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WNYC News

LIRR Train Hits SUV in Crossing

Monday, March 02, 2015

WNYC
Unlike last month's crash in Westchester, the Nassau County incident left only one woman injured.

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Transportation Nation

Witness: Driver 'Suddenly Pulled Forward' Into Path of Metro-North Train

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Preliminary data from this week's deadly Metro-North collision shows the crossing gate warning system was "operating as designed," according to federal investigators.  
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WNYC News

Engineer's Sleepiness Caused Derailment

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Regulators announced Tuesday that William Rockefeller nodded off at the controls of a Metro North train that derailed back in December, killing four people and injuring more than 70.

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Transportation Nation

NTSB Releases Details, Not Cause, of Deadly Metro-North Derailment

Friday, October 03, 2014

AP
Blood stained the seats, floors and doors of several commuter rail cars after a derailment that killed four people in the Bronx in 2013, the NTSB reported Friday.
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Transportation Nation

Sleep Disorders + Shift Work = Danger

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The sleep disorder known as sleep apnea is a problem across the transportation industry, not just for the engineer at the controls during Metro-North's fatal derailment in December. But sleep problems may be endemic to the job.

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Transportation Nation

Engineer in Fatal Metro-North Derailment Had Undiagnosed Sleep Disorder

Monday, April 07, 2014

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the engineer at the controls of the Metro-North train that derailed in the Bronx last year had undiagnosed "severe obstructive sleep apnea."

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Transportation Nation

Metro-North Track Worker Killed; NTSB Investigating

Monday, March 10, 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team of investigators to New York following the death of a Metro-North track worker early Monday morning. The incident brings further scrutiny to the transit agency, which has suffered a series of devastating episodes in the past year alone.

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Transportation Nation

NTSB to Metro-North: Put Cameras on Train Operators

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating December's deadly Metro-North derailment, is recommending the MTA install cameras in train cabs and make its speed limit signage permanent.

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Transportation Nation

Work Accident Kills WMATA Contractor

Monday, October 07, 2013

WAMU

A contractor was killed and two transit authority employees were injured in a work accident shortly after midnight Sunday in Washington, D.C.’s subway system.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Asiana 214 Crash Investigation

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Andy Pasztor, senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal covering aviation and space, updates the latest on the crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco.

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The Washington Report

Egypt in turmoil again; What we're learning from the crash of Asiana flight 214

Monday, July 08, 2013

This week, Kerry Nolan speaks with New York Times Chief Washington correspondent David Sanger about the latest political unrest in Egypt and why President Obama has been so quiet about it.  He also looks at the lessons emerging from this weekend's plane crash at the San Francisco airport.

Transportation Nation

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Washington Bridge Collapse

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

(KUOW, Seattle) Federal investigators have some ideas about what led to last month’s I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River.

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WNYC News

Captain Says Ferry Had Mechanical Failure: NTSB

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The captain of the ferry that crashed into a Wall Street pier told federal investigators on Thursday that the vessel's thrust controls weren't working properly before the ship plowed into the dock, injuring dozens of passengers.

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WNYC News

NTSB: Chopper that Crashed into NY River Too Heavy

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A federal report says a helicopter that crashed into the East River off New York City during a sightseeing tour last year was carrying too much weight.

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Transportation Nation

What Does Acquittal of Chinatown Bus Driver Mean for Safety?

Friday, December 07, 2012

The World Wide Travel Bus that crashed March 2011, killing 15. (NTSB Photo)

The driver of a casino bus that crashed, killing 15, is not guilty of manslaughter. Prosecutors had argued Ophadell Williams was so sleep-deprived and drowsy behind the wheel that it was as reckless as if he were drunk.

But a Bronx jury was not convinced. Williams faced 15 counts of manslaughter and was acquitted on all of them. He was found guilty of one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and sentenced to 30 days in jail, which he has already served. He has to pay a fine of $500. When he heard the verdict, Williams covered his face with his hands and wept.

Though the consequences are relatively light for Williams,  the inter-city bus industry has suffered a considerable shakeup.

The Crash

It was a gruesome crash that instantly raised the profile of dangerous driving conditions at many so-called Chinatown buses, the fastest growing mode of inter-city travel.

Here's how the crash went down. In March, 2011, Williams was on a dawn run to New York from a Connecticut Casino, driving for World Wide Travel, a company with a track record of pushing drivers to work long hours.

A report by the Federal Motorcoach Safety Administration found that in the moments before crashing, he’d been driving 78 mph. As we've previously reported:

"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."

