Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Hearing
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Good afternoon, Chairwoman Murray, Ranking Member Collins, and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the
Recent events have placed railroad safety at the forefront of the national conversation. Last May, in
Our investigations into these accidents continue, and the second portion of this written testimony will update the Subcommittee on what we have learned so far. At any time however, the NTSB may issue safety recommendations in its investigations. In our investigation of the
Current Safety Issues
First, I would like to offer NTSB perspectives on current safety issues that the FRA and others, as appropriate, should expeditiously address. These recommendations reflect the fact that improving rail safety requires a layered approach: prevent accidents, mitigate those we cannot prevent, and ensure that emergency responders are well-equipped and well-trained to handle the accidents when they occur.
The NTSB has issued 106 recommendations to FRA since 2000 to improve railroad safety. Of those 106 recommendations, 55 remain open, and, of those 55 open recommendations, 29 remain open with unacceptable FRA responses. The percentage of open recommendations that have unacceptable responses is higher for the FRA than for any other
I would like to provide further context on several specific NTSB recommendations issued to the FRA and other stakeholders, and safety issues that particularly relate to recurring accidents.
Untreated Sleep Disorders Among Locomotive Engineers
Several NTSB investigations since 2001 have revealed a safety risk that the FRA has not, to date, fully addressed: train crewmember fatigue due to untreated or insufficiently treated obstructive sleep apnea. Impairment from fatigue caused by obstructive sleep apnea caused at least two fatal accidents in the past:
For more than a decade, the NTSB has recommended that FRA take appropriate measures to ensure that train crewmembers receive prompt diagnoses and treatment for fatigue-inducing conditions, such as sleep apnea. The NTSB's first recommendations on the subject emerged from an investigation of the 2001 collision of two trains near
Moreover, in its investigation of a 2011 freight train collision in
Fatigue has been raised as a potential issue in current investigations as well. As the NTSB vigorously investigates these accidents, we continue to call on the FRA to take strong action to ensure operating personnel are assessed for fitness with reference to appropriate medical standards that consider sleep disorders. Crewmembers with sleep disorders must receive proper medical treatment to protect against the adverse effects of fatigue in railroad operations.
Railroad Tank Car Design
The nation's railroad network is taking on an expanding role--one that has profound economic importance--as a major channel for the transportation of crude oil and other hazardous products. As the NTSB noted recently, the AAR's 2012 Annual Report of Hazardous Materials Transported by Rail states that crude oil traffic has increased by 443 percent since 2005 and that this growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. According to the FRA, the volume of crude oil transported by rail has increased dramatically in recent years, from approximately 65,600 carloads in 2011 to approximately 257,450 carloads in 2012--an increase of 292 percent. n7 Moreover, not only is more crude oil being transported by rail, but some of the crude oil being moved on the nation's railroad system--such as that originating in the Bakken formation--may have more volatile properties. In January, the
Furthermore, ethanol traffic transported by railroad increased 442 percent between 2005 and 2010; in 2012, ethanol was the most frequently transported hazardous material in the railroad system. n9 The evolving role of our nation's railroad network in the transportation of flammable crude oil and ethanol requires interested parties to take a comprehensive approach to eliminate or significantly reduce the safety risks. This approach must include improvements to track inspection and maintenance programs and the crashworthiness of the tank cars that transport these materials.
Indeed, as the volume of flammable materials transported by rail grows, the
The NTSB continues to find that accidents involving the rupture of DOT-111 tank cars carrying hazardous materials often have violent and destructive results. For example, on
In addition, the NTSB is investigating, or has investigated, a spate of recent similar accidents in
Federal requirements simply have not kept pace with evolving demands placed on the railroad industry and evolving technology and knowledge about hazardous materials and accidents. While the current AAR industry standards adopted for DOT-111 tank cars ordered after
The NTSB continues to assert that DOT-111 tank cars, or tank cars of any successor specification, that transport hazardous materials should incorporate more effective puncture-resistant and thermal protection systems. This can be accomplished through the incorporation of additional protective features such as full head shields, jackets, thermal insulation, and thicker head and shell materials. Because the average service life of a tank car may run 20-50 years, it is imperative that industry, the FRA, and PHMSA take action now to address hazards that otherwise would exist for another half- generation or longer.
