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NTSB examines mass transit accidents involving trains

The National Transportation Safety Board added rail mass transit to its 2014 most wanted list to stress the urgency for critical changes to reduce accidents and save lives. The NTSB cited the derailment and collision of two Metro-North trains in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 2013, among other accidents. The Bridgeport crash resulted in 48 passengers, 2 engineers and a conductor being transported to hospitals. This NTSB list is especially pertinent to New York commuters who rely on rail mass transit and subways.

The NTSB cited, through its investigation of mass transit accidents, common causes of these accidents. These include lapses in train operators’ judgment and slow decision making to inspect or repair track. It also found poor leadership among senior management by not placing the priority on safety over operational timeliness.

The NTSB recommended that mass transit agencies identify, define, prioritize and mitigate the safety risks threatening operators and public safety. Communication should be improved among top and middle management, line supervisors, workers, unions and support contractors who are responsible for the design, maintenance, operation and safety of a rail system. System safety trends should be accurately identified and improvements should be implemented rapidly to training, maintenance and inspection schedules.

Mass transit agencies need to continuously watch the relationship of human error in transit accidents and near-accidents. These agencies should consider successful supervisory practices including train crew resource management, fatigue management systems and reporting systems that apply to near-collisions. Future practices may include technological improvements for maintenance and operations, positive train control, autonomous inspection of tracks, and in-cab video recorders.

The NTSB also called upon another agency, the Federal Transit Administration, to set and enforce new safety standards and conduct investigations. The FTA should consider safety culture, management of crew resources, fatigue risk management, technology and previous experiences with rail transit.

For New York commuters, subway riders and rail passengers, this list demonstrates that rail safety has not been achieved. Operators may still be held liable for losses suffered in transit accidents. Victims of these crashes should seek assistance to protect their right to compensation in these accidents.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board, “Promote operational safety in rail mass transit,” Accessed Oct. 20, 2014