Rosenker: Take Advantage of New Safety Technologies

WASHINGTON — National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker has told the rail transportation industry to take advantage of newly emerging technologies that can provide the biggest safety improvements in coming years.

Speaking to the International Railroad Safety Conference in Denver, Colo., Rosenker acknowledged the improving safety trends in the railroad industry over recent decades; since 1980, employee fatalities are down 82 percent and grade crossing fatalities down 59 percent. But accidents continue to occur, and the nation is still shocked by the collision in Chatsworth, Calif., last month that killed 25 and injured more than 100.

Although there is a lot of work that needs to be done before the Safety Board determines a probable cause of that tragedy, “I can tell you that the safety issues we examine in this accident are likely to include some of the same safety issues that we have examined in previous accidents;” specifically, train crew mistakes and inadequate operating procedures.

Rosenker told the assembly that new technologies can provide some of the biggest safety improvements. Primarily among these is Positive Train Control (PTC) systems, “which can provide safety redundancy to override mistakes by human operators and prevent train collisions and over-speed derailments,” he said. PTC has been on the Board’s Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements for 18 years. In particular, he said, the NTSB has recommended that priorities be established for the installation of PTC in high-risk corridors, such as those where commuter and intercity passenger trains operate.

“It is time for the entire industry to commit to the development and implementation of positive train control systems.  You, the industry, must now agree on a format that allows interoperability between systems so that trains can seamlessly move from one railroad to another.”

Rosenker described other technical solutions to safety problems, including electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, acoustic bearing detectors, wheel impact detectors, and truck performance detectors. He also noted that intelligent transportation systems (ITS) can play an important role in saving lives at grade crossings.

“Why can’t smart vehicles warn drivers when trains are approaching, and direct the drivers to take appropriate action?,” Rosenker said

“Just think how far computer and GPS technology has developed in the past 10 years,” he added. “I urge you to be forward thinking. Work closely with the highway industry to develop useful, intelligent transportation safety systems that can prevent accidents at grade crossings.”