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Page 1 TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
RAIL SAFETY OVERSIGHT: HUMAN FACTORS AND GRADE CROSSING ISSUES
TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 1996
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Railroads,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 1:10 p.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Susan V. Molinari (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Ms. MOLINARI. Good afternoon. Thank you for being here. Welcome to the Rail Subcommittee safety oversight hearing. On this particular agenda we're going to be dealing more specifically with human factors and grade crossing issues.
Before I give my opinion statement, however, I'd like to yield the initial time to the chairman of the full Transportation Committee, the Honorable Bud Shuster.
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Mr. SHUSTER. Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman.
One of the things I think that's so important we focus on here is the long-term safety record of railroads, particularly as compared with other modes of transportation.
I think it's particularly unfortunate that we've had five rail accidents in the month of February, when, indeed, this comes on the heels of the safest 2 years in railroad history. Indeed, since 1978, we have seen the train accident rate drop in terms of accidents per million from 15 accidents per million train miles traveled this past year, compared with four times that rate just 15 years ago.
So I think it's very important that we keep this in context as we look at the real problems that exist and as we attempt to address those problems.
I think it's also significant to keep it in context by noting that, while we average about 110 people being killed on our highways every day, the fatalities in railroading are 2 per day. Obviously that's two too many, but I think it's very important to keep it in context that the rail modes of transportation is one of the safest mode we have. And, of course, it's our job to try to not only keep it that way, but to improve it, as well.
I think it's particularly appropriate that we start these hearings by focusing on human factors and grade crossings. Grade crossing safety is an extraordinarily important part of this whole safety equation because more than half of all the deaths associated with rail operations occur at the highway rail grade crossings.
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Indeed, it's important that we focus on this issue, because I think the most bang for the buck will come if we can improve that particular part of the whole safety equation.
I think it's also important that we focus on and recognize the increasing complexity of traffic on the main line. As it continues to grow with the mix of freight, inner-city, passenger, and commuter traffic in those same corridors, this creates new challenges that we must address.
So for all those reasons, Madam Chairwoman, I compliment you for focusing on this very, very important safety issue, and I trust that out of these hearings we will be able to arrive at solutions so that we can make what is a very safe mode of transportation an even more safe mode of transportation.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to now recognize the ranking member of our full committee, Mr. Oberstar, for his opening statement.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman.
I very much appreciate your responsiveness and that of our full committee Chair, Mr. Shuster, to holding these hearings, which I recommended back in January we undertake.
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Nothing in the entire jurisdiction of this Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is as important, as significant, or more awesome a responsibility than overseeing safety. That has been the focus of my efforts during the years that I chaired the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee and the Aviation Subcommittee.
Now that the jurisdiction of this committee has been broadened in this Congress to include rail and maritime, we have an even more serious task ahead of us.
This is a grievous time for the railroad industry. Since January 1st, there have been 14 major accidents, 19 fatalities, 226 injuries, $62 million in property damage. If we had had that many accidents in aviation since the beginning of the year, the FAA would have been ridden out of town on a rail, this committee would have been jumping down the throat of the Department of Transportation, we'd have had every airline CEO before this committee, they'd have been pilloried in the press. But this was railroads. Somehow people think differently of the rails.
Yet, in the past 3 weeks, as I've traveled throughout my District, where just yesterday there was an accident in Grand Rapids involving a train and a logging truck, people are talking about it as practically the first item of conversation.
Two of those major accidents occurred in my District, and one just outside my District.
There are some very serious responsibilities ahead of us, and issues to be carefully considered.
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First, the Federal Railroad Administration is, in my estimation, as I reviewed the past 15 years of documentation on rail safety issues, is a staff that has resisted rather than insisted on regulation of safety within the railroad industry. This is without regard to which party controls the executive branch of Government. It seems to be a characteristic of the Federal Railroad Administration, very different from the safety responsibility and safety attitude of the Federal Aviation Administration.
I find it surprising. I find it more than disappointing that FRA, of all the agencies in the Department of Transportation which are responsive to the National Transportation Safety Board, FRA has the lowest record of compliance with NTSB recommendations.
As a result, the Congress in the past has felt compelled to step in, mandate rulemakings, insist on actions by the Federal Railroad Administration, and, accordingly, that agency has had much of its rulemaking done by statute.
When the current administrator took office in 1993, there were several comprehensive rulemakings underwaya formidable challenge, given the small size of FRA. The administrator has stepped up to the challenge, made substantial progress, but still there is far too much to be done for this Member to be satisfied that they're making the right kind of progress.
Generally over the years, if you look back over the history of FRA, they have failed to meet time tables established by Congress in statute to issue rules. In some cases you can fairly say that those time tables may have been overly ambitious, but even more recent deadlines that are more benign have not been met as well.
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In the case of track safety standards, the 1992 Rail Safety Act initially set a 2-year deadline for issuing a final rule. In 1994, Congress extended that deadline by a year. We are in 1996 and we still do not have a proposed rule on track safety standards out even for discussion.
Track safety? Why is that important? Because in my District in the last 2 years 38,000 people from the city of Duluth had to be evacuated from their homes when there was a derailment that resulted in a hazardous substance release that made homes inhabitable for several days, and there are still court cases pending over the illnesses people suffered in the aftermath of that accident.
FRA used to have strict rules on track safety, but they were eliminated a part of the enthusiasm for deregulation in 1982. That's a subject this committee needs to consider very carefully.
In the case of roadway worker safety rules, I have met with maintenance-of-way members in my District. In the middle and southern part of my District we have a lot of rail traffic. They have told me that they don't have as much a half hour in an 8-hour shift to do work on rail line maintenance. That's just not acceptable.
We wouldn't tolerate that in aviation for a minute, yet it's tolerated. It's a standard in the railroad industry.
Despite the fact that all interested parties had agreed on a rule on roadway worker safety, it has not been issued.
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While streamlining in regulatory process is needed, I'm concerned that the House now may be moving in exactly the wrong direction. There is legislation pending, maybe coming to the House floor very soon, to require every agency to go through a rulemaking process every 9 years on every one if its existing rules. That would set the Federal Railroad Administration back years.
And there is a human cost to the delay in rulemaking. One maintenance-of-way worker is killed every month, on average, in accidents that could have been prevented if those rules had been in place.
February 2nd, Umera Herrera was killed in the Chicago area while repairing a broken rail when a string of cars hit him. How many more people have to die? Are we going to sit by and let the Federal Railroad Administration do safety by body count?
The FAA did that for a while until this committee stepped in and said ''That's not the way to do safety,'' and they're doing a whole lot better job of it. We're going to see to it that the FRA does the same.
Santa Fe Railroad voluntarily agreed to exercise greater care in running trains over Cajon Pass in California after the December 1994, accident, but those voluntary efforts did not prevent a virtually identical accident from occurring with two fatalities just last month. That is not tolerable. That is not acceptable. That is not safety.
The GAO has completedand I have reviewed every page of this documentthe past several-year history, since 1989, of accidents and found that the railroads were seriously under-reporting their accidents. Of the accidents that actually occurred, 45 percent went unreported, as did 35 percent of the severe injuries and 34 percent of the damage.
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GAO, to be fair, did not find a conspiracy to under-report, but it did find that there was no process at most railroads to update accident data so that those optimistic assessments could be corrected.
Those are the kinds of issues that are before us Madam Chairwoman, and I appreciate the spirit in which you have undertaken these hearings. They will be factual, they will be in-depth. You have set forth a wide agenda. I'm very appreciative of that initiative and I commend you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you. I thank the gentleman for his comments.
If I may just follow up, as you've correctly stated, clearly the last few months have been some of the worst in recent history for railroad accidents. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, who we will be hearing from later on today, since January 1 this year, 19 people have died, 226 have been injured, and several million dollars in damage has resulted from nearly 14 accidents in 2 months.
Of course, these figures do not represent the two additional derailments which happened over the last few days, one in Wisconsin and the other in Los Angeles. There's a small handout provided to the audience which represents the seven major incidents which have occurred since last October.
As the chairman has said, it's no secret that rail travel is a highly complex mode of transportation, becoming more so as commuters, passenger trains, and freight lines expand their services.
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Today, this committee begins the first in a series of hearings focusing on whether rail safety standards and procedures are in sync currently with these complexities.
Is everything being done to ensure rail safety? And what's not being done that should be? What safety issues need to be addressed immediately to ensure that further accidents are avoided?
Today we're going to be focusing in on human factors and grade crossing safety issues. Later hearings will cover other aspects of rail safety, including signal systems, equipment failures, sabotage, and, finally, future high-technology solutions.
The human factors issue in transportation safety is easy to overlook and may be as mundane as how close together the brake and the accelerator pedals are in your car, or it may be as complex as rotating shifts interact with the natural wake/sleep cycle of the human body. Either way, it's vital that our system of safety regulations take full advantage of advances in medical knowledge about human performance.
I, for one, am very interested to know how well, or even if, Federal authorities are adequately addressing these human factors.
In addition to the human factors, grade crossings, as have been mentioned, are also a continuing safety problem. While a few areas like the northeast corridor are devoid of such crossings, there are thousands throughout the United States. Despite the fact that the train virtually always winsalmost always winsin every collision, there are still too many drivers apparently oblivious to the risks involved.
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Even for careful drivers, we still need to ask how many grade crossings are really necessary and how we can best minimize future accidents there.
Now, over the course of these hearingsthree hearings now, and we may extend them if we feel the need towe hope these and other questions can be answered or better defined so as to bring our safety regulations and procedures up to speed.
Of course, the ranking member did highlight a very serious concern as we attempt to embark on the consideration of possible additional regulatory authority, and that is FRA's capabilities to keep up with the time lines that Congress sets. Clearly, that has been a problem in the past. That is something that we may need as a committee to engage in more aggressive oversight so that we don't wake up 1 day to find out that the rule deadline has been expired, that compliance in some of these cases is less than 7 months away and really we've made very little progress, so the course of this hearing should continue to highlight that.
With that, now I'd like to introduce the ranking member of the subcommittee, and ask all the members, if they could, to please keep their opening statements as short as possible. I know this is a very important issue that affects so many of our Districts and, of course, just national safety, as a rule.