Following the 2011 ethanol release and fire in
The importance of providing correct information to first responders highlights a related issue. Following the freight train derailment in
Although important decisions are clearly ahead for regulators and industry, the NTSB is pleased that at least some progress has been made. PHMSA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on
Implementation of PTC Systems
PTC systems help prevent (a) derailments caused by over-speeding, (b) train-to- train collisions by slowing or stopping trains that are not being operated in accordance with the signal systems and operating rules, and (c) track workers being struck by trains. The first NTSB-investigated accident that train control technology would have prevented occurred in 1969, when four people died and 43 were injured in the collision of two Penn Central commuter trains in
More recently, in 2008, more lives were lost in a PTC-preventable accident when a Metrolink commuter train and a
We continue to see accidents that could be prevented by PTC. The
Implementation of PTC systems was included on the NTSB's Most Wanted List when the list was first published in 1990 and has remained on the list almost continuously since that time. We may never eliminate human error from the railroad system, but PTC provides a level of redundancy to protect the people on board trains and in surrounding communities when human factors, such as distraction or fatigue, might otherwise set an accident sequence into motion.
Some rail carriers have installed PTC or are working to meet the 2015 deadline. However, in
There is much debate by policymakers over whether to extend the 2015 deadline established by the RSIA. Some railroads will meet this deadline. For those railroads that have made the difficult decisions and invested millions of dollars, they have demonstrated leadership. For those railroads that will not meet the deadline, there should be a transparent accounting for actions taken and not taken to meet the deadline so that regulators and policymakers can make informed decisions. Lives depend on it.
The NTSB has called for such a transparent accounting. Following the head-on collision of two
This information should be made available online to ensure a transparent accounting for actions taken and not taken to meet the 2015 deadline so that regulators and policymakers can make informed decisions. However, because of the FRA's lack of sufficient action on this recommendation, we recently classified the recommendation as "Open--Unacceptable Response." We are disappointed by the FRA's recent position that it will not regularly and automatically provide the public with updates on rail carrier progress toward PTC implementation. The American people deserve full information on such important safety improvements.
Inward- and Outward-Facing Locomotive Audio and Image Recorders
[i]n all too many accidents, the individuals directly involved are either limited in their recollection of events or, as in the case of the
Accordingly, the NTSB recommended that the FRA require the installation, in control compartments, of "crash- and fire-protected inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders capable of providing recordings [for at least 12 hours] to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety as well as train operating conditions." n19 The NTSB also recommended that the FRA "[r]equire that railroads regularly review and use in-cab audio and image recordings . . . to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety." n20
The NTSB recently reiterated these important recommendations in its report on the collision of a BNSF coal train with the rear end of a standing BNSF maintenance-of- way equipment train near
In February, we issued our longstanding recommendation on this subject directly to
Strong Safety Cultures
Fostering the development of transparent, top-to-bottom safety cultures in transportation is an important priority of the NTSB. Creating and nurturing a thriving safety culture within rail carriers is even more imperative in light of the expanding role of the nation's railroad system as a main transporter of flammable materials and the continual increase in passenger ridership.
The NTSB held a public forum on
As Members of the Subcommittee well remember, organizational factors at the
In particular, the
The importance of building relationships between management and employees that foster a vibrant safety culture cannot be overlooked. Trust is an essential ingredient in those relationships. A culture in which front-line employees may openly report operational errors and safety issues without fear of reprisal is absolutely critical, and, as we have seen in the aviation context, improves safety.
The NTSB will continue to urge Federal regulators, such as FRA and the
[t]he FTA should consider the elements of safety culture, crew resource management, fatigue risk management, and technology, as well as lessons learned from the rail industry, as it moves forward with [new legislative authority to set and enforce new safety standards and conduct investigations]. Identifying and implementing these will be key to saving lives and preventing injuries.
Updates on Ongoing Investigations
I would now like to update the Subcommittee on developments in several recent investigations that are keeping the NTSB's railroad investigators very busy and demonstrate the need for continued vigilance in the railroad operating environment.
Metro-North Railroad Accidents
The NTSB issued a preliminary factual report on the accident on
Investigators have conducted detailed inspections and testing of the signal system, train brakes, and other mechanical equipment, and thus far have found no anomalies. They found no pre-accident anomalies in the track in the derailment area. Investigators have interviewed the train crewmembers, including the engineer and first responders and will continue to obtain and examine evidence from NTSB headquarters as the investigation proceeds. We are receiving excellent cooperation from the parties to the investigation: the FRA, Metro-North, the
As previously stated, in February, the NTSB issued three additional safety recommendations to Metro-North. As our investigation proceeds, the NTSB will be prepared to issue additional safety recommendations if we determine any further safety improvements are necessary prior to the completion of our investigation.
