Posts Tagged ‘transportation safety’

NTSB Wants FRA to Implement Safety Rule Now

June 27, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board is demanding that the Federal Railroad Administration implement immediately a passenger-rail operations safety program.

The statement, which is a recommendation and not a legally-binding mandate, followed the NTSB’s release of a report into the derailment of an Amtrak Cascades Service train in December 2017 that killed three and injured 65 others.

The safety agency concluded that a failure to provide effective mitigation of a hazardous curve combined with inadequate training of the locomotive engineer led to the derailment.
The NTSB report found the derailment occurred when the southbound train entered a 30-mph curve traveling at 78 mph.

In its report, the NTSB made 26 new safety recommendations and reiterated three existing safety recommendations, one of which is enactment of a federal regulation known as the “System Safety Program.”

Although the FRA published a rule mirroring the NTSB recommendation, implementation of the rule has been delayed six times, most recently to Sept. 4, 2019.

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 Names Acting Chairman

March 20, 2017

Bella Dinh-Zarr has been named as acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board after the term of incumbent Chairman Christopher Hart expired last week.

Hart remains a member of the five-member board and had served as chairman since March 2015.

He had served as acting chairman for nearly a year before being nominated by the Obama administration to be the permanent chairman.

Dinh-Zarr has served as vice chairman since March 2015. Before joining the NTSB, she served as director of the U.S. Office of the FIA Foundation, an international philanthropy organization that promotes safe and sustainable transportation.
NTSB members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. By law, a board member is designated by the president to be the chairman while another is designated to be the vice chairman for two-year terms.