The Bronx crash was one of three inter-city bus crashes in the Northeast in March, 2011, which killed a total of 17 people and injured dozens of others.

There were more to come. A bus from North Carolina bound for New York flipped on its roof in late May, killing four. Operator Sky Express was shut down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration within hours. Bloomberg reported that Sky Express had accumulated so many violations that it could have been shut down prior to the crash.

In July, a pair of fatal crashes in New York — one inbound from Canada that left the driver dead and another from Washington that killed two — occurred within days of each other.

There were 24 motor coach crashes last year, resulting in 34 fatalities and 467 injuries, according to an unofficial tally kept by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The industry was deemed unsafe by many. As confused travelers tried to figure out just who regulates Chinatown buses, the government took notice.

The Response

World Wide Travel was shuttered in June 2011, but the owner continued to operate bus service for other companies he owns, according to The New York Times. The practice of "reincarnation" had plagued regulatory efforts to punish the worst of the worst bus companies.

Not to be stopped by it's own regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the agency that oversees bus safety, along with the National Highway Transportation Safety Board ratcheted up investigations and actions against unsafe bus companies.

In May of 2011, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued rules requiring new bus lines to undergo safety audits before they can sell their first ticket. And bus drivers could lose their commercial licenses if they violate drug and alcohol laws even while operating their own private car.

In July 2011, Anne S. Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told Congress she needs more enforcement powers, including the ability to inspect every long distance bus at least once a year and to conduct surprise safety stops while buses are en route. She proposed paying for the additional enforcement through raising the fee for a company to obtain an operating license from US DOT.

She pointed out, a bus license costs $300 — $50 less than it costs a street vendor to sell hot dogs in Washington, DC. Ferro said she’d also like to see the fine for a bus safety violation raised from $2,000 to $25,000.

Inspections alone are unlikely to solve the problem, she argued. There just aren't enough of them. There are 878 federal and state inspectors able to conduct safety reviews of 765,000 bus and truck companies, or an average of slightly more than one inspector for 1,000 companies, the report said.

For a while it seemed like the tempers had cooled, and the regulators were backing off. Then the crackdown came.

Crackdown

In June 2012, the U.S. DOT shuts down 26 bus companies that operate along the most popular routes for so-called Chinatown buses: the I-95 corridor from New York to Florida. The DOT called it the "largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history.

Federal safety investigators found multiple violations, including a pattern of drivers without valid commercial licenses and companies that didn't administer alcohol and drug tests to drivers. Ten people – company owners, managers and employees – are ordered to stop all involvement in passenger transportation operations, including selling bus tickets.

The intersection in Chinatown in New York City previously most associated with this class of bus was transformed, no longer a bustling hub roaring with the sound of diesel engines and ticket sellers competing for business with dueling calls of prices and destinations. It became a quiet side street and has remained so since.

What's to Come

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has made safety one of his top issues, is advocating for legislation with stronger teeth.

The Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 called for a tighter controls and enforcement of bus driver screening, including calling for federal oversight of state requirements for commercial licenses.

The Motorcoach Safety Act of 2009 was also revisited after the 2011 string of crashes. It requires new buses to add seat belts and reinforced windows that prevent passengers from being ejected during an accident. The bus industry opposed both bills on cost grounds and neither became law.

New York City, which cannot regulate interstate bus safety, took the step to regulate bus stop permitting, giving more control to neighborhood leadership, known as community boards. Since then, there have not been new clusters of curbside buses competing with each other.

And as Chinese-run Chinatown buses remain discreet in New York's Chinatown, mainstream bus companies like Greyhound are expanding their curbside businesses, actively meeting with community boards to add stops in Chinatown itself.

(This report includes excerpts and descriptions from previous reporting on TN, by Alex Goldmark, Jim O'Grady and Tracie Samuelson.)

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WNYC News

Prosecutors: Bus Driver in Fatal Bronx Crash Knew Risks

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The driver at the helm of a tour bus that crashed in a horrific accident last year, killing 15 passengers, knew the risks of fatigue and drove anyway despite a serious lack of sleep, prosecutors said Thursday as his manslaughter trial began.

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Transportation Nation

ANIMATION: Feds Should Have Shut Down Bus Company Prior to 2011 Fatal Crash

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

(with Martin DiCaro, Washington, DC, WAMU) Operator fatigue played a key role in a fatal bus crash -- but the NTSB says the driver wasn't the only one asleep at the wheel.

