The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.
Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.
The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.
Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.
“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”
The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.
“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.
Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.
She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.
The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.
Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.
“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”
For months now, your union has been collecting hundreds of reports from members of our and other rail unions that document instances when railroad technology doesn’t work as intended.
While carriers might see technology as a stepping-stone to more money and the eventual replacement of employees with full automation, we want to collect real-world data showing that sometimes these “improved” technologies are more of a stumbling block when not working as intended.
Data is being collected via a form on the SMART TD website directly linked at (www.smart-union.org/railroad-technology-event-report) or look for the red flashing button on right of the main page, then follow that link to report incidences involving Positive Train Control, Trip Optimizer/LEADER, DPU (distributed power), EOT/HTD’s or radio transmission failures among crew members when dealing with long trains.
The real-world data that members contribute helps our organization to formulate a plan to protect members and the general public and to ensure the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, and this information is being sought on a voluntary basis, said Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity, who helped to create the report form.
“The railroads like to tout there is no data to support that two-person crews are safer than a one-person crew. The irony, however, is that the counter-point to their argument is also true — there is no data to support that one-person crews are any safer than two-person crews either,” he said. “Over the years [they] have purposefully chosen to not collect the data, despite having the ability to do so, because they know the truth will hurt their position.”
The way to combat this is by gathering reports from the people who are dealing directly with the situations created when the technology does not function as intended, Cassity said.
“By members submitting this very important information we are able to provide the one thing the railroads cannot or will not — data,” Cassity said. “And that data proves these technological safety overlay systems are not capable of replacing the human element, specifically two-person crews.”
Reports submitted through this form go to union safety leadership for collection. The reports are not a substitute for filling out a report to a carrier or to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
“The railroads have fired the first shot in this round of the crew-consist war, and we need all hands on deck, everyone doing their part to complete these reports,” Cassity said. “This data may very well just be what makes the difference.”
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Aug. 24 that it has awarded $203,698,298 in grant funding for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for 28 projects in 15 states. FRA also released a status update of PTC for the second quarter.
The funds are part of the $250 million that the FRA has available specifically for the implementation of PTC appropriated from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.
A Notice Of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $250 million was published in May, and solicitations for the funds had to be received by July 2. The FRA expects to publish a second NOFO in the Federal Register for the remaining $46,301,702 available.
Click here to read the full press release from the FRA and to view a list of railroads receiving the grant money.
As for the state of PTC, 15 railroads have installed 100 percent of the PTC system hardware on their locomotives and their trackage, FRA said. BNSF and KCS are the only two Class I railroads listed as having 100 percent of their track segments installed with PTC while Union Pacific is listed as having 98 percent of installation completed. BNSF, Metrolink and Northstar Commuter Rail are all listed as having PTC in complete operation. FRA reports that 37,705 route miles or 65 percent of the approximately 58,000 route miles have sufficient revenue service demonstration or are in operation. (Revenue service demonstration is one of the criteria needed to qualify for an extension of the deadline.)
The second quarter has also seen a 25 percent drop in the number of “at-risk” railroads – FRA considers any railroad that installed less than 90 percent of its PTC system hardware as of June 30, 2018, to be at risk. There are currently nine at-risk railroads: New Mexico Rail Runner Express, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, Altamont Corridor Express, MARC, Trinity Railway Express, TriRail, Caltrain and Florida’s SunRail. Of the nine deemed at risk, all but three (Altamont Corridor Express, New Jersey Transit and TriRail) were awarded part of the $250 million grant.
“The railroads have achieved some significant improvements over the past year implementing this safety technology,” said FRA Administrator Ron Batory. “While we are seeing progress among a majority of railroads, we want to see everyone meet their requirements.”
All Class I railroads and commuter railroads are required to have PTC fully implemented by Dec. 31, 2018, unless the carrier qualifies for an alternative schedule under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act). Railroads approved for an alternate schedule must contain a deadline that is as soon as practicable, but no later than Dec. 31, 2020.
Click here to view a chart of carriers’ progress of implementing PTC. Click here to read FRA’s entire press release on the progress of PTC implementation.
Railroads’ progress on Positive Train Control remains uneven
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (US DOT’s) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today released a status update on its efforts to assist railroads in implementing positive train control systems (PTC), along with the railroads’ self-reported progress for the fourth quarter of 2017.
At the direction of Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the FRA is taking a proactive approach to ensure railroads acquire, install, test and fully implement certified PTC systems in time to meet the congressional interim deadline of December 31, 2018.
