Schumer, Blumenthal Announce: Feds Will Act on Safety Recommendations & Require Cameras in Trains

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Recordings Could Be Used to Spot Dangerous Behavior or Track Conditions – Like Falling Asleep, Texting, or Broken Rails - Before It Causes a Crash

Washington, DC - January 13, 2014 - U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Richard Blumenthal today announced, after a significant joint push, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will begin the required rulemaking process to implement a critical safety monitoring system in trains – inward- and outward-facing cameras in all locomotives and operating cabs – which means there will likely be a rule on the cameras out for public review some time during 2014. This decision comes after Schumer and Blumenthal pushed for these cameras in the wake of the December 2013 Metro-North crash at Spuyten Duyvil.

During their joint push, Schumer and Blumenthal noted that, 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. At the time, the FRA had not yet taken any regulatory action toward putting the NTSB’s recommendations in place. Schumer and Blumenthal 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- nor inward-facing camera systems were present on the three Metro-North trains involved in accidents this year.  In a letter to the lawmakers, FRA said they would begin the rulemaking process this year. 

“The most important thing we can do in the wake of tragedies like the Spuyten Duyvil derailment is to learn from the mistakes made and ensure that they never happen again,” said Schumer. “I commend the FRA for finally heeding our call – as well as the recommendation of our country’s foremost safety experts – to implement these inward- and outward-facing cameras. Rolling this program out across our entire rail network means that we will now be able to identify damaged infrastructure and dangerous behavior onboard our commuter trains before it leads to another deadly disaster.”

“Installing safety cameras inside and outside railcars is a simple, straightforward safety strategy that will help prevent future derailments and collisions,” said Blumenthal. “Installing these cameras will also ensure that misconduct and mistakes are recorded so those involved can be held accountable. While I’m pleased the FRA has heeded our call for safety improvements, the agency needs to move quickly to adopt them because time is of the essence.”

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.”

Until now, the FRA had not moved forward with a nation-wide plan of implementing the recommendations the NTSB made in wake of the 2008 crash. 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 announced the FRA is finally heeding their call to move forward with implanting inward- and outward-facing cameras. Schumer and Blumenthal explained that the cameras would serve as a deterrent to dangerous behavior, 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.

A full copy of the Senators' December 2013 letter to the FRA is below:

We write to urge you to immediately act on two critical safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that would require railroads to install crash-resistant inward and outward facing cameras and audio devices in locomotives and operating railway cabs. As you know, in the wake of a 2008 railway collision in California, the 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 to put these recommendations in place. We believe that these recording devices may be used as a deterrent for dangerous behavior, like falling asleep or texting, and may also be used after a rail crash to determine the cause of the crash.  Neither outward nor inward camera systems were present on the three Metro-North trains involved in accidents this year.

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 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.”  Further, according to the NTSB, a, “performance monitoring program that includes in-cab audio and video recordings would serve as a significant deterrent,” to unsafe behavior.  The NSTB recommends 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. This is especially troubling considering that some railroads have voluntarily moved forward with these devices without a robust federal oversight program in place.  Currently, Amtrak locomotives have outward facing cameras that record signals and gate crossings and California’s Metrolink commuter rail does, as well.  These are positive developments, but a strong federal program that guides the reporting and usage of these devices is sorely needed.

We urge you to move forward with the NTSB’s recommendations.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal

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