We do have a distinguished first panel, however, in Senator Lautenberg, and I know that his schedule is such that he needs to get back to the Senate, so I do want to make sure that we hear from him and his suggestions before his time is up.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 So, with that, the ranking gentleman from West Virginia, Mr. Wise.
Mr. WISE. I thank the Chair. I would just like to make about a couple of minutes of comments, and I would like to ask unanimous consent to insert my written statement into the record.
Madam Chair, I want to thank you for holding these hearings. They're incredibly important.
Like many others, our area has suffered the recent tragedy of the Amtrak/MARC commuter rail crash in Maryland recently, where 11 were killed, eight from the Harper's Ferry Job Corps Center as they rode that.
I rode train 286 last week, the same train, the same time, to see exactly what it was that engineer experienced. And as I rode in the cab, I realized a lot more of the complexity of what this committee is going to have to deal with.
As I also walked the car, one of the rail carswhich there were only four emergency openings, window exits, of which three were blocked during this tragic accidentand saw how little way to get out there was, I realized how important this committee's hearings are.
As I saw the signals which were working, of course, this day, but also looked at the questions of visibility, looked at the questions of whether there need to be additional fail-safe mechanisms installed, that's why these committee hearings are so important.
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And as I talked to the engineer and the other staff about visibility problemsit was a bright day the day I rode, but it was a very foggy day the day of the fatal train crashas we talked about fatigue, as we talked about human emotion and human factors, that's why these hearings are so important.
Thousands of people are going to leave from Union Station tonight and ride the MARC train and ride other commuter trains out of here, as will thousands of others across the country get on commuter trains tonight, and it's your hearings, Madam Chairwoman, that are going to dictate how safe those rides are going to be in the future, so I want to thank you for holding those and for saying that this committee is going to be looking closely at this question and taking the action necessary.
[Mr. Wise's, Mr. Franks', and Mr. Quinn's prepared statements follow:]
Ms. MOLINARI. I thank the gentleman.
The Chair now recognizes the vice chair of the committee, the gentlewoman from New York, Mrs. Kelly.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Thank you for holding this important hearing today to examine the issue of rail safety, and specifically issues related to human factors and grade crossings.
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At age ten, I was taking my first trip alone, and there was a grade crossing accident on that train on which I sat. The train stopped, so the accident, which involved a fatality, stopped directly beneath the window where I was.
The late train may have frightened my Mom and my aunt, who were waiting to meet me, but it left an indelible impression on me.
I think this hearing and others scheduled to follow are timely, given the rash of recent accidents that have occurred over the past month. As tragic as the accidents were, I think it's important we recognize that rail is still one of the safest modes of travel we have in the country, and the men and women who make the trains run every day are doing a superb job in serving the public, but we cannot turn a blind eye to potential problems and shortcomings in the system. We owe it to the traveling public to examine rail safety very closely to ensure that we're doing everything possible to ensure that rail travel is safe and efficient.
I look forward to the testimony.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I enjoy working with you and our colleagues on this subcommittee to pursue corrective action if it's warranted.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you. I thank the gentlewoman.
The gentleman from West Virginia, Mr. Rahall.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. RAHALL. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I commend you, as well, for conducting these very timely and vital hearings.
I think it important here in the beginning to remind my colleagues of something that's well-known to all of us, and that is that, pursuant to the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act of 1991, Federal Highway funds are apportioned to the States for the purpose of safety improvement projects at rail highway grade crossings.
This program, which, of course, falls under the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, where I serve a the ranking democratic Member, may be discussed during the course of today's hearings.
I raise this point, Madam Chair, because the existence of this program, some contend is that the allocation of Federal funds for safety improvements at rail highway grades excuses the railroad industry from any responsibility for mishaps which may occur at these crossings.
This issue was clearly decided by the Supreme Court in 1993 in a case known as CSX Transportation v. Easterwood. The court in that case determined that nothing in Federal law or regulation preempts the ability of parties injured at rail highway grade crossings from filing tort claims against the railroads under State common law.
Today, however, we hear of allegationsand I stress that, allegationsfrom Public Citizens that the purpose of a Federal Railroad Administration rulemaking is to, in that organization's words, ''Let the railroads off the hook when they negligently or recklessly fail to install an active warning system.'' Now, I've not had the opportunity to fully investigate these allegations, and I stress that point; however, I do believe that they should be closely examined by the subcommittee, as they raise issues of a very serious nature.
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In my view, the expenditure of Federal funds for the benefit of the public safety should not be used as a means to subvert what I believe to be the unalienable right of the public citizenry to seek relief by means of tort actions.
With that statement, Madam Chair, I again commend you for today's hearings. I look forward to the testimony and to hearing from our distinguished colleague, Senator Lautenberg.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you. The gentleman from California, Mr. Kim.
Mr. KIM. Thank you, Madam Chair. Again, thank you for holding this hearing.
I'll make a brief statement.
As you know, I requested this safety hearing shortly after the tragedy happened at Cajon Pass, which is just outside my District in San Bernadino County. In that disaster, the freight train lost control coming down the pass at high speed and derailed. Two crewmen jumped out of the train and were killed, and one engineer was rescued from the burning wreckage.
Interstate 15, which runs through Cajon Pass, is a major route between L.A. and Las Vegas. I15 was closed for days to clean up this mess, which was full of toxic chemicals.
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Almost a year ago the same accident happened at the same place. This time all the crewmen and engineer jumped out of the trainhigh speed, againlost control, rammed into another train, creating a mess.
In 1989, same place, same accident again, this time same situation, this time ran into several homes. All the crew members jumped out of the train, lost control, hit the homes. In that accident six people got killed.
Why is it? Why is it that accidents keep happening at the same place, the same accidents again and again and again?
That's my question. I'd like to find out today. I'd like to learn today, What is it? Is there some kind of sabotage?
The local newspaper wrote an article. Again, allegations have been made that there might be sabotage. Well, that's frightening to me. Sabotage by whom? Who's behind this? Maybe Saddam Hussein? Who is it?
A second question is, Is it human error? Then why such human error? Is that incompetency of the crew member, or is that a lack of training? Or maybe fatigue? Working too hard? Or is it that maybe perhaps the safety inspection procedure, itself, has a problem?
What is it? I'd like to find out today.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 The third question is mechanical problem. I understand we're going to address that in the next hearing.
Today I'd like to see the panelists address these questions. If this is human error, why does this happen? My primary interest is to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Again, thank you very much, Madam Chair, for putting this hearing together.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Kim.
The gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Clement.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
I echo what others have stated, that this is very timely to have these hearings. We've had a lot of safety problems, a lot of accidents have occurred, and all of us are asking why. It's happening too much.
The railroads have a lot of financial strength. We have more and more centralization. We have less and less class one railroads.
I think it would be interesting to see what the numbers look like in Europe with their railroads, compared to here in the United States.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 I do know that a lot of people here and elsewhere are concerned about these grade crossings, that they at times have been de-emphasized, even though I thought we were going through a modernization program.
But we need to get to the bottom of it, and I'm glad and pleased that this committee is being aggressive about it, and I'm looking forward to hearing the various witnesses today.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Clement.
The gentleman from New Jersey, Mr. Franks.
Mr. FRANKS. Madam Chair, I'd like to join with those who are commending you for displaying leadership by holding this hearing.
February marked perhaps the worst month in recent memory for rail safety. One of the most serious accidents occurred in my home State of New Jersey, but, in deference to Senator Lautenberg, I'd like to give as much time to him as I can.
Ms. MOLINARI. I thank the gentleman from New Jersey.
We've been joined by the gentleman from Minnesota, who is not a member of this committee, but also is a representative of a site that has experienced a recent tragedy, so we welcome Mr. Vento to this committee and ask for his opening statement.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. VENTO. Thanks, Madam Chairwoman. I appreciate your holding the hearings and the swiftness of the Members to address this incident in my District and others across the Nation.
As the chairwoman has mentioned, we had an incident in St. Paul in which a runaway locomotive at 60 miles an hour slammed into basically a housing facility for changing of shifts. Nine people were injured in that incident, and the fact is that, due to themiraculously, no one died, due to the good work of the St. Paul fire fighters in my District.
The fact here is that a question of great concern to me, and one which I strongly believe should be raised and hopefully resolved, that an overall theme from this series of hearings isthe question is whether the sophistication of locomotives, cars, freight, and general rail technology have eclipsed the capability of our rail infrastructure to support such innovation.
I think it's both a quantitative question, in terms of what's being transported, and a qualitative question as we look at the substances that are being transported in the rail. We know that runs the range from commuter to passenger to toxic materials, radioactive, chemical, and otherwise.
Braking systems and tracks in use today are largely refined 19th century technology, but they are hauling 20th century passengers and freight into a new millennium.
Just yesterday, as an example, we had in Wisconsin a potentially disastrous event unfold when a 37-car derailment caused 2 propane cars to explode and burn, running the risk of igniting other explosive materials. A whole town had to be evacuated. I passed out a black-and-white photo, but it was on the front page of my St. Paul paper today.
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Have our rail corridors been updated to withstand the volume and nature of today's freight load? And is the recent rash of accidents and derailments the beginning of a new trend brought on by failing rail infrastructure?
This must be more than coincidence. This signals a reevaluation and more effective safety regulatory regime. The question of runaway trains may be leading to a result of running away from reality by the regulators.
Obviously, there are concerns that will be addressed during this series of hearings, but I point them out to you now because I believe we cannot divorce these questions from matters such as human factors.
The rail worker and engineers do not work independently from the equipment, and the line between human failure and equipment is not always clear.
Madam Chairwoman, I've also been concerned about the fact that often, when these incidents occur, there has been immediately fingers pointed to sabotage, human failure, or substance abuse. When the dust settles and the media glare is gone, many times we find that these early accusations or assumptions are dismissed as inaccurate distractions.
In the case of the accident in my District, an FBI investigation received huge headlines, but the plain fact of the matter is that there was no sabotage involved. Whether this was an attempt to mold public opinion and divert from the real problems or not, the reality of the matter is that we need to remain focused on the facts, not the public relation spins that too often accompany such incidents and tragedies.