In a newly-released, often scathing report, the National Transportation Safety Board says "lack of adequate oversight" by the federal government was a contributing factor in a bus crash that killed four people in Virginia in 2011.

Sky Express, the bus company, failed to "exercise even minimal oversight of its drivers' rest and sleep activities" and allowed its drivers to behind the wheel "while dangerously fatigued," the NTSB has concluded.

The NTSB, which released the report at a board meeting on Tuesday, also takes the federal government to task for allowing the company to continue operations "despite known safety issues."

At the time of the May 2011 crash, Sky Express was still legally on the road even after being cited for more than 200 violations in the 10 months prior to the crash, according to NTSB records. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was working to shut the company down, but gave it a ten-day extension to fix safety problems.  The crash happened during the extension period.

“Sky Express has no written safety policies including no driver’s handbook, they had no written drug and alcohol policy, they had no seatbelt policy, they had no cell phone policy, they had no in-service training,” said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt.

The driver, Kin Cheung, faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said she felt like it was Groundhog Day at the board meeting in Washington because the agency is once again talking about a bad carrier.

“This accident happened in 2011. We still have not figured out how to get the worst of the worst off the road,” Hersman said. The now-defunct Sky Express had been fined several times over the years -- but she said the $2100 in penalties it incurred did not spur it to safety.

“Clearly the penalty scheme is not a deterrent to putting tired drivers on the road, or putting unsafe vehicles on the road, because they continue to do it year after year after year,” Hersman said.

The NTSB's animation simulation of the crash is below.

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WNYC News

Queens Casino Bus Was Speeding at Time of Crash

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A Queens-bound bus was apparently speeding when it careened out of control outside the city and crashed Wednesday, injuring 24 people on board, investigators said.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Federal Investigators: Almost Everything Went Wrong in Bronx Bus Crash That Killed 15

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

NTSB Photo

Almost everything seems to have gone wrong in last year's fatal Bronx bus ride from a Connecticut casino that left 15 dead.  That's according to the National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the March 11, 2011 crash. The gruesome accident brought on a cascade of criticism about safety in the rapidly growing inter-city bus industry, proposals for federal and state legislation, and tough Department of Transportation crackdowns.

The driver had seven license violations and was suspended eight times in the six years prior to the crash -- but lied to his employers about that.  In the three days before he drove off I-95, he got almost no sleep.

Truckers saw him traversing rumble strips, and watched as the driver made no correction and drifted off the road before hitting a guard rail.  And the guard rail was "not designed to re-direct a heavy vehicle such as a motor coach," investigators said.

Investigators also ran simulations that showed seat belts, which were not available to the passengers, could've saved lives and prevented injuries.

The NTSB also released an animation showing the bus careening along the guard rail before crashing into a sign and tipping over the edge.


NTSB investigator Tom Barth said the passengers returning from the casino trip "had planned to gamble, but not with their lives."

We'll link to the report as soon as it's posted.

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Transportation Nation

Driver In Fatal Bronx Tour Bus Crash Was Briefly A City Bus Driver

Friday, May 18, 2012

NTSB photo

(New York, NY - WNYC) Documents released by federal investigators show the driver involved in a deadly Bronx bus crash when returning from a Connecticut casino last year was hired in 2007 to drive a city bus. An MTA background check kept Williams off the road, but only until a private company hired him.

On his job application with the MTA, driver Ophadell Williams admitted his driver's license had been suspended from 1996 to 2003 because of "child support." He also wrote, "I made a couple of mistakes in my life."

That did not stop the MTA from hiring him. But then a background check revealed Williams had failed to disclose a pair of felony convictions. A superintendent, on finding that out, wrote in a memo that "It is imperative that Mr. Williams" termination be completed as soon as possible." Williams resigned a few days later, after two weeks on the job. The MTA says Williams never got behind the wheel of a bus with passengers.

Private tour bus operator World Wide Travel hired Williams as a driver in 2010. He was driving a bus for the company in March, 2011, when he crashed on I-95, killing 15 passengers.

NTSB photo

National Transportation Safety Board documents released today show that Williams' cellphone and rental car were in almost continuous use during the three days before he made a pre-dawn run from Connecticut to New York City--times when he said he'd been sleeping. A preliminary report last year said Williams was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before he lost control of the bus, which struck a highway signpost.

A toxocology test cleared Williams of drug use, and a breath test that he took at the scene of the accident showed that he hadn't been drinking.

The NTSB says it will release "an analysis of the collision, along with conclusions and its probable cause" on June 5. Williams has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

NTSB photo

 

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