“It is the railroads’ responsibility to meet the congressionally mandated PTC requirements,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The FRA is committed to doing its part to ensure railroads and suppliers are working together to implement PTC systems.”
Between January 2 and February 14, 2018, FRA’s leadership hosted face-to-face meetings with executives from each of the 41 railroads subject to the statutory mandate. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate each railroad’s PTC status and learn what remaining steps each needs to take to have a PTC system fully implemented by the December deadline or, at a minimum, to meet the statutory criteria necessary to qualify for an alternative schedule.
As a result of the meetings with railroads, FRA is now meeting with PTC suppliers to learn more about their capacity to meet the high demands for railroads’ implementation of PTC systems in a timely manner.
PTC systems are designed to prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and trains going to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position.
All railroads subject to the statutory PTC implementation mandate must implement FRA-certified and interoperable PTC systems by the end of the year. Under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, however, Congress permits a railroad to request FRA’s approval of an “alternate schedule” with a deadline beyond December 31, 2018, but no later than December 31, 2020, for certain non-hardware, operational aspects of PTC system implementation. The congressional mandate requires FRA to approve a railroad’s alternative schedule with a deadline no later than December 31, 2020, if a railroad submits a written request to FRA that demonstrates the railroad has met the statutory criteria set forth under 49 U.S.C. § 20157(a)(3)(B).
The fourth quarter data, current as of December 31, 2017, shows PTC systems are in operation on approximately 56 percent of freight railroads’ route miles that are required to be governed by PTC systems—up from 45 percent last quarter and 16 percent on December 31, 2016. Passenger railroads have made less progress—with PTC systems in operation on only 24 percent of required route miles, unchanged from the previous quarter.
The latest data confirms that railroads continue to make progress in installing PTC system hardware, with 15 railroads reporting they have completed installation of all hardware necessary for PTC system implementation and another 11 railroads reporting they have installed over 80 percent of PTC system hardware. In addition, all but three railroads report having acquired sufficient spectrum for their PTC system needs.
On February 4, 2018, southbound Amtrak train 91, operating on a track warrant, diverted from the main track through a hand-thrown switch into a siding and collided head-on with stationary CSX Transportation local freight train F777 03 on the CSX Columbia Subdivision in Cayce, S.C.
The engineer and conductor of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision and at least 92 passengers and crewmembers on the Amtrak train were transported to medical facilities. The engineer of the stopped CSX train had exited the lead locomotive before the Amtrak train entered the siding, ran to safety, and was not injured. The conductor of the CSX lead locomotive saw the Amtrak train approaching in the siding and ran to the back of locomotive. The conductor was thrown off the locomotive and sustained minor injuries.
The normal method of train operation on the subdivision was a traffic control system with wayside signals. Signal indications authorize movement in either direction. On the day before the accident, CSX signal personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for implementing positive train control (PTC) on the subdivision. During the suspension, scheduled to last through February 4, 2018, dispatchers would use track warrants to move trains through absolute blocks in the work territory.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators inspected the track structure, signal system and mechanical equipment; collected and are examining records for operations, signal systems, mechanical equipment, and track and engineering; and interviewed train crewmembers, train dispatchers and other personnel from CSX and Amtrak. In addition, investigators are reviewing the emergency response to the accident. Members of the NTSB investigative team traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., to investigate the dispatching aspects of the accident, to test the CSX signal system and to conduct additional interviews.
While on-scene, NTSB investigators located and removed the undamaged event data recorder from the destroyed Amtrak locomotive. The event data recorder was successfully downloaded and an initial review of the data revealed the following information:
From the train’s last stop, the maximum speed reached 57 mph, which was below the 59 mph limit allowed under signal suspension rules.
About 7 seconds before the end of the recording, the train was moving at 56 mph and the train’s horn was activated for 3 seconds.
The brake pipe pressure began decreasing 2 seconds later.
The following second, the throttle transitioned from full throttle to idle, while the train was moving at 54 mph.
The engineer induced emergency braking one second later, while the train was moving at a speed of 53 mph.
The recording ended 2 seconds later, as the train’s air braking system was approaching maximum braking effort and the train’s speed was 50 mph.
The Amtrak locomotive’s forward-facing video recorder hard drive was recovered and downloaded. The initial review of the recording indicated that it ended prior to the collision. NTSB engineers are attempting additional forensic efforts to determine if additional information can be recovered. Other investigative efforts included the download of information from the forward-facing video recorder and the extraction of the event recorder from the CSX lead locomotive.
Parties to the investigation include the Federal Railroad Administration, CSX, Amtrak, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; International Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, and the State of South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff.
In response to this accident, the NTSB issued an urgent recommendation requesting that the Federal Railroad Administration issue an emergency order providing instructions for railroads to follow when signal suspensions are in effect and a switch has been reported relined for a main track.
These are the preliminary findings of the NTSB and will be either supplemented or corrected during the course of the investigation.
A current SMART Transportation Division conductor and a former member were killed when Amtrak Train 91 traveling from New York to Miami collided early Feb. 4 with a stationary CSX freight train east of Columbia, S.C.
Brother Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Fla., was a conductor out of Local 30 in Jacksonville, Fla. He, along with the train’s engineer, Michael Kempf, a former SMART TD member out of Georgia, died in the accident, which injured more than 100 passengers, in Cayce, S.C.
Cella hired on with Amtrak as an assistant conductor in July 2008 and became a full member of SMART TD in September of that year.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the collision that happened about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 4 when the Amtrak locomotive hit the locomotive of the parked CSX train head-on.
Train 91 was carrying eight crew members and 139 passengers, Amtrak said on a posting on its website.
“We are cooperating fully with the NTSB, which is leading the investigation, as well as working with FRA and CSX. CSX owns and controls the Columbia Subdivision where the accident occurred,” Amtrak said in a statement on Twitter. “CSX maintains all of the tracks and signal systems. CSX controls the dispatching of all trains, including directing the signal systems which control the access to sidings and yards.”
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt also said during a news conference that CSX owns and operates the tracks that the Amtrak train was traveling. A switch that was “lined and locked” in the position to divert traffic onto the track where the CSX train was parked is being considered a cause of the accident.
“Key to this investigation is learning why the switch was lined that way,” Sumwalt said.
“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock,” he said when asked by a reporter if there was any physical indication that the switch was faulty.
A statement issued by CSX offered condolences to the families of Cella and Kempf and said that the carrier was focused on providing assistance and support to those affected by the accident.
Sumwalt said that the forward-facing video recorder from the Amtrak locomotive had been recovered and was already transported to the NTSB offices in Washington D.C. for investigation.
The event recorders from both trains were still being sought, he said.
“Fully operational positive train control could have avoided this accident,” Sumwalt said.
In a tweet, NTSB said it expected to release additional information at 4 p.m. Eastern Feb. 5.
The Cayce accident is the third fatal incident in three months involving Amtrak trains. A derailment off an overpass in Washington state in December killed three passengers, and an occupant of a garbage truck that was struck by an Amtrak train Jan. 31 near Charlottesville, Va., also died.
WASHINGTON – John Risch, SMART TD National Legislative Director, participated in hearings as a member of the Roundtable on Emerging Railroad Technologies on March 21, 2017. Discussion focused on new and emerging trends in railroad safety including train crew size, recent advancements in train brake technology, and early warning systems.
“Thank you Chairman Schuster, Subcommittee Chair Denham, and Ranking Member Capuano for inviting me to the roundtable discussion on emerging railroad technologies. With nearly 40 years in the railroad industry, I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the importance of maintaining minimum crew sizes, implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), and most importantly investing in the installation of Electronic Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes, which are vital to safety of our railroads,” said John Risch, SMART-TD National Legislative Director.
“I look forward to working with the members of the committee to improve railroad safety as we discuss opportunities to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure,” Risch continued.
Jan. 3 – SMART Transportation Division submitted comments protesting in-cab distractions to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA recently issued a public notice in docket FRA 2016-0002-N-22, allowing for comments to be made on in-cab distractions.
“We have been concerned about the increase of in-cab distractions for some time and have submitted letters and comments to the FRA with our concerns. Two examples are Trip Optimizer and Leader, which are computer-generated devices located in locomotive cabs that are allegedly being used to save fuel,” SMART TD’s National Legislative Director John Risch said in the comments.
“In addition, PTC implementation is causing greater cab distractions than we had hoped it would. Instead of the PTC system simply stopping trains when necessary, they are constantly messaging the engineer to take some minor corrective action and requiring the engineer to interact immediately, which takes the crews’ focus off the track ahead and on the cab electronic device.”