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There is no doubt in my mind that railroads will continue to be an important common carrier for the foreseeable future.
As I mentioned earlier, I think that their growth has been exponential in both quantity and quality. As we all know, railroads have served our country's transportation for a century, but this year, with these 14 accidents, and the 90 last year, I think we need to reexamine the direction it's going and keep the trains on the tracks and prevent the types of accidents that are preventable by maintenance and sound safety regulation.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Vento, and we thank you for your participation here with us this afternoon.
The gentleman from Florida, Mr. Mica.
Mr. MICA. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Today we've come to review some of the factors impacting rail safety. I'd like to say that if, in fact, there's been negligence, human error, or wrongful action involving railroad accidents, those responsible should be held accountable. If laws or regulations contributed to that circumstance or actions, changes should swiftly be initiated.
However, as we examine recent rail accidents, and before we start bashing the railroad industry, it's important that we review their entire record.
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In preparing for this hearing, I requested some of the safety information of one of the railroads that goes right through my District that CSX has, and I was surprised to learn some of the safety information about this particular railroad, and it was also involved in a recent railroad accident.
Now, the press or the panel may not want to hear this, but let me tell you about some of the facts.
The facts showand I just use this one examplethat CSX rail and freight business has greatly expanded, tremendous increases. And, while they've had these increases, the accident rate has, in fact, dropped dramatically. While expanding employment opportunities, on-the-job accidents in 1995 dropped by 28 percent.
Since 1989, for example, CSXand I use this as one examplereduced personal injuries by 80 percent.
In 1995, CSX had the lowest train accident rate in the Nation among major railroads. Maybe this isn't the story people want to hear today. But then we have to look at to what factors we can attribute responsibility for recent railroad accidents.
I believe there are three major factors. One of them we're looking at here today is the human factors, the second is mechanical or technical factors, and the third is capacity factors. Each can be improved. Each of these factors can be improved upon with Government and industry working together.
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With over 40,000 auto accident fatalities each year, we know the difficulty of resolving all human and mechanical problems, both on the road and on the rail, but I think with better training, increased drug and substance abuse testing, education, and awareness, we can do a lot better job.
With Government and industry, however, working together, expanding rail technology, improved signalization, communication, education, we can also enhance rail safety.
Finally, we at the Federal level must work with the rail industry to improve capacity. This pressure to move freight and passengers down a limited rail corridor will only increase in the future, and we've got to be prepared for it. Congress must work with the rail industry to expand corridors, acquire rights-of-way, relieve some of the growing congestion and limited track areas.
So today let's look at the whole record. Let's look at the safety record and honestly examine some of the factors that will result in positive changes.
I thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. MOLINARI. I thank the gentleman from Florida.
The gentleman from New York, Mr. Quinn.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Madam Chair.
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I, too, want to commend you on the swift action of today's hearing and join our other Members who have expressed that.
I also want to remind all of us that, with these kinds of tragediesand some of the pictures and reprints are in the back of the room todaywe need to be careful and we need to concern ourselves that we don't jump to finger-pointing or grandstanding, but certainly at our level we're responsible to make sure that we hear from the Administration and others, ourselves, and constituents to make sure that something is done.
Madam Chair, you said recentlyand I guess this hits home for methat when we've been pointed out there's a problem and we still have these accidents, it even becomes more aggravating. I think I share that view with you and probably every other Member on the committee and Members, at large.
I want to make sure, as Mr. Mica said, that we've got to get Government and industry working together. I guess that's my hope, that everybody has information to bring to these hearings.
Certainly management and the industry, labor and the unions have an important role here, the Congress, the Federal Railroad Administration. We need a balance in that attack, and it probably does need an attack, but let's make sure that we all are working together. We're talking about constituents who are injured and tragically killed. We're also talking about employees who are in these same situations.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 So, as some of our unions and industry come to the table, we need to hear with open ears and we need to walk with all of them so that we get some swift conclusions here.
I pledge to work with you, Madam Chair, and all the Members on the committee to get us to that point.
Ms. MOLINARI. I thank the gentleman from New York.
The gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Bachus.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Let me first say that I think I've heard about grade crossings ever since I was a little boygrade crossing accidentswhen my grandfather would come home and relate where he had had a close call, or whether he had hit someone. I had an uncle that was severely injured when his train struck a gasoline truck.
I used some of that knowledge that my grandfather taught me to sue the CSX railroad that Mr. Mica spoke of and got the largest jury verdict in the south at that time on a grade crossing case.
I later went on to defend railroads, and I actually represented railroads before the Supreme Court.
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In fact last week I rode the Sunset Limited. I sat up pretty high, and I could sort of get a vantage point of what the engineer must be seeing as he went through these small towns.
But I can tell you that there's really good news here today, because there's lots that we can all do, and the responsibility is not just to the railroads, not just to the local communities, not the people who cross the tracks. There's a shared responsibility, and there are some very simple steps we can take.
I have been preparing some legislation on sort of some easy steps that we can take. One is to establish what Texas has established in the grade cross device warning system where they have a 1800 number if there's a dangerous condition at a railroad crossing.
Another one is to take the section 130 money and allow communities to close crossings. You know, there's no better solution to a grade crossing problem than to close that crossing in many cases, or to separate the grade.
We have an excellentthe 130 program is an excellent program. Many States take a lot of the money that's funded in that program and they transfer it over to other programs. We should look at closing that loophole.
But there are many, many things that we could do, and so I welcome these hearings so that we can get at the problems.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 I think that one thing that we can do isI'm not sure that Congress has ever defined the responsibilities between the State and local governments, between the railroads, and between the Federal Government, and I think we ought to work toward that, because I can tell you that, from hearing about these accidents since I was a little-bitty boy, there's no one that wants these accidents to happen, and we ought to work for solutions.
I welcome these hearings.
I know the headlines will be grabbed about collisions between this train and that train, or when a train derails, but for every accident like that there are hundreds where there is a grade crossing collision between an automobile and a train.
I congratulate you and hope, even though maybe what precipitated this was a collision between two trains, that we deal with the other major problem.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Bachus. Absolutely.
The gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler, do you have an opening statement?
Mr. NADLER. Yes. Thank you, Madam Chairlady. I'll be very brief.
The recent series of train crashes, collisions, is obviously very disturbing to us all. It raises issues of safety, it raises issues of proper signals, and it also raises the question of whether we should be as hell-bent as we seem to be in the Amtrak legislation on lessening liability of railroads for egregious negligence, lessening the possibility of punitive damages, since it is punitive damages, whether in railroads or product liability or any other field, that serves, more than most other kinds of tort liability or any liability, as a deterrent.
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Since the House bill has some very major changes in this regard and is still being considered with the Senate bill, I hope thatit's unfortunate, but I hope that these developments might cause us to take a more considered look at some of these issues, not only of liability but also of physical safety.
I commend the Chair for calling these hearings, and I hope these hearings will shed light on these subjects.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
Ms. MOLINARI. I thank the gentleman from New York.
Obviously, thank you very much, Senator Lautenberg. We're honored to have you here. We thank you for your patience, and we're very anxious to hear your testimony before us today.
TESTIMONY OF HON. FRANK R. LAUTENBERG, A U.S. SENATOR FROM NEW JERSEY
Senator LAUTENBERG. Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman, for the opportunity to testify. And I thank the members of the committee who are still in their chairs. I don't know whether that's because they're duty-bound not to run out the door, but I hope we'll have a chance to discuss some of the issues that have already been brought up by members of the subcommittee.
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I want to thank my colleague from New Jersey, Representative Franks, for his courtesy. He did advance the time that I got to speak by about 30 seconds with his particular deed of bravery and courage, and I appreciate that. We work very closely together on a lot of issues.
As you know, Madam Chairwoman, we also have often common interests because of the closeness of the geography between your area and the State that I represent.
So I do appreciate the opportunity to present some views on things that are fairly consistent with those that we've heard.
Everyone agrees that rail safety is an exceptionally well-based accolade, that rail service in this countrypassenger, freighthas been relatively good, but there is no reason why we shouldn't make it safer.
The terrible accidents that occurred recently in New Jersey and Maryland have revealed significant gaps in rail safety and the failure to use existing technology to improve safety.
I, personally, visited the site of the New Jersey crash. It was a horrifying scene. It was a miracle that only three people were killed in that accident. These trains had 800 people collectively on the east-and west-bound trains. The toll could easily have been far worse, and there isn't any way that one could see what happened there and not feel a great obligation about the need to improve the safety of our rail systemagain, as good as it is.
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Passenger rail service is among the safest forms of travel in the country. Everyone seems to agree on that. And I think it's important that we not frighten the public into believing otherwise.
At the same time, in my view, we ought to do whatever we can to make it even safer.
Now, much of today's railroad technology and many operating procedures date back almost to the last century. For some reason or other, the technological revolution seems to have left rail safety back at the station.
Compounding matters, much of our regulatory system has been unchanged for decades. Congress should act promptly to address this problem.
We also need to review a wide variety of laws and regulations with one overriding philosophy: the safety of our Nation's rail passengers must come first. Now, this doesn't mean that we should rush to impose unrealistic mandates that would drive up costs beyond the capacity to support changes in the rail system.
It still requires that we take on the issues that have been allowed to drag on for too many years, while passengers continue to be exposed unnecessarily to danger.
I've developed legislation that includes several proposals to improve rail safety, and I hope the committee will review the bill.
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Today I'm going to focus on only two elements of the legislation which relate to human factors in rail safety, the partial focus of your hearing here.
Madam Chairwoman, if Congress is going to improve rail safety, it's important that we address the current law that establishes the hours of service that rail engineers may work.
Some of my very good friends in this room are rail engineers, are railroad personnel. They work very, very well and their devotion to duty is second to none, but I want to point out that this law was developed in 1907 and has changed very little over the past 90 years.
Under the law, it's perfectly legal for a locomotive engineer to work 24 hours in a 32-hour period. Those kinds of hours, combined with the demands and stresses of an engineer's job, is a recipe for disaster.
