries from accidents.
The NTSB list called for completion of rail safety initiatives, including once again the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) which first appeared on the list in 1990 and whose deadline was pushed back to 2018 from 2015. Congress changed the law and implementation deadline late last year to avoid a possible rail transportation shut-down.
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart (pictured left) cited the PTC implementation as an example of why a sense of urgency is needed in implementing Most Wanted List improvements. “Every PTC-preventable accident, death, and injury on tracks and trains affected by the law will be a direct result of the missed 2015 deadline and the delayed implementation of this life-saving technology,” Hart said.
The NTSB’s push to improve rail transit safety oversight was in part a result of the agency’s investigation of a deadly smoke event last January near Washington’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. The accident exposed many safety issues, some of which resulted from shortcomings in the safety oversight of WMATA. This year, the NTSB will continue to examine the way that the Federal Transit Administration is implementing such oversight – not only in Washington, but nationwide.
Improving rail tank car safety by phasing out the use of DOT-111 rail tank cars to transport flammable liquids such as crude oil and ethanol is another improvement addressed in the 2016 Most Wanted List. The deadline for implementing such tank rules is 2025. Until these tank cars are removed from service, people, their towns, and the environment surrounding the rail system remain at risk the NTSB argue.
Chairman Hart invoked the memory of the accident at Lac-Mégantic, Canada, in 2013, which killed 47 people and burnt down more than 30 buildings in a Washington Post report of the launch: “We’ve been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart said. “But an American version of Lac-Mégantic could happen at any time. Instead of happening out in the middle of a wheat field it could happen in the middle of a big city.”
Distraction (especially from portable electronic devices) and fatigue continue to be serious safety issues in all modes of transportation, and the NTSB’s 2016 Most Wanted List addresses them all. The list also notes that undiagnosed and untreated medical conditions have caused or contributed to accidents and calls for operators and regulators to require medical fitness for duty.
The most wanted transportation safety improvements are the result of the NTSB's accident investigations. And the NTSB reiterated that their most powerful tool to learn safety lessons from accidents is data recorders. Thus, the list calls for their increased use in all modes of transportation.
SmartRail World has regularly featured the progress of Positive Train Control throughout the path towards the original deadline and will continue to do so for the next three years (at least...). For more on PTC implementation and the various arguments around it see below: