National Transportation Safety Board
Friday, April 03, 2015
By Annmarie Fertoli : Associate Producer at WNYC
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Metro employees will soon be able to anonymously report "close calls" and other safety hazards.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is working with the federal government to set up a hotline. It's one of the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after a deadly 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80 others. That crash was the deadliest episode in Metro history, and ensuing investigation uncovered rampant safety problems at the transit agency.
WMATA is working with the rail worker's union to establish the confidential “close call” reporting system. The goal is to catch potential safety hazards that would otherwise go undetected by Metro’s usual safety reporting systems. Metro employees would be able to report problems without fear of retribution.
“This is a partnership with our union, Local 689 Amalgamated Transit Union, and we are working out a memorandum of understanding with the union to determine the parameters of the program,” said Andrea Burnside, Metro’s chief performance officer. “It is very important to have it confidential because employees will not be willing to participate in the program.”
Exactly what would constitute a “close call” is being hammered out in negotiations with the union, Burnside said.
Improving safety -- and convincing the public their safety on the rail lines is being taken seriously -- ranks as a Metro priority since the Red Line crash. WMATA approached the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics for help in creating the reporting program.
"Systems that allow confidential reporting of safety violations are an important part of creating a safety culture in an organization," said DOT spokesman Justin Nisly in an email to Transportation Nation. "The Bureau of Transportation Statistics currently operates a similar safety reporting system for rail that analyzes safety issues to identify trends, new sources of risk, and helps develop preventive safety actions to address them. Because of that expertise, WMATA approached the BTS to help set up their close call reporting program."
New Jersey Transit was the first passenger rail system in the country to establish a confidential reporting system, back in 2009.
“We are getting a positive response,” said New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, who said their program is creating a culture where employees are more apt to report problems from the serious to the more routine. “When they see some infrastructure issues they report it to us. They don t have to worry about any type of reprimand,” Snyder said. “Rail yard efficiencies have improved. We‘re getting improved safety in and around our yards as well as operational efficiencies during our morning rush hours and afternoon rush hours.”
Based on New Jersey Transit's program, the U.S. DOT estimates it may receive 400 close call reports each year in D.C. But Burnside cautions that Metro's system is different than New Jersey's, and the definition of what would constitute a "close call" on Metro rail has yet to be determined.
A potential start date for Metro's program has not been established. The "close call" program is part of Metro's long-range strategic plan.
Monday, October 31, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) So-called "Chinatown buses" that pick up and drop off passengers at the curb have more fatal accidents and fail more inspections than traditional larger carriers who operate out of bus terminals, according to a report by the the National Transportation Safety Board. Curbside carriers with fleets of ten or fewer buses that have been in business less than ten years tend to have the worst safety records of all.
The report, which begins by saying long distance bus travel remains generally safe, was prompted by an accident in the Bronx in March that killed 15 passengers.
A bus operated by World Wide Travel was returning to New York City from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut when it rolled on its side and hit the support pole for a highway sign. Investigators say driver Ophadell Williams was fatigued when the accident occurred at 5:37 a.m.
Williams, awaiting trial, has been charged with fifteen counts of manslaughter.
The report says driver fatigue is a major issue for "Chinatown" buses. It adds that buses leaving from a curb at various street locations are harder to track down and inspect than buses that use terminals. The report also says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which performs the inspections, has been overwhelmed by the rapid growth of the long distance bus industry, and that there are 1.15 inspectors for every 1,000 bus companies.
And there's a problem, the report says, with bus companies that inspectors put out of service for violations but which then "reincarnate" under a different name while selling tickets through the same online broker they used before.
"The NTSB report is a wake-up call that we need a more rigorous regulatory regime and it provides a blueprint for how to fill the gaps," said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer at a press briefing (video) held in New York this morning to about the report.
The Chinatown bus industry has grown rapidly over the last several years, even as it has been plagued by safety issues. "The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times that of conventional carriers," the report says.
Friday, April 15, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A report by federal investigators says a tour bus that crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before it struck a highway signpost, killing fifteen passengers. The bus was returning to New York on a pre-dawn trip from a Connecticut Casino.
Driver Ophadell Williams said the March 12 accident began when a tractor trailer truck cut him off and struck the bus. But investigators say they found no evidence of an impact between the bus and another vehicle. And sensors on the bus' engine show it was moving at top speed down a southbound lane of the Hutchinson River Parkway only 45 seconds before impact.
Listen to an interview on this with Transportation Nation's Alex Goldmark.
According to the report, the bus swerved to the right off the highway, crossed an eleven-foot wide shoulder and smashed into a three-foot-tall steel guardrail. The bus plowed through the guardrail for 480 feet as it toppled onto its side. The bus' windshield hit the post of a massive highway sign, which sheared the bus in two along the base of the passenger windows almost all the way to the rear. The bus came to rest on top of the crushed guardrail, its wheels in the air, facing the highway.