We wouldn't allow pilots or truck drivers to work these kinds of hours. Restrictions on these operators are severe. Yet, railroad engineers, responsible for hundreds and sometimes thousands of passengers at a time, continue to work under archaic and dangerous rules.
The Federal Railroad Administration is in the process of studying the issue of fatigue, as is the entire industry, but these studies could be years from completion.
The adverse effects of fatigue on the ability of an individual to perform their job is well-documented. For example, the National Transportation Safety Board released a report in January 1995 indicating that fatigue is probably a factor in 30 to 40 percent of heavy truck crashes.
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In testimony before the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Dr. James Walsh of the American Sleep Disorder Association explained that sleep deprivation reduces productivity, lowers cognitive performance, and increases the likelihood of accidents.
Madam Chairwoman, operating a train while fatigued lacks the stigma that we attach to drunk driving, but the results are often the same or worse. It is critical, in my view, that we take fatigue in the railroad industry more seriously before more engineers, before more passengers and innocent bystanders lose their lives or are hurt by an accident.
My bill, therefore, gives the FRA the ability to regulate hours of service for rail engineers. The FAA has the authority to regulate hours of service for pilots, and the Office of Motor Carriers has the authority to regulate hours of service for commercial drivers. Why should the railroad industry be functioning so differently?
My legislation would repeal the current hours of service law and direct the FRA to begin a rulemaking process to update these important regulations.
This bill doesn't pre-judge the FRA's findings; it encourages FRA to develop these regulations in a negotiated rulemaking process so that the interests of all parties are fully represented.
Also, the bill includes a provision to ensure that a future administration could not abuse its discretion by actually increasing the burdens on engineers contrary to the Congressional intent.
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Beyond changing the hours of service requirements, we need to explore ways to use technology to prevent rail accidents before mistakes occur.
For more than 75 years, systems have been available that can warn engineers about missed signals and automatically stop the train. In fact, such systems were installed on virtually our entire rail network years ago. Unfortunately, that particular technology has been removed from most tracks and no related system was put in its place to prevent accidents of the type that recently occurred in New Jersey and Maryland.
The situation is intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue as is.
Now, I recognize that we should be careful about jumping into major current systems if more-effective satellite-based technology will be available soon, but we cannot continue to wait.
We need to make a judgment about the prospects for new technology one way or the other, and if we determine that advanced technology is not likely to be operational in the near future, we should ensure that at least the best available technology is in place. Otherwise, we're going to find ourselves back here again asking the same questions, while some families grieve and other passengers are injured or permanently disabled.
Madam Chairwoman, beyond addressing the human factors that contribute to rail accidents and installing traffic control technology, I believe that we need to establish standards for locomotive fuel tanks, passenger car crashworthiness, and signal placement. These are the factors that can make such a difference if an accident does occur.
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I realize that some of these issues are beyond the scope of this hearing. I mention them only so that perhaps you'll have a chance when you examine my legislation to consider these proposals.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to working with you to ensure that the Congress acts promptly to improve rail safety.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Senator Lautenberg. Do we have a copy of your legislation to be submitted for the record so we can distribute it to our committee?
Senator LAUTENBERG. If we don't, we'll have it over here promptly.
Ms. MOLINARI. I appreciate that, Senator. Obviously, I think you've highlighted some of the more pertinent and salient issues that have come to all of our attention over the last few months, and we'd be very, very interested, during the course of these hearings, before we get to our final hearing, to have that legislation before us so that we can incorporate it into any final discussion piece, perhaps in addition to suggestions that Congressman Bachus has already put forth.
I just have one quick question for you. Going specifically toand we will deal with your other two suggestions, if I have your permission to bring those back up when we get to the equipment and state-of-the-art technologies in future hearings. But when you talk about hours of service, I'm just wondering if you knowand FRA will be here later on. They'll be wrapping up this hearing. They're scheduled to come to Congress with a report by January of next year. Do you know if they've made any progress? Have you done any oversight, yourself, into how much reliance we can place in terms of the research that they've done?
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Senator LAUTENBERG. I'm not familiar with it. I am, however, aware of the fact that, in a day, to satisfy the ability to handle rush hour traffic, an engineer can work almost up to 12 hours, lay off for a few hours for some rest, and then come back to work. That, to me, sounds like an invitation to disaster.
And I commend the engineers for having had such a good record for such a long time, but I don't know what FRA is doing.
Meanwhile, I believe that we can intercede, as long as we're not raising costs or making it difficult for the operation of these railroads, to make some changes via rule. To me, the handwriting is on the wall. We have these requirements in other modes of transportation. Why not in railroads?
Ms. MOLINARI. Do you set a date in your legislation? As I said, FRA's scheduled to come back to a report this January. Does your legislation adopt that date?
Senator LAUTENBERG. I would have to see what's going on. I would like to wait until January to be making decisions. I do not want to take away the discretion from those who are charged with doing these things and who have the knowledge. But we're in a rush. The last thing we need to do is see another accident.
And, again, each of these accidents has been relatively limited, considering the possibility of exposure that existed.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Ms. MOLINARI. Absolutely. Thank you, Senator.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chair.
[Remarks in foreign language.]
Senator LAUTENBERG. I was going to talk French to you. We have a friendly exchange, but it reminds me of a movie. Was the movie called ''The Candidate'' in which the person finally slipped into French because things went off? Mr. Oberstar, you haven't been here that long.
Mr. OBERSTAR. No. I just want to welcome our Senator from New Jersey. He and I work together on so many issues, and particularly in aviation security on the Pan Am 103 Commission, the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism. My use of French relates to our discussions in France in French.
This is the fourth appearance of Senator Lautenberg before a subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation. He sets a high standard for the rest of the other Body
Senator LAUTENBERG. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR [continuing]. Of concern and caring about issues, and he's willing to take the time to come here, listen to homilies from the bench in order to deliver a very cogent and powerful and compelling message, whether it's on smoking on board aircraft, whether it's about aviation security matters, aviation safety issues, and modernization of the air traffic control system.
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Senator, you have been a stalwart leader in this arena and an example for your colleagues in your Body and in ours, and I commend you on what you said this morning, particularly on human factors.
We have talked many times about human factors in aviation.
Senator LAUTENBERG. Indeed.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Your specific reference to hours of service, time spent at controls. Whether it's in the flight deck of an aircraft or at the controls of a locomotive, it's the same issue. It has taken us years to get the FAA to issue rules on flight attendant hours of duty. That has been done. The rulemaking is now underway with hours of service for the flight deck crew. The rulemaking is now in its notice of proposed rulemaking status. But it has taken far too long to get to a resolution in aviation, and incredibly and intolerably longer in train safety.
You rightly cited 12-hour days, but until 1969 the rule was you could work as much as 16 hours a day.
I know in iron ore mining, where I grew up in Northern Minnesota, you could double out once, you could double out twice, but then you needed a day off. This is working in a 600-foot-deep iron ore mine. You can't do your work well. You can't function properly. You can't pay attention to the safety of your co-worker when you're so fatigued.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 But in the railroad business there is another factor, and that is the discontinuous hours of work, where you may be called up at 2 on 1 day for an 8-hour or 10-hour or 12-hour shift, get maybe 8 hours sleep, and then be called out again. But you don't get 8 hours sleep.
Senator LAUTENBERG. Especially not if you have to sit in a rail car and suffer New York and get your sleep during that period of time in a passenger car. You're right.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Just as FAA has an Office of Human Factors Safety, I think the Federal Railroad Administration ought to have an Office of Human Factors Safety, and we ought to provide for it and we ought to proceed along that line.
I join with you in those initiatives, and I thank you very, very much, Senator, for once again demonstrating your concern for the human element in transportation.
Senator LAUTENBERG. Thank you very much for the nice comments. I always think that we're better off when the other Body and this Body work together on things. It makes a difference. We ought to practice it more.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much.
The gentleman from California, Mr. Kim, do you have any questions?
Mr. KIM. No.
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Ms. MOLINARI. The gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler?
Mr. NADLER. None.
Ms. MOLINARI. The gentleman from New Jersey?
Mr. FRANKS. Madam Chair, I simply want to commend Senator Lautenberg for his sustained commitment to rail safety and his leadership he's provided in the other Body on this vitally important issue.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you.
Mr. RAHALL. No questions, Madam Chair.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Vento?
Mr. VENTO. None.
Ms. MOLINARI. Well, I can't believe it. It looks like we're done with you, Senator.
Again, Senator, all joking aside, thank you very much for your patience and for your forethought in recognizing the need for Congress to act as quickly as possible to protect the safety of our future passenger and rail workers. We will be using your legislative initiatives as a centerpiece of analysis and examination for whatever this Body does from there on in, and we thank you very much for your concern and for being with us here today.
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Senator LAUTENBERG. You're very kind. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Senator.
Our next panel is: Mr. Ronald McLaughlin, president of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. I believe he is accompanied by Mr. LeRoy Jones and Mr. Bill Keppen. We are also joined today by someone who is no stranger to this committee, Mr. James Brunkenhoefer. I've never said his real last name before. I hope I pronounced that somewhat closely. He's the national legislative director, United Transportation Union. We're also joined by Mr. Richard Johnson, assistant general president, Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division, Transportation Communications International Union.
Let me thank you all for being here. Let me also say to those in the audience that we will, during the course of these hearings, have additional union representatives present. Again, acknowledging the bulk of incidents to be explored during the course of these hearings, we thought these three gentlemen best represented the ability to comment directly on human factors and grade crossings.
Of course, your testimony relative to any problems in the area of transportation and rail safety would certainly be appreciated.
Mr. McLaughlin, we welcome you and we'll start with you.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Would you mind if we changed the order on that, Madam Chairwoman?
Ms. MOLINARI. If you all can agree on this, I don't mind at all. Mr. Johnson, would you like to go first?
Mr. JOHNSON. We had a little caucus, and they agreed that I'd speak first.
Ms. MOLINARI. Absolutely.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. He makes the best target.
Ms. MOLINARI. He lost the draw. OK, Mr. Johnson.
