Senators push for rail safety systems - NEWS10 ABC: Albany, New York News, Weather, Sports

Senators push for rail safety systems

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WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Richard Blumenthal today urged the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to immediately begin requiring critical safety monitoring systems that consist of inward and outward facing cameras in locomotives and operating railway cabs.

In the wake of a 2008 railway collision in California, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended inward facing cameras, which would monitor train crew performance, as well as outward facing cameras, which would be used to monitor crossing accidents and to recognize any deficiencies on the tracks. The FRA has yet to take any regulatory action putting these recommendations in place.

Schumer and Blumenthal today explained that the recording devices may be used as a deterrent for dangerous behavior, like falling asleep or texting and allow rail officials to monitor and correct such behavior before a tragic accident occurred.  It could also be used after a rail crash to determine the cause of the crash.  Neither outward or inward camera systems were present on the three Metro-North trains involved in accidents this year.

"I'm perplexed as to why, for the past few years, the FRA has been sitting on a list of life-saving recommendation  that may very well prevent dangerous behavior onboard our commuter trains," said Schumer. "We've now learned that the engineer in last week's deadly derailment may have dozed off due to ‘highway hypnosis.' Inward facing cameras may help railroad managers detect dangerous patterns amongst engineers ahead of time, and also help investigators determine the cause of a future rail accident. It's time the FRA gets onboard with the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation."

"I am astonished and appalled by delays in implementing these vital safety devices, risking danger and death," said Blumenthal. "Audio and video recording tools can help prevent operator error and equipment failure-- likely causes of the horrific Bronx tragedy. Failure to implement these life-saving steps is inexplicable and inexcusable. The FRA should immediately require Metro North and all railroads to implement these simple straightforward cost effective measures, sending a message that misconduct or mistakes will be recorded and that there will be accountability. I commend the FRA's recent Emergency Order, and hope that it can be expanded to include required installation of audio and visual recorders."

On December 1st, a Metro-North train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station killing four passengers and injuring 67. The train was moving at 82 miles per hour (mph) in a 30 mph zone. According to media reports, the train engineer admitted to "nodding off."

Similarly, in 2011 two trains collided in Red Oak, Iowa and a NTSB report says that fatigue was probable cause of the accident, but because there were no inward cameras it has been hard to verify. In 2008, a train operator fell asleep and collided with another train in Newton, Massachusetts.

Following a train collision in California resulting in 25 fatalities, the NTSB issued a list of recommendations for the FRA. According to the recommendation report, the NSTB concluded that a "performance monitoring program that includes in-cab audio and video recordings would serve as a significant deterrent…" The NSTB recommended the FRA "require the installation, in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments, of crash-and fire-protected inward and outward facing audio and image recorders capable of providing recordings to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety as well as train operating conditions."

Since the 2008 collision, the FRA has not yet moved forward with a nation-wide plan of implementing the NTSB's recommendations. Currently, Amtrak locomotives have outward facing cameras that record signals and gate crossings as well as California's Metrolink commuter rail. New York's commuter rail lines like Metro North and the Long Island Railroad do not have inward or outward facing cameras.

In its most recent communication with the FRA, the NTSB stated that they were "disappointed that more than four years after the deadliest passenger train accident in decades, the FRA has not acted on two recommendations that would protect railroad employees, as well as the public. The NTSB railroad accident investigations conducted since the issuance of Safety Recommendations R-10-1 and -2 consistently indicate that in-cab audio and video recorders could provide critical information for accident investigations about crew performance and the locomotive cab environment.

The Goodwell accident demonstrates clearly that in-cab audio and video data, if sufficiently protected from fire and crash damage, could have provided information for understanding the actions of the crew of the eastbound train. Therefore, the NTSB reiterates Safety Recommendations R-10-1 and -2 to the FRA.

Schumer and Blumenthal today called on the FRA to move forward with implanting inward and outward cameras. Schumer and Blumenthal explained that the cameras would serve as a deterrent and would allow the MTA and other railroads to prevent train crew members from falling asleep or texting  on the job by detecting those behaviors and disciplining employees.

Additionally, the cameras would help investigators determine the cause of a crash by providing video evidence of what was occurring inside the train at the time of the accident. Schumer and Blumenthal went on to say that many freight and commuter railroads and city bus systems have installed cameras on public buses and similarly, the FRA should move forward with installing cameras on trains.

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