The North County Transit District (NCTD) has teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to add an extra level of safety for its staff, contractors and the public. On August 1, 2019, NCTD entered into a partnership with NASA, the FRA, Bombardier Transportation USA, Inc., and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) to participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) program.
C3RS is designed to improve railroad safety by collecting and analyzing reports that describe unsafe conditions or events in the railroad industry. Staff and contractors can report safety issues or “close calls” voluntarily and confidentially. A close call is any condition or event that may have the potential for more serious safety consequences such as a blue flag not removed after releasing railway construction equipment or failing to provide proper track protection during track maintenance. By analyzing these events, potential life-saving information can be obtained to help prevent more serious incidents in the future.
NASA took the lead on this program after developing and managing the highly successful Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) which began in 1976. ASRS has received over 1.2 million confidential reports from the aviation community resulting in numerous contributions to aviation safety. As an independent and respected research organization that does not have regulatory or enforcement interests, NASA serves as an objective and trustworthy recipient of reports submitted by railroad professionals.
By identifying close calls on or around the railroad tracks, participating agencies can identify why close calls may occur, recommend and implement corrective actions, and evaluate the effectiveness of any such action that was implemented.
C3RS is in addition and complementary to the many existing safety programs that NCTD currently has in place such as Positive Train Control, which is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed, train movements through misaligned track switches and unauthorized train entry into work zones.
“Safety at NCTD is our top priority,” explains Matthew Tucker, NCTD Executive Director. “Having the opportunity to partner with a highly successful organization such as NASA to enhance our safety protocols was an easy decision for NCTD.”
Confidentiality is a key element of the C3RS program. Railroad personnel can submit reports when they are involved in or observe an incident or situation in which railroad safety might be compromised. All report submissions are voluntary. Reports sent to C3RS are held in strict confidence, and individuals who report are provided waivers from carrier discipline and FRA enforcement of qualifying events.
“Because of NASA’s strict confidentiality policy for these reports, it’s more likely that we’ll get accurate details about the incident,” says NCTD’s Chief Operations Officer-Rail Eric Roe. “Those details can lead to new safety measures that make the tracks safer for everyone on and around the rails.”
C3RS includes partners Bombardier Transportation and SMART. Bombardier Transportation is NCTD’s rail operations and maintenance contractor. SMART is the union that represents the conductors and engineers on NCTD’s San Diego Subdivision.
NCTD has become the ninth railroad carrier to participate in the C3RS program since its 2007 inception. Other participants include Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, MBTA/Keolis, Metra, Metro-North, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, Strasburg Rail Road, Denton County Transportation Authority, North Shore Railroad Group, Belt Railway of Chicago – Operations and Belt Railway of Chicago Non-Ops. FRA is currently accepting new carriers into the program.