TESTIMONY OF RICHARD A. JOHNSON, ASSISTANT GENERAL PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD RAILWAY CARMEN DIVISION, TRANSPORTATION COMMUNICATIONS INTERNATIONAL UNION; RONALD P. MCLAUGHLIN, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS, ACCOMPANIED BY LEROY D. JONES, VICE PRESIDENT, AND NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE BLE, AND WILLIAM KEPPEN, VICE PRESIDENT, BLE; DAN PICKETT, PRESIDENT, GRAND LODGE, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD SIGNALMEN (BRS); AND JAMES BRUNKENHOEFER, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. JOHNSON. Madam Chairwoman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Richard Johnson. I am the assistant general president for the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, Division of the Transportation Communications International Union. Our union and the Transport Workers Union represent the majority of car inspectors in the United States on the major railroads. Our car inspectors have the responsibility of inspecting trains and ensuring the safety of train operations.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify about matters of safety that are of extreme importance to our carmen, to our railroad workers, and to the general public. My experience as a carman and union representative has given me the opportunity to see how important safety is in the daily operations of the railroads.
I take pride in my work and my knowledge as a carman. It is my experience in the railroad industry that compels me to participate in these hearings and speak out against the culture of greed over safety that dominates the Nation's railroads.
For too long, the carmen have been like a voice in the wilderness, crying out against the unsafe practices on the railroads. We have warned the railroads we're sending dangerously defective cars down the track, like so many time bombs just waiting to go off. Now these defective cars are wreaking havoc on the Nation's railroads.
With the rash of disastrous derailments and collisions on passenger, commuter, and freight railroads, public awareness of the serious safety problems on the railroads is growing.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 For year after year, the railroads have been gambling with the lives and the safety of passengers, railroad workers, and the public.
The railroads have bet that defective equipment just might make it to the next point without derailing.
The railroads have bet that trains that are inspected by untrained and unqualified personnel might arrive safely at the next destination.
The railroads have bet that commuter, freight, and passenger trains just might be able to travel safely on the same tracks, even with the removal of signal systems.
The railroads have bet that the fatigued train crews might be able to operate trains safely.
The railroads have bet that ignoring Federal safety laws and regulations will not cause derailments, loss of life, injuries, destruction of property, and environmental damage.
Now the railroads are losing those bets, and we are all paying the price. For the railroads, these disasters are just the cost of doing business. We know better. People are paying for this with their lives.
Passengers and railroad workers are being killed and seriously injured, families are grieving over the loss of their loved ones, toxic chemicals are released into the ground, air, and water.
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Federal and State and local governments are forced to bear the cost of rescue, evacuation, fire fighting, police, ambulances, cleanup, and investigation. These disruptions to commerce cause further economic losses that go far beyond the immediate effects.
The carmen have been warning of the dire consequences of ignoring safety laws and regulations for decades. The carmen have tried to force the railroads to abide by the air brake test inspections and mechanical tests required by Federal law and regulations, and to abide by the standards set forth by the American Association of Railroads, the AAR.
The railroads have decided to ignore and evade these requirements whenever they could.
The railroads made the economic decision to run defective and unsafe equipment and risk the lives and safety of railroad workers and the general public.
The regulations that govern the train power brake systems contain so many loopholes that the carriers are able to escape compliance almost at will. There are loopholes big enough to run a train through.
Various interpretations given by FRA have allowed considerable leeway to the railroads.
Finally, Congress enacted the Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act of 1992, which mandated certain rulemaking activities. Among these is the review and revision of power brake regulations by FRA under FRA docket number PB9.
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FRA began its regulatory review of power brake regulations in 1993, with technical workshops in February and March in Kansas City, Chicago, and Newark. At the FRA workshops, scores of carmen came to tell FRA what really goes on in the rail yards, repair tracks, shops, and numerous other railroad facilities. There were numerous carrier representatives, supervisors, officials, and CEOs from every major railroad in the country.
In the presence of all of these railroad carrier officials, the carmen risked their jobs by telling the real story of the carriers' defective equipment, unsafe practices, deceptive operations, and violations of Federal laws and regulations.
The carmen told the FRA numerous ways and instances of how the carriers prevented the carmen from doing their jobs on inspecting, repairing, and maintaining the freight and passenger cars on the railroads.
Carmen would have had dangerously defective cars, only to have the carriers release those cars without proper repairs or without any repairs at all.
The carmen have also provided materials and statistics to substantiate their testimony and disprove the carriers' bogus assertions.
The carriers have responded by ignoring the carmen and continuing the same unsafe practices.
I am here today to tell you that this same system-wide disregard for safety is largely responsible for the recent derailments and collisions.
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I was shocked during the Senate hearings on February 27, 1996, to hear the Association of American Railroads' president and chief executive officer, Edwin L. Harper, state, ''At this point of the ongoing inquiries, there has not been any suggestion, as far as AAR is aware, the indicates systemic safety problems in rail operations.'' It is unbelievable that the president of the American Association of Railroads can sit at a Senate hearing and ignore the unsafe practices and abuses brought forth in just the last 3 years' worth of the FRA workshops and hearings, and ignore the facts that have been developed during investigations of the recent derailments and these collisions.
I am here to tell you that there are systemic problems in rail operations. It must be corrected before railroad workers and the public can be assured that rail transportation is as safe as it can be.
The carriers have been weaving a tale of safety that is based on inaccurate statistics and data supplied by themselves. The carriers control the reporting of injuries, the reporting of derailments, the reporting of violations, the defective equipment, and their causes.
The recent derailments and collisions belie the carriers' statistical claims of increased safety. The news has been filled with dangerous consequences of the carriers' arrogant disregard for safety. Things are beginning to unravel.
The carriers have been able to manipulate reporting requirements and practices in order to paint a picture of safety that is just not true.
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FRA has investigated and substantiated the carriers' unsafe practices and is learning that the statistics and the data reported by the carriers is unreliable.
The carmen have warned FRA and the carriers for years that the carriers' blatant disregard for safety will result in disasters. The carriers are not getting away with the risks that they have taken for years. Their unsafe practices are catching up with them.
An example of these unsafe practices involves the recent derailment that Congressman Kim is concerned with, the recent derailment at Cajon Pass, California.
On February 1, 1996, a BN Santa Fe train left Barstow, California, and derailed while descending a 3 percent grade down the Cajon Pass. The brakes would not stop the train. All four locomotives and 45 of the 49 cars derailed. The engineer was seriously injured but survived, only because people at the scene pulled him from the burning wreckage. The other two crew members were killed in the derailment. Additionally, about 20 people were injured due to the smoke and fumes from the hazardous materials.
Major highways in the area were closed due to this derailment.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Johnson, I'm very sorry. I'm going to have to ask you if you can come to a general conclusion, because we have such a long panel today. Your testimony is tremendous. It's extremely extensive, and I think it's probably important that we have you back when we discuss equipment, because so much of your testimony really does concern problems with equipment.
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So if you can, please give us a wrap-up so we can get to the rest of the panel.
Mr. JOHNSON. Yes. I'll be happy to do that.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. JOHNSON. We have extensive presentation presented in my written agenda. I also had information relative to the Congressman from Minnesota's inquiry into the St. Paul derailments, as well.
Ms. MOLINARI. Well
Mr. JOHNSON. I understand. I will wrap up.
Ms. MOLINARI. He left anyway.
Mr. JOHNSON. Power brake and mechanical defects in freight and passenger cars and equipment are serious threats to the safety of the railroad workers and the general public. One defect on one car can cause an entire train to derail.
Safety must be the primary consideration in the act now before more needless deaths, injuries, and destruction occur as a result of unsafe equipment and practices on the Nation's railroads.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you again, Mr. Johnson. And thank you for your extensive testimony.
I advise all Members to take that testimony home and read it. It really highlights so many of the problems that we're having and will be relevant to today's hearing, certainly, but also to the future.
Just to let people know, we just went into recess in the House until 3, so we're not running out on you.
Who goes next? Mr. McLaughlin.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Madam Chairwoman and members of the committee, my name is Ronald McLaughlin, and I am the international president for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. I am here to talk about railroad safety.
In trying to find a common thread to the recent rash of accidents, various safety problems emerge. It would be too simplistic to conclude that each accident resulted from one cause.
My testimony will conclude that accidents were not caused by human failure but faulty equipment and safety appliances.
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The Federal Railroad Administration, under Jolene Molitoris' leadership, has tried to change the process and get proposed rules into regulation, but we feel that there are others in her agency that are still trying to stand in the way of progress.
In September 1977, the Department of Transportation, through the Office of Safety of the FRA, published a safety plan to enhance the ability and to better obtain safety in the railroad industry.
In that plan, a list of recommendations were made. Included in that list was an additional 408 safety personnel are needed to eliminate train accident rate increase.
The BLE maintains that previous administrations have designed the FRA to fail, with inadequate inspections and inadequate amount of resources to hire the manpower to insure the safety of the industry.
Members of the committee, this is what the BLE feels is the crux of the problem: there is not sufficient funding by Congress of the United States to maintain a proper watch of safety on our Nation's railroads; yet, in time of budget crisis in our Government, you, this Congress, voted last year to exempt the railroads from paying user fees that ensure that the railroads are adhering to the Federal safety regulations.
We have been told that, due to the lack of funding, FRA only inspects 2/10 of 1 percent of all equipment each year. This is totally unacceptable.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 We propose that, in the wake of the large amount of accidents that are occurring, you restore the user's fee back on the industry and hire the additional 408 inspectors that were proposed back in 1977.
Until you give the FRA the manpower and tools to properly address safety, you will continue to get only 1/2 of 1 percent of the equipment inspected.
An example of this would be like putting just one policeman in D.C. to make everyone abide by the law. The FRA is just like the D.C. Policethere simply isn't enough manpower.
One or more of the following combination of factors led to these accidents: lack of backup or fail-safe procedures to protect against possible human error; excessive crew fatigue; inadequate inspections, testing, and maintenance of brakes; poor FRA enforcement of safety laws; and failure of the industry to install improved technological advances; and the industry cutting employment to bare bones at the expense of safety.