In light of the deadly NJT September 29th transit crash in Hoboken, NJ, that killed one person and injured more than 100, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate subcommittee that oversees passenger rail safety, and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate mass transit subcommittee, submitted a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx , calling for DOT to investigate the long list of safety violations, accidents and apparent systemic failures that have plagued the NJT in recent years. The NTSB is currently investigation the crash. Read the complete article posted in NJ.com, here.
The Times-Herald RecordOnline reported that on October 21, 2016, a joint state and federal legislative commission will begin hearings with New Jersey Transit (NJT) administrators in the wake of the September 29 Hoboken, NJ transit crash that injured more than one hundred and killed Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, a young mother and lawyer who had recently moved to New Jersey with her husband and one-year-old daughter. Read the complete article here.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began the task of gathering evidence to determine the cause of yesterday morning’s deadly New Jersey Transit crash that injured 114 and killed a woman who was standing on the platform at the busy hub in Hoboken, New Jersey. According to a CNN report, NTSB officials have retrieved the train’s event recorder and will soon interview engineer Thomas Gallagher, who was treated and released from the hospital yesterday. The sharp increase in railway accidents underscores the need to hasten implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems and mandated two-person crews on all trains. Read the latest article from CNN, here. Photo courtesy of CNN.com.
?WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unveiled its 2016 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements Wednesday, calling it a “road map from lessons learned to lives saved.” The list focuses on 10 broad safety improvements on which the NTSB has made recommendations that have not yet been implemented.
Several items on the list demonstrate the importance of technology in saving lives, preventing accidents and lessening the number and severity of injuries from accidents. For example, the list calls for promoting both the availability of collision avoidance technology in highway vehicles, and the completion of rail safety initiatives to prevent accidents. The list also calls for strengthening occupant protection in all modes of transportation, including laws mandating primary enforcement of seatbelt use, and age-appropriate child restraints.
Twenty years ago, the NTSB issued its first recommendation on the use of technology to prevent rear-end collisions. Implementation of this technology could significantly reduce motor vehicle crashes – by far the leading cause of death and injuries in transportation. Although federal regulators have made progress toward including such technologies in the 5-star safety rating on new vehicles, the NTSB advocates including such new technologies as standard equipment on all new highway vehicles – including commercial vehicles — just as airbags and seatbelts are now standard equipment.
The NTSB also called for completion of rail safety initiatives, including the implementation of positive train control (PTC). A 2008 law mandated implementation of positive train control by the end of 2015. Congress changed the law and implementation deadline late last year to avoid a possible rail transportation shut-down.
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart cited the PTC implementation as an example of why a sense of urgency is needed in implementing Most Wanted List improvements. “Every PTC-preventable accident, death, and injury on tracks and trains affected by the law will be a direct result of the missed 2015 deadline and the delayed implementation of this life-saving technology,” Hart said.
The NTSB’s push to improve rail transit safety oversight was in part a result of the agency’s investigation of a deadly smoke event last January near Washington’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. The accident exposed many safety issues, some of which resulted from shortcomings in the safety oversight of WMATA. This year, the NTSB will continue to examine the way that the Federal Transit Administration is implementing such oversight – not only in Washington, but nationwide.
Improving rail tank car safety by phasing out the use of DOT-111 rail tank cars to transport flammable liquids such as crude oil and ethanol is another improvement addressed in the 2016 Most Wanted List. The deadline for implementing such tank rules is 2025. Until these tank cars are removed from service, people, their towns, and the environment surrounding the rail system remain at risk.
Distraction (especially from portable electronic devices) and fatigue continue to be serious safety issues in all modes of transportation, and the NTSB’s 2016 Most Wanted List addresses them all. The list also notes that undiagnosed and untreated medical conditions have caused or contributed to accidents and calls for operators and regulators to require medical fitness for duty.
Impairment is also an issue in all modes of transportation. The NTSB has recommended lowering the legal limit on blood alcohol content to .05 to reduce deaths and injuries on highways. However, drugs other than alcohol can also impair drivers and operators of other types of vehicles – whether these drugs are recreational, over-the-counter, or prescription.
Another improvement on the 2016 list is preventing inadvertent spins and stalls within the general aviation community – the worst safety problem facing general aviation. While airlines have become very safe, safety progress has slowed in the less widely understood world of general aviation.
All of these most wanted transportation safety improvements are the result of our accident investigations. Our most powerful tool to learn safety lessons from accidents is data recorders. Thus, the list calls for their increased use in all modes of transportation.