Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak safety rules’

Safety Chief Sees Progress, More Work to Do

December 23, 2018

Kenneth Hylander faced a tall order when he agreed to take over as Amtrak’s chief safety officer in January 2018.

Hylander

Nearly a year later, he told Progressive Railroading that much work remains to be done to transform the safety culture at the passenger carrier, but much progress has also been achieved.

Hylander told the magazine that the company has laid the foundation for a new safety culture and employees have received letters explaining safety policies.

During 2019, Amtrak’s safety program will be explained and executed more thoroughly from top to bottom in the organization.

The new safety program, known as a safety management system or SMS, will require time to implement, Hylander told Progressive Railroading.

“If you look at other industries that have gone through this process, it takes a multiyear act to get there,” he said.

Hylander honed his safety program skills at Delta Air Lines, which Amtrak’s CEO Richard Anderson once headed before coming to the rail passenger carrier.

Before coming to Amtrak, Hylander had read the various reports of the National Transportation Safety Board that concluded that Amtrak suffered from a poor safety culture.

Antagonistic relations between management and Amtrak’s labor unions were a major part of that.

Amtrak has suffered a series of high-profile incidents resulting in fatalities to 11 passengers and nine employees since fiscal year 2013. That had brought scrutiny from news media, regulators and transportation policy makers.

“Amtrak’s safety culture is failing, and is primed to fail again, until and unless Amtrak changes the way it practices safety management,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

Amtrak executives contended that they had taken substantive steps to overhaul the railroad’s safety record, including the adoption of a new safety policy, risk-based management procedures, data acquisition and analytics.

That included hiring Hylander, who was well-versed in SMS, a comprehensive approach to managing safety that features policy and documentation procedures, risk assessment, quality assurance and reinforcement of a safety culture throughout an organization.

He told Progressive Railroading that his first task was to study Amtrak’s existing safety policies and procedures, including how they were implemented or not implemented.

He said that review led him to conclude that Amtrak needed to emphasize that every employee is responsible for operating safely on the job.

The Amtrak board of directors adopted a resolution setting the goal of becoming the “safest passenger railroad” in the nation.

The board followed that up by officially updating Amtrak’s safety policy.

“The [new] policy means that every employee has the ability to stop the operation if they see something happening that’s not safe,” Hylander said. “We want to be a data driven organization and we want to learn from our mistakes. And we want employees to tell us about errors through voluntary safety programs, and that we can’t and won’t tolerate unsafe behavior or intentional disregard for safety.”

He told Progressive Railroading that he agreed with the NTSB assessment labor-management relations at Amtrak needed to improve if safety procedures were to be followed and enforced.

That included a recognition that the railroad industry’s practice that an employee is to be disciplined for every rules violations was hindering an open dialogue with employees who observe safety violations.

Hylander said the voluntary safety programs at Amtrak are a good start but need to be more efficient.

“Employees have to feel they can tell us what’s going on without fear of being put in harm’s way through the disciplinary process,” he said.

Hylander has spent much of his first year improving Amtrak’s safety improvement metrics, which include monitoring employee injuries and rule violations.

Amtrak also needed to change how it assessed potential safety risks.

“Now, we have a totally different system for how we’re going to review a situation and make determinations for how we’re going to operate trains,” Hylander said. “Generally, it means we’re a bit more conservative about what happens or what the host railroad rules may say.”

That process led to controversy when Amtrak executives made public statements earlier this year suggesting the carrier would refuse to operate trains on host railroads that have not implemented a positive train control system by Jan. 1, 2019.

Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General issued a report saying Amtrak had yet to achieve interoperability with the PTC systems of 19 of his host railroads and was unlikely to do so by the target date at 13 of those railroads.

“From a safety department perspective, we know there will be areas of the country in Amtrak’s system that do not yet have PTC because of a mainline track exclusion or because a host railroad has an alternative [implementation] schedule or will by the end of the year,” Hylander said. “So, we’ve applied our safety risk management principles to those areas and literally, mile by mile, have gone through and assessed the risks, from switches to bridges to rails. We are determining what does our SMS do to mitigate those risks for the areas that are lacking PTC.”

Amtrak has since said that it will do all it can to continue operating all trains over their entire routes.

“We will do everything in our power to operate. We are working closely with the tenant railroads and are putting them through the same safety risk assessment that we’re putting ourselves through,” Hylander said.