What is so disturbing to rail labor is that these issues are not new, and we constantly meet roadblocks from the industry and FRA to our recommendations for adequate safety protection for our members and the public.
In our statement we have identified major underlying safety problems and recommendations for improvements that would have a significant impact on improving rail safety, such as: accidents caused by human factors are related to the impact of cumulative fatigue caused by irregular work schedules and inadequate opportunity for sleep.
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The size of crews and employment in the rail industry has been drastically reduced, and the safety consequences are beginning to emerge.
For many years, radio communications have been sub-standard. There are no Federal regulations requiring a radio on a train. As an example, the crews on the New Jersey Transit trains are not equipped with radios.
It is incomprehensible, with today's technology, that we run trains without working radios.
The signal system in the railroad industry is inadequate on many railroads, even though the technology exists for fail-safe systems.
The protection of rail passengers dictates that commuter railroads cease the push-pull type service and have a locomotive located in the front of each train.
Improper train makeup needs to be addressed, because this has been shown to be a factor in a significant number of freight train accidents.
The FRA has issued two emergency orders in the wake of the Cajon Pass accident and the commuter accidents on MARC and New Jersey Transit. Neither of the orders adequately deal with the issues, and they will have minimal safety impact.
Last, but not least, enforcement on the Nation's railroad must be more vigilant. We have lost 17 engineers in the last 2 years, 4 of which died in February, due to these accidents. In some instances, we feel that the disregard for rail safety by the railroad companies has sent a death warrant to our members with faulty equipment, improper rest, and improper or no inspections.
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We hold railroad management responsible for the loss of our engineers.
On February 2nd, at Cajon Pass, California, another derailment caused by a runaway train resulted in two deaths and a very serious injury. In response to this accident, on February the 6th the FRA issued an emergency order partially covering the operations at that one location.
The order prohibits any train operated by the Santa Fe Railroad to go down the pass unless it has a two-way in-the-train device, or there's a locomotive at the end of the train from which brakes may be applied, or the train is equipped with a caboose so that the crewmen can apply the brakes from the rear.
We are asking the FRA to extend this order not only to railroads running in this pass, but immediately to all trains running on our Nation's railroads.
It is noteworthy that the Santa Fe Railroad previously had informed the FRA that it would utilize two-way end-of-train device through Cajon Pass after the first Cajon Pass wreck occurred on December 14, 1994. Such a device was not working on the accident in that same location on February 1, 1996.
In early February, another runaway train occurred on Burlington Northern in St. Paul, Minnesota. Again, the end-of-train device was not working.
Almost unbelievably, a third runaway train resulted in two deaths and a serious injury near Leadville, Colorado, on February 21, 1996. Again, the end-of-train device was not working.
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The BLE and rail labor is convinced that these accidents were completely preventable and our engineers would be alive today if the two-way end-of-train device was working.
On positive train separation, the committee has discussed this issue
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. McLaughlin, I'm very sorry. We're running out of time. And I noticed, in jumping ahead to your testimony, again, perhaps our staff didn't make it clear to the witnesses that this was going to be about human factors today.
If I can ask you to start to wrap up, but to goyou have some very solid testimony a few pages ahead relating directly to the sleep cycles and human factors. Perhaps you can wrap up on that note for us, because those numbers are, I think, very important.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. OK.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. We don't get to be here very often, and my testimony is not all that long. It doesn't even represent 1 minute for each engineer we've had die.
Ms. MOLINARI. I understand that, sir, but we have people here that I'd like to make sure that the committee gets a chance to see and hear from, so, again, we'd be very happy to have you back to repeat your testimony when it comes to equipment, which will be our next hearing.
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Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. OK. I'll make a couple of comments, and then I'llthe railroad industry has stated they've made great strides in positive train separation. However, our members have stated there is no new equipment being used in this territory, as has been reported, in the northwest. I don't know where it's at, but they say it's not there.
In closing, we appreciate the committee conducting this oversight hearing in the railroad safety. As we have stated, locomotive engineers have many safety concerns, especially in dealing with the two-way end-of-train device, working radios, and positive train control, and fatigue.
I'll skip on down.
It is my hope there will be more emergency orders issued to alleviate the safety problems I have identified before any more lives are lost.
I want to thank the committee again for allowing me to testify on behalf of locomotive engineers. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. McLaughlin.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. I promise I won't read my testimony. I'll submit it for the record.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, sir.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. I'm going to try to be brief, which will be unusual for me.
I think one of the things in human factors is that everyone here has to have a basis of what to make a judgment by, a measurement. And accident reporting is probably the most significant way of measuring what our problems are.
There was an article yesterday in ''The Journal of Commerce'' by Rip Watson that was focused at CSX. I think that focus could have been as broad as all the railroads in the class ones.
There is a pervasive effort out there at the lower management level to threaten discipline to anyone who reports accidents and injuries. And if you don't have accident and injury data, then you can't make the judgment as to what regulations are needed or unneeded.
If we live in a circumstance of where, if you file a report, you're given discipline, and then if you don't file the report and later you find out that you're in more pain and you file that report, then you are then disciplined for filing a late report, then you have essentially corrupted the whole system by which you need the information to judge by.
Now, there is not some sort of cabal in AAR where all the CEOs have gotten together and done this. It came about systemically. By rewarding lower and middle management for having less accidents reported through bonuses and rewards, you put the incentive on covering up, not on safety.
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I think, until we can have a system by which people feel free about reporting the incidents and accidents and injurieswhat we do is we fill out a form, management then takes the form we have, and they generate information to the FRA. So we areI think the calm word to use here is we are severely discouraged from starting the process.
If we don't report them, then they don't exist. It's like the old story about the tree falling in the forest. Nobody hears it.
In our case, if something isn't done soon to clean up the reporting process, you're not going to have the information, and neither is the regulator going to have the information to make the judgment that's the responsibility for both of you.
On the training, in the areas that Mr. Johnson was talking about, we had UTU members present. The carriers have placed on us, because of deregulation and various agreement changes, they have placed on members of the United Transportation Union the obligation to inspect freight cars.
At those hearings I asked all UTU members present to stand up and to say whether or not they were qualified or trained to carry out the requirements of Federal law and Federal regulation.
I would have less than 5 percent of my membership at those hearings that would sit down after asking to stand up.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 We then went to regional meetings where we had present the regulators. We did the same thing, and we had almost 2,000 people. But we hear AAR and its members testify that we can do it.
Now, we're not the guys with the coats and ties in the office. We're the people in the field that are supposed to be doing the job, and we, quite frankly, are on record that we don't know what we're doing, we're not trained, we can't carry it out. But yet management tells the public and tells the regulator everything's OK.
Ms. Chairperson, it is not OK. It is bad. We are not trained. We need training and qualification and certification to be able to carry out the responsibilities, just as my brothers and sisters in the other crafts, if we're going to carry out some requirements.
If we're going to carry out the Federal requirements, then we need training.
We have the same thing Mr. Oberstar has pointed out previously in the airline industry, that someone who makes the inspection has to have a proven qualification to be able to perform that test. We don't have that obligation in the railroad industry.
Mr. McLaughlin represents the only people at the table that are required to have certification in the whole industry.
Now, if we're going to have this obligation, we need to have the training to go with it, and the same with my brothers over here with the carmen.
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One other quick thing, and I'll get out, because I know you're short on time.
Recently we have had the carriers say that they would go for some voluntary programs by voluntarily complying with roadway worker, by voluntarily complying with two-way end-of-train device.
We've looked at the record. We've looked at the body count. That doesn't work. We still need the regulations in place and we need them to come quicker.
I see my red light's on. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much.
Let me just ask one question, and then I'll jump around and come back.
When you talked, Mr. Brunkenhoefer
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Brokenrail.
Ms. MOLINARI. Everybody knows you as Brokenrail. Let's cut it out right now.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Let's cut to the chase.
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Ms. MOLINARI. OK. When you talk about the problems with reporting, if there is an incident that concerns your membership and they go to their middle or lower management to report this incident and are discouraged from making it official, do they then come back to the union tois there any mechanism in place in the union, or what stops that as an alternative channel?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. In some cases they do. What wethere are many parallels out there to check, but unfortunately, in trying to check the data, they have different reporting dates, so it's very difficult to match unless you do an audit like IRS does, incident-by-incident-by-incident.
Yes, some of the times they tell us, but if there has not been a violation of a Federal regulation, then we have no process by which to go back.
What we do is we take the Federal regs and try to make sure that those Federal regulations are complied with, and so I can only tell you this is not isolated to one railroad. It is pervasive throughout the industry.
The discipline is almost matched up. If you fill out the form, you can expect there's going be a threat of discipline. We have cases of where you're hurt, you're on your way to the hospital, and the first thing the management person tells you, as they transport you is, ''Now, you know, the first thing you're going to have is a drug test,'' and the carrier telling the hospital to give the drug test before they give them medical attention.
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We have copies of their forms that they give to doctors telling the doctors essentially how to carry out medical practice in order to avoid reporting.
And so the whole things seems to be not to promote safety, but to avoid the reporting of accidents and injuries.
Ms. MOLINARI. In fairness, when it comes timein terms of the priority for taking drug tests, isn't that fairly standard in the cases ofI know we had an accident on the Staten Island Ferry the other day when the fog was so thick. It was clear that was the main problem, and yet, before he could even answer any questions, the ferry operator had to take a drug and alcohol test. Isn't that part of that fairly standard?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. I think that the doctor should determinein every case, the doctor should determine what medical attention is needed and in what order, not management, no matter whether you're the Staten Island Ferry or the railroads.
Let's let the guy get to the hospital, and if he's got some sort of problem let's get him treated, and along the way, if we have a drug test requirement, we'll comply with it.
Ms. MOLINARI. OK.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. But that should not be above all other issues involving medical care.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Let me ask you another question. In terms of trying to get information, in trying to attempt to change the system, what is your recommendation for how Congress can best assist to make sure that these reports are entered into, so that FRA, or anyone who examines the records of a rail, can perhaps see a pattern that may be being established there?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Unfortunately, the only model that I have to go by is what we currently have. You have a regulation. When the regulation is violated, it's enforced, and that would beI served on a grand jury one time, and we let the people know that if you retaliated against a witness that testified before us, that that retaliationyou went to the head of the line and you had the opportunity to get free room and board first before anything else took place.