Last June, the NTSB issued an urgent safety recommendation following the
I am pleased to inform the Subcommittee that Metro-North has fully cooperated in all these investigations, at a difficult time for the railroad and its employees in the wake of several closely-spaced accidents. We anticipate and look forward to Metro- North's continued cooperation as the investigations proceed.
Although it is still too early in our investigations of these accidents to draw definitive conclusions, we will seek answers to the following questions, among others: What caused these accidents? Are there common threads among the accidents? What improvements can Metro-North, regulators, and others adopt that will prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future?
At the same time, we are closely studying FRA's
The NTSB tentatively expects to complete our investigations of all four accidents involving Metro-North trains or property in mid-November. Last month, we sent a team to
Freight Train Collision and Crude Oil Release near
As I noted above, the NTSB is investigating the
The accident sequence began shortly after
The crews on the two trains were uninjured. No injuries to the public were reported. Damage was estimated at
On a preliminary basis, we have found that, of the 20 derailed tank cars, 18 were breached and more than 476,000 gallons of crude oil were released. NTSB investigators have completed the on-scene portion of the investigation, including interviews with the train crews and first responders. A broken axle and two wheels were shipped to the NTSB materials laboratory in
The NTSB also continues to investigate recent two CTA accidents in the
The train was operating at about 26 mph when it passed over the fixed trip stop, which applied the train emergency braking system. The distance from the fixed trip stop to the end of the track, however, was too short to allow the train to stop in time.
The operator said she dozed off shortly before the accident and that the last signal she recalled indicated that the next signal would require a stop. She said she woke up when the train passed over the fixed trip stop. We are continuing to gather evidence as we thoroughly investigate this accident.
We also continue to investigate the
The unattended train, with neither an operator nor passengers aboard, had begun rolling out of the Forest Park Yard at
Both trains were designed for multiple unit operation. Electrical power was provided by an outside third rail. Train movements on the Blue Line are controlled by a traffic control system, which consists of wayside track signal indications and in-cab signals in the train operator's cab. Initial property damage was estimated at
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you and to provide updates on our ongoing investigations as well as NTSB perspectives on several compelling safety issues. Please be assured that the NTSB will remain engaged on these and all issues affecting transportation safety. I look forward to answering the Subcommittee's questions.
n1 A unit train is a train made up of cars carrying the same product.
n2 NTSB Recommendations Nos. R-12-017, and R-13-020 and -021.
n3 NTSB, Collision of Two Canadian National/Illinois Central Railway Trains Near
n4 NTSB Recommendation Nos. R-02-24, -25.
n5 NTSB, Collision of BNSF Coal Train With the Rear End of Standing BNSF Maintenance-of-Way Equipment Train,
n6 NTSB Recommendation Nos. 12-16, 12-26.
n7 FRA Emerg. Order No. 28, 78 Fed. Reg. 48218, 48220 (
n8 PHMSA Safety Alert: Preliminary Guidance from Operation Classification (
n9 FRA Emerg. Order No. 28, 78 Fed. Reg. at 48221; see also NTSB, Letter to The Honorable
n10 See, e.g., NTSB, Derailment of CN Freight Train U70691-18 With Subsequent Hazardous Materials Release and Fire
n11 These new standards, for example, call for DOT-111 tank cars that transport flammable liquids in packing groups I and II (the highest-risk of the three packing groups, classified according to flash and boiling points) to be built with protective "jackets" around their tanks, constructed of normalized steel at least 7/16 inch thick, and call for non-jacketed tanks to be constructed from normalized steel (steel that has been subjected to a heat-treating process that improves its material properties) at least half an inch thick.
n12 NTSB Recommendation No. R-07-4.
n13 NTSB Recommendation No. R-70-020.
n14 Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-432, [Sec.] 104 (2008).
n15 These accidents do not include Metro-North accidents.
n16 Gov't Accountability Office, Positive Train Control: Additional Authorities Could Benefit Implementation, GAO Rpt. No. GAO-13-720 (
n17 See NTSB, Head-On Collision of Two Union Pacific Railroad Freight Trains Near
n18 NTSB, Collision of Metrolink Train 111 With Union Pacific Train LOF65-12
n19 NTSB Recommendation No. R-10-1.
n20 NTSB Recommendation No. R-10-2.
n22 NTSB Recommendation No. R-13-17.. n23 NTSB Recommendation No. R-08-6.
n24 NTSB Recommendation No.R-13-034 and R-13-035.
n25 NTSB Recommendation No. R-13-036.
Read this original document at: http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/sites/default/files/hearings/Hersman%20NTSB%20Senate%20Testimony.pdf
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