Monday, April 11, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When three inter-city buses crashed in the northeast last month, killing 17 people and injuring dozens of others, public officials and many in the booming industry itself said the time had come for reform. The debate is over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.
Among those calling for stricter regulation is James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1984 to 2001, who in an interview with Transportation Nation criticized long distance bus companies for placing profits over safety, and government for letting it happen.
“We haven’t seen a commitment by the industry or the government," Hall said. "They have treated the people who ride these buses as second-class citizens and given them second class safety.”
He said the 2009 crash of a commuter airline in Buffalo, which killed 50 people, led to tighter regulation of short-hop air carriers; but fatal bus accidents have left bus operators relatively untouched by stricter safety rules.
"I'd like to see the federal government take the responsibility for the safe transportation of citizens on motorcoaches just as seriously as they take the safe transportation of more affluent citizens on commercial aviation," he said.
Hall said he's familiar with the rise and fall of official ire in the months after deadly bus crashes. Federal lawmakers, who have authority over interstate travel, express grave concern. They sometimes even take the next step and author a serious set of recommendations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2009 Motor Coach Safety Action Plan.That report inspired The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which would've mandated safety upgrades like seat belts, stronger windows and fire suppression equipment on long distance buses.
The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, largely opposed the measure. It estimated the cost of the regulations for new buses at as much as $89,000 per vehicle. A typical new motor coach costs about $500,000. The bill failed.
Association president Peter Pantuso said he supported training bus drivers to a national standard. But he's concerned that mandatory safety features could drive up fares. And low fares are what keep bus operators in business, especially in the burgeoning discount sector.
"The industry is really made up of a lot of very, very small mom and pop companies who operate very safely," he said. "And there are a lot of regulations already in place. It’s a matter of enforcement."
Hall was not satisfied with that sentiment. “I have yet to see the American Bus Association be aggressive on the subject of safety," he said. "They’re aggressive in regard to insuring the profits of their own membership but they need to be just as aggressive in policing their own industry.”
Congress is poised to weigh in with two separate bus safety bills, both of which call for training drivers to a national standard and conducting stricter checks on them. They differ as to how much safety equipment upgrades should be imposed.
And soon the NTSB will release the results of its investigation into the March 12 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The NTSB will also be examining the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with regulatory enforcement of the tour bus industry and which has been criticized for lax oversight.
Pantuso said his association is all for rigorous enforcement of existing rules on driver rest and fitness, and inspections of vehicles. But he's wary of over-regulation. He says despite recent crashes, taking a long-distance bus is one of the safest modes of travel in North America--and that should count for something.
Philip White is a bus driver who earns $320 for driving round-trip in two days from New York to Richmond, VA--a five and a half to seven hour trip each way, depending on traffic. He works for Apex Bus, a company based in Manhattan's Chinatown. He recently leaned on the steering wheel in his bus and considered what's at stake when it comes to bus safety.
“Everybody on this bus has a wife or husband and kids," he said. "Or a mother and father at least. It’s not a joke.”
Listen to WNYC FM this morning to hear Hall's remarks.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
(Washington, D.C. -- Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Our country’s aging infrastructure poses a safety risk, according to Deborah Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) -- and spending cuts could come with safety consequences.
“We stand at a very important crossroads right now,” she told Transportation Nation. “Safety is not discretionary. Safety deferred is safety denied...We can either pay now, or we can pay later.” Paying close attention to the recommendations of the independent federal agency can reveal stark tensions between budgets and safety.
“The fact is the outlook for increased funding and infrastructure projects is grim,” Hersman said earlier Wednesday to a conference of transportation researchers. “Many of those projects are in jeopardy as we face funding cuts. And right now the question for all of us is not what is going to happen, but how hard it is going to hit us,” adding: “When it comes to investing in safety, we can pay now, or pay later.”
Many infrastructure projects in America are already past their intended lifespan, and that will pose an increasing risk--especially if proper records aren’t kept on maintenance histories, original design, and necessary repairs. Hersman said poor record keeping often exacerbates dangers. She painted her role as one of truth teller. “As an agent of reality,” she said, “I think it’s my job to tell you that the concept of a life cycle for transportation projects no longer exists. Just because the train or plane that you design is built for 30, 40, or 50 years, doesn’t mean it” that it won’t be in operation for 75 years or more.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
(Washington, DC - David Schultz, WAMU News) Metro, the D.C. area's embattled transit agency, needs new rail cars. Bad.
A third of its fleet of more than 1,100 cars have been in use since Metro trains began running -- that was in 1976. Even before last year's deadly train crash, federal safety regulators declared these 34-year-old cars unsafe. Apparently, they are prone to severe "telescoping" - crumpling upon impact - when involved in a crash.
For years, Metro tried to replace these aging cars - as the National Transportation Safety Board had urged it to - but couldn't shore up the funding.
But in late May of this year,