I think that this has to be one of theif we're going to have a system by which the judgments are made by, that would be one of the most significant penalties out there, and that we would get the most possible enforcement.
I'd be open to anybody else's idea.
Ms. MOLINARI. OK. Thank you. Go ahead. I'm sorry, Mr. Jones.
Mr. JONES. One of the problems we have in the industry, as Brokenrail says, is the reporting of safety problems. In the Silver Spring wreck, this magic book that everybody's been talking about in the press is an issue that was meant to be good by management to inform one of the managers of accidents that havesignals problems that have been occurring out there.
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Yet, what we have found in our industry is oftentimes the way it works is we turn into management, as railroad engineers, safety problems, violations, or whatever.
Then it's the responsibility for not only the railroads to try to correct it, but also report that to the Federal Railroad Administration.
What we have is under-funding of the agency. As we said in our testimony, in 1977 they needed additional 408, and at that time they had 400 inspectors. Today they have 400 inspectors, and they can't police the industry to make sure the stats are right or safety inspections are out there.
That's one of the problems we have with the stats. So, as Brokenrail says, when we go into those rulemakings on safety and fatigue and everything else, there's not enough money.
That's a real problem we have.
Now, on the Silver Spring wreck, for example, we have grave doubts about what happened out there. We know the engineer had a great record. We know that there had been signal problems throughout that territory. We know there was snow that night. We know a number of things.
A lot of issues that we've discussed over the years have been brought forward time and time and time again with no action. That's why we come to you as Congress.
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We're saying the FRA needs more people, manpower, to make sure the industryone of the suggestions that Mr. Brunkenhoefer made at an earlier conversation was maybe the big prize in our industry is the Harriman Award, and that's for safetythe safest railroad, whatever class it is.
Maybe we project or we propose, through his idea, maybe the FRA should do a complete safety audit of whoever wins the Harriman Award to make sure that these stats are coming back on safety properly.
We have a whole area of fatigue and everything else. Mr. Keppen is an expert on this area in the industry, and he's been working with the FRA and with AAR on it.
We've got a lot of problems out here, and it's designed, like we said in our testimony, to fail. The system is designed to fail, and it's on the shoulders of engineers.
When you take these safety circles, these automatic train controls like they had at most the railroads, as we had stated before earlier, and take them offthis line in question on Silver Spring at one time had that on that system. When they redesigned it and put the new system in, they did not add it because it was additional cost.
If that would have been in there, if there was an engineer error or something happened with the switches or dispatching, then that engineer would have known in advance and that train would have stopped.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 We don't know what happened because we don't have event recorders on locomotives that are crashworthy and really tell us what's going on out there and what the signals are, which we had asked, in case the engineer's killed, to have that information.
In our industry we don't have that, and a rule has not been required to have recording of wayside signals.
So all those things come together. We have accidents, and usually our members are the ones that die, and then we have to defend them right off the bat as human error when we have fatigue and everything else involved in this.
We don't have those circles of safety we've had all these years. They've gradually gotten rid of them for the bottom line of it's too expensive for the railroad industry. Well, it's time for the railroad industry to start spending some money and protecting not only us but the traveling public.
Ms. MOLINARI. I'll come back with a series of questions, Mr. McLaughlin, if you want to join in, and then I'll go to Mr. Wise and come back.
Mr. WISE. To any of the rail labor panel, let's get to the Silver Spring accident. The placement of signals has become somewhat of an issue.
My question is whether the FRA should have rules on the placement of signals so that there should be a warning signal before any stop signal after a station stop.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 As you know, in the Silver Spring case there was a signal. The engineer made a stop at the Kensington Station, and then there was not another warning signal before the stop signal.
My question is whether there should be a stop signal after a station stop.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. I agree with that statement. Having a signal prior to the station stop, by the time you stop at that station and load and unload passengers, it's a possibility your mind could get changed or you could forget. It would be a lot better if you had a signal immediately after leaving that station or either sitting at the station that indicated what the next signal would be, or the equipment on the engine, the automatic train control, or the cab signal system, which would have some kind of a flashing light that indicated what the next signal would be.
Yes, I think that would be very important to have.
Now, I understand it was removed in this case, and if I was the engineer on that train I would certainly appreciate, when I start out again, that I would have another indication of what the next signal is.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Mr. Wise, the president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen is sitting over my left shoulder, and he is anticipated to be on the next hearing, and I'm sure he could give you extensive information on that, and I just don't feel qualified.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. WISE. We'll make sure and bring that up, as well.
To any of you, particularly Mr. McLaughlin and Brokenrail, Administrator Molitoris will describe later the joint program of the AAR, the BLE, and the UTU to study work schedules of operating employees, and she refers to it as the AAR/BLE/UTU Team.
My question is, Do you feel this is truly a team?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Let me refer you to the vice president of the BLE, who has been on that committee from the time it was created.
Mr. WISE. Mr. Keppen?
Mr. KEPPEN. We are still actively working together, AAR, BLE, and UTU. We just had a meeting the 22nd of February on Burlington/Northern Santa Fe to discuss a pilot project out there.
There is one pilot project currently going, really not under the auspices of the work/rest review task force, but Conrail has a project up and running at a couple of terminals, and they're utilizing Circadian Technologies as a consultant to assist them.
Circadian Technologies did the work with the CNCP and the Brotherhoods in Canada, and I believe there is a final report going to Transport Canada with respect to the issues of fatigue and a pending regulation which would deal with the maximum number of duty hours in Canada, and that should probably be wrapped up somewhere, I would say by mid-summer.
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I have several concerns about the progress of the task force. It was first conceived in the early months of 1992, and it was brought about as a result of a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board, and that was about an accident that involved two Santa Fe freight trains that killed five crew members in 1990.
We set about trying to determine how we could address the recommendations of the NTSB, and went off in a little bit different direction.
By reviewing thedoing the statistical analysis that we are doing, and trying to really clearly define the issue of fatigue, we are passing over a number of really much more simplistic countermeasures that the industry could implement on their own right now under the existing regulation.
While the AAR, I think, has done a good job of encouraging their members' participation, they have no way of twisting or breaking arms and forcing them to do the right things and forcing them to go forward with some of these simple approaches.
I could give you a couple of examples right off the top of my head.
If we had a longer call, such as an 8-hour call, we could get prepared to go to work, we could get our rest, and we would be less likely to be fatigued when we do have to report for duty and run that train perhaps for 12 hours.
If we had a better rest facility at our away-from-home location, we're much more likely to get good-quality rest, but the industry, itself, has been reluctant to do that. I can only conclude that that reluctance is predicated on the bottom line.
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It is cheaper to do it at a dormitory facility in the middle of the switching yard than to give the crew the opportunity to help select a facility offsite that is quiet, conducive to rest, where you can get up in your own room and use the restroom facilities without walking down the hall, and you can get a meal, a good-quality meal, before and after you report off-duty.
I mean, these are things that the industry could do. You don't even have to touch the hours of service regulation.
Mr. WISE. I appreciate it. In later questions I want to get back into proposed hours of service regulation, but my time has expired for now.
Mr. BACHUS [assuming Chair]. Mr. Kim, do you have questions?
Mr. KIM. Yes, Mr. Chairman. I do have a couple of questions.
I'm a little shocked to find out today, by listening to testimony. Let me tell you what my concerns are.
First of all, I want to talk about this Cajon Pass accident because I've been out there spending time and actually very close to the accident point. The night before I attended a meeting, and I have some knowledge about the accident.
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Now, according to your statement today, actually blaming a two-way radio system, No. 1, that's what I'm hearing today.
Second is, in addition to the brake failure, it was actually oil leaking from the cushioning device. The management ignored that and told the crew, go ahead and burn the oil out and just go ahead and put it together and run it, so to speak.
Now, I don't want to read through line-by-line, but that's a really shocking statement, very strong statement you're making today.
I don't know just the really common practice. The defective mechanism is there, identified by your crew, yet management ignored, just go ahead and do it anyway and tried to hide any evidence that it was clearly defective, on page five you stated.
Mr. JOHNSON. I can answer that if
Mr. KIM. Let me just finish your questions and you can all kind of answer together.
It seems to me that you're blaming mechanical defect, the management's failure to cooperate with your warning, and etc., and not mentioning any human error.
Now, I understand there might be some sabotage, according to the local newspaper, but you didn't address that today.
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You mean there's actually no human error on this thing at all? It's strictly a mechanical fault and a management failure?
That's the end of my questions.
Mr. JOHNSON. I think, starting with the end of your question, Congressman, it's our opinion, yes, there was absolutely no human error except human error on part of management for not properly doing the proper repairs on this equipment when they had it in their job prior to this derailment happening and these people being killed, and putting your people in your District at risk.
This car, as you can see from our testimony, had been on a repair shop track. It had been repaired previously. The repair consisted of putting on a piece of air brake pipe.
Our people doing the repair said, ''Besides this air brake pipe being bad, the cushioning device is also bad on this car.'' Well, that's a more elaborateI want to relate it to you in a term that you can understand it. It's a more elaborate repair than just putting on a piece of pipe. It's more like replacing the engine of your car instead of changing the oil.
It would have taken time for the railroad to do that, and they did not want to hold up that carload of freight, so they put the dollar ahead of safety and they ran that car, after telling our peoplewe have statements from the people that were put in that position, and we've provided them, and this has all been provided to FRA and NTSB and verified by FRA that, in fact, this happened.
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Mr. KIM. Let me ask some blunt questions again, then. Are you saying that there was no human error, whatsoever, and if it is it would be management's mistake? And also you were talking about FRA taking a safety measurement when it applies to Santa Fe Railroad instead of applying it to everybody. And also, they took too long, 15 months, to come up with recommendations, etc.
Obviously, you're also blaming FRA's lack of response time.
You totally rule out today any sabotage whatsoever in this hearing today? You don't
Mr. JOHNSON. Absolutely.
