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NTSB calls on FRA to require cameras, audio recorders in all cabs


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently determined that the September 2008 collision between Metrolink and Union Pacific Railroad trains in Chatsworth, Calif., was caused by the Metrolink engineer, who was text-messaging on a wireless device while operating the train and failed to respond to a red signal.

According to wireless service provider records obtained by the NTSB, both the Metrolink engineer and UP conductor used wireless devices to send and receive text messages on the day of the accident. The engineer also made non-business-related phone calls while on duty, according to the board.

“This accident demonstrates that we must find a way to wrap our arms around the pervasive problem of transportation operators using wireless devices while on the job,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a prepared statement.

As a result of its findings, the NTSB recommends that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA):
• require the installation of inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders in all locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments to verify that train crews abide by wireless device rules and safety procedures; and
• require railroads to regularly review in-cab audio and image recordings for verification purposes.

The NTSB also cited the lack of a positive train control system (PTC) as a contributing factor. A PTC system would have stopped the Metrolink train short of the red signal and prevented the accident, board officials believe.

However, as PTC systems are installed during the next few years, “there will be no advantage whatsoever for either audio or video recording of in-cab activities because the fail-safe nature of PTC technology will prevent collisions of the type that served as the basis for the NTSB recommendation,” said Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) officials in a prepared statement.

In addition, current FRA regulations and railroad operating procedures already call for extensive recording of locomotive and signal data, and radio conversations are routinely recorded, they said.

“Locomotive operation is monitored in such detail by today’s event recorders that inward-facing video cameras will provide no additional information of use in accident investigations,” BLET officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/22/2010