As 2019 approaches, Amtrak is preparing to make increased use of data analysis to correct safety issues.

Hylander noted that in the airline industry data from every flight is reviewed for operating anomalies. Those reviews are used to make safety corrections.

He wants to see the same process done for every train trip.

Another area of development is revamping safety training.

“We’re using a new instructional design process, and last year and this year we’ve revisited over 100 classes that are connected to safety training,” Hylander said. “We are putting a more formal, structured process around those classes.”

NTSB Looking at Talgo Safety

July 24, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board probe into the December 2017 derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train that killed three and injured more than 60 is focusing on the safety of the Talgo equipment involved in the incident.

“Now that we have evidence of how the Talgo trainset performs in a crash, does the [Federal Railroad Administration] have any concerns that would cause you to re-examine your decision to grandfather this equipment?” NTSB investigator Michael Hiller asked an FRA during a recent hearing.

In response, the FRA’s Gary Fairbanks said, “I didn’t see anything as the way the cars performed that would cause us to go back and reconsider the grandfathering petition because the items that were covered in the grandfathering petition performed adequately.”

The Talgo equipment involved in the derailment had been operating under a FRA waiver.

During the hearings, the NTSB also zeroed in on the training of Amtrak locomotive engineers.

The derailment occurred on the first day of revenue service on the Point Defiance Bypass between Tacoma and Nisqually, Washington.

NTSB investigators are also questioning if Amtrak did enough to identify a potentially dangerous curve at DuPont, Washington, where Cascades No. 501 derailed.

At issue was whether Amtrak operating personnel received a sufficient number of familiarization trips over the route before revenue service began.

Most of the training runs were made at night to avoid interfering with Sounder commuter trains during the day.

Testimony at the NTSB hearing showed that one training run had seven people in the cab, exceeding the number considered safe by Amtrak standards.

Locomotive engineers were not only learning a new route, but a new locomotive, the SC-44 Charger.

In interviews with NTSB investigators, the engineer of Cascades No. 501 said the curve at milepost 19.8 was on his mind, but that his limited familiarity with the lines of sight from the Charger locomotive may have hindered his ability to see the wayside warning signs until it was too late.

As Cascades No. 501 entered a 30 mph curve, it was traveling at 78 mph.

Mike DeCataldo, Amtrak’s senior director for system safety and customer satisfaction, said  Amtrak will only begin a new service or route “once all safety precautions and mitigations are in place.”

DeCataldo said Amtrak will require a minimum of four round-trips over the entirety of the new route, up from the previous minimum of one, before an engineer or conductor is qualified to operate over it.

Amtrak has said it will not use the Point Defiance Bypass until positive train control train is installed, which is not expected until the end of this year.

In a related development, an Amtrak mechanic has filed a federal whistleblower complaint in connection with the Cascades derailment, saying carrier ignored his safety concerns on the day of the accident.

Michael McClure said in the complaint that he told his superiors that there was a mechanical failure in the trainset that later derailed.

“They were more primarily concerned about getting it out in time for the inaugural run than looking at the safety aspect of it,” McClure said.

He contends that the fault dealt with the train’s braking system. However, it has not been formally established if that played a part in the derailment.

McClure’s complaint alleges that Amtrak has “an ongoing pattern and practice of violating the Federal Railroad Safety Act.”

Amtrak Won’t Allow Being on Open Platform Cars

June 11, 2018

Amtrak has revised its safety manual for private rail car owners to prohibit passengers aboard open platform cars from riding or standing on the platform while the car is in motion.

The manual said the rule applies to cars attached to any Amtrak revenue train or charter operation.

“Failure to adhere to this safety rule could result in the private car owner being suspended or revoked from operation on any Amtrak train or charter train,” the rules states.

A related rule requires that vestibule doors and windows shall be closed and latched before a train departs and remain closed until it comes to a halt at the next station.

The safety manual is a 15-page documents that spells out in detail Amtrak’s rules and expectations for private car owners and their passengers.

The manual also notes that starting on May 14, 2018, the procedure for scheduling the annual, 40 Year, and 10 year follow-up inspections is now being managed Amtrak’s Centralized National Operations Center.

Amtrak’s mechanical maintenance facilities are no longer available to perform these periodic inspections.