Mr. KIM. Totally rule it out?
Mr. JOHNSON. Absolutely. And I believe that the NTSB and the FRA would also tell you the same thing. There has beenand all the sabotage comes out as management trying to hide what actually the defect was. They also cried sabotage at the St. Paul wreck.
Mr. KIM. So this sabotage is fabricated by the management, in your opinion?
Mr. JOHNSON. Absolutely, as a way to prevent them from being wrong. There is clear evidence that there was a brake failure in both of these train accidents. Both humans were completely out of control by the engineer. He had absolutely no way of braking that train. He applied emergency brakes, and as the record from FRA investigation shows, that train only appliedI think, doing this from memory, about nine cars on the head end of the train. That certainly is not enough to stop 5,800 tons of freight coming behind you.
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Mr. KIM. Also make a statement to help me out with this thing. The two-way EOT device that you've got obsolete system, right now management has failed to cooperate? Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Mr. JOHNSON. Well, this train in Cajon Pass had a two-way end-of-train device on it. That's the law, I guess, that they have to have this two-way device. Before the train departed, management was aware that the device was defective. There has to be a way for that device to trigger so that the brakes can be released from the rear-end of the train by the engineer at the cab. It was impossible for him to do that because the device was defective.
When management was asked about this, they said, ''Well that's right, it was defective. We have to have it on the train, under the law, but it doesn't have to work.'' Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Mr. Kim, I had the privilege of coming to your District shortly after the accident.
Mr. KIM. I met you there. It was a pleasure meeting you out there.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. And I must say it wasn't a privilege to be there, because of the accident, but the weather was much nicer.
I had the opportunity of attending a briefing put on by the vice presidentone of the vice presidents of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and we were in a room with the Federal Railroad Administration, members of the National Transportation Safety Board, the local Santa Fe management from Barstow and San Bernadino and L.A. areas, and the members of my union and the members of Mr. McLaughlin's union. All three of those people that were on the train were members of my union.
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At that time, Burlington Northern Santa Fe's vice president said that he saw no fault on the part of the crew members that were involved in that unfortunate accident.
I feel like NTSB, when they complete their investigation, will confirm what management has said, and I think that FRA will confirm what management has said. This is one of the few times that reluctantly I agree with management.
Mr. KIM. Can I have a couple more minutes?
Ms. MOLINARI [resuming Chair]. One more question, Mr. Kim, and then we really have to get moving because we're going to be called for a vote soon.
Mr. KIM. All right. Thank you, Madam Chair.
By listening to you today, it seems to me there are several recommendations. One of them is you want some more Federal regulations, got to hire more inspectors, have tight control. That's one of the recommendations you are making today. You cannot work this out, you and the management. You need some further intervention. Is thatI'm putting it bluntly now. Can you answer that to me? Is that basically right?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. It would be beautiful if we could.
Mr. KIM. Beautiful if we could?
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. It would be beautiful if we could. We feel like, with the history that both of us have, and we feel like, for example, the two-way end-of-train device, roadway worker, air brakes, these are not changes that we have to wait on the regulator to do. My opinion is that we have an industry who does not want Government intrusion but waits on the Government to intrude to make corrections.
And the two-way end-of-train device that today I feel very strongly aboutI feel like people in my union are dead today because that rule was not adopted.
When that legislation was passed in 1992, Mr. Kim, we met with the suppliers and we asked the suppliers, ''How fast can you make these in order to meet the needs of American railroads that we can have one on every train?'' The rulemaking that is contained in the 1992 act that has not gone in, we included in there that any two-way end-of-train device that the carrier bought was going to be grandfathered into whatever regulation was going to be adopted by the regulator.
So we attempted, through Congress and through the legislation, to motivate the carriers to place the two-way end-of-train devices. Congress had already acted. They had already seen the need of this. Congress then said, ''adopt a rulemaking.'' We said we don't want to de-motivate the industry by having them reluctantly wait until there was a rulemaking. We said, ''Whatever you've got on the trains will work.'' Well, we don't have them.
Mr. KIM. My question is, You can't work with the management?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. We will try to work with
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Mr. KIM. Is that the reason why you want us to step in?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. I we can, we'll be more than happy to. We'll meet them any time, any place, and if we can get to an agreement that's wonderful.
Mr. KIM. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Kim.
Mr. NADLER. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
First of all, Mr. Brunkenhoefer, just to conclude on Mr. Kim's question, you'd be glad to meet with the railroad management, obviously, but do you think it necessary for the Federal Government to step in, or do you think it can be worked out without the Federal intervention?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. I think we have to have the Federal Government available in case that we do not arrive at something common to be able to enforce that.
Mr. NADLER. And do you think it likely that that can happen, or do you think it likely the Feds will have to step in?
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. I think that they'll be there with us.
Mr. NADLER. Thank you.
Mr. KEPPEN. May I address it? There's an interesting process up in Canada between the rail unions and management and Transport Canada. The process up there is Transport Canada directs the management of the railroads to meet with the unions and come up with a recommendation for a regulation, whatever the issue may be, and they have a time certain within which to do that.
If, at the end of that time period, there has not been a consensual rule arrived at or recommendation, then Transport Canada steps in and legislates what they think is right.
Mr. NADLER. Transport Canada is a government agency?
Mr. KEPPEN. Without a deadline, nothing will happen.
Mr. NADLER. Thank you. Second questionwhoever wants to answer this, I have a series of questions, so I hope the answers will be brief, as will the questions.
All the observations that you gentlemen have been making about the unwillingness of management to put in safety devices that are required or to make repairs when they are required before an accident occurs, does this apply primarily to the freight railroads, to Amtrak, or to both?
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Mr. JOHNSON. We see it applying to all railroads.
Mr. NADLER. Including Amtrak?
Mr. JOHNSON. Right.
Mr. NADLER. Even though Amtrak is a Government-owned, at this point, railroad?
Mr. JOHNSON. Yes.
Mr. NADLER. Now, someone mentioned that management personnel on some railroads hidin fact, I think you implied falsified the record of safety after an accident. Did I hear you correctly?
Mr. JOHNSON. That's in our written statement. That's exactly what happened.
Mr. NADLER. If they did that, did they violate any statute or regulation in so doing?
Mr. JOHNSON. Well, before they got to the point of violating that statute, the threat came that, unless you come forward with this information and quit hiding it, we will prosecute you. They did finally come forward with this information.
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Mr. NADLER. So we don't have to change a statute to make that illegal. It already is, I assume.
Mr. JOHNSON. No. We just need the enforcement.
Mr. NADLER. OK. I assume everybody here is saying we need a larger budget for the Federal Railroad Administration for enforcement proceedings?
Mr. JOHNSON. Yes.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes.
Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.
Mr. NADLER. And more inspections for faulty equipment. Let me ask one other thing, and I allude back to my opening statement.
You've paintedthe gentlemen sitting here have painted a picture which, if accurate, says, in effect, that management at some of the railroads, perhaps all of them, have been more sensitive in a deregulated environment to the bottom line than to safety procedures and safety considerations and have been willing to take certain risks that they perhaps shouldn't have been willing to take, and they did things they shouldn't have done.
How do you rate the question of liability or tort reform in encouraging this, discouraging this?
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As you know, the Amtrak bill, for example, the original version of the Amtrak bill before the House, would have eliminated all punitive liability from railroads under any circumstances. The version that finally passed the House, as a result of an amendment that I sponsored, reduced punitive liability from limitless, under current law, to the same thing as the House had done in most other areas of tort liability, to three times economic damages or $250,000, whichever is more.
I don't know what the Senate bill has done. They're still pending.
If we were to reduce punitive liability, do you think this would change the situation for the worse or for the better or not at all?
Mr. JOHNSON. It would definitely be for the worst. In our opinion, the railroads already set a price as killing people as part of their business, and we just don't want you to make it any cheaper for them.
Mr. NADLER. Let me ask you a follow-up question on that. In crashes in previous yearsnot the very recent ones, obviouslywhere there have been lawsuits, have there been large punitive damage awards?
Mr. JOHNSON. I think you've got the wrong people. We don't have the data on that.
Mr. NADLER. I suppose we'll have somebody else to answer these. But you think it would make it worse if we were to lessen punitive or other damage?
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Mr. JOHNSON. Absolutely. We think that liability is a deterrent, Congressman.
Mr. NADLER. Thank you, sir.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Bachus?
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
The MARC train that was involved in the accident recently was being pushed; is that correct? Do the labor organizations have any policy or any recommendations concerning pushing of commuter trains?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes, Congressman, we do. In my testimony we recommend that there be a locomotive on the head end of each commuter train and cease the push-pull operation, the cab car operation, to ensure the safety of the passengers, mainly in the first car.
Mr. BACHUS. That would also ensure the safety of the engineer or the operators?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. It would help. We'll be the first ones there.
Mr. BACHUS. That's right, which isI've always thought that was a pretty precarious location for the operator.
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Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. It certainly is.
Mr. BACHUS. Let me ask you this. I've traveled on MARC trains on numerous occasions, and on occasions I've noticed that the doorway between where the operator is and the passenger compartment is open, there's no barrier. I will say that on occasions I've observed conversation between passengers and the operators of the train. Have any of your membership ever complained about that?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Definitely, but also that room gets to be pretty stuffy in that little room, so some of the times, simply to get ventilation, they'll leave the door open, and so it's a choice of two bad choices.
Mr. BACHUS. I think that's absolutely right. In this particular accident, we don't want to speculate, but what we do know is that there were teenagers in that head-end unit that hadsome of them had probably never been on a train before. They were obviously very curious about its operation. It's only natural sometimes for teenagers or small children or a father with a child maybe to come up and want to observe out the front. It certainly puts the operator in a situation of saying, ''Stay out of here,'' or even a distraction of passengers coming up.
I've seen, on many MARC trains, where you could walk right in there. An operator that even has to turn around or is even distracted that does not turn around but is distracted by noise or a disciplinelet's say that there's a confrontation between two passengers, have any complaints among your membership about that sort of thing?
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Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes. We have many complaints about that. And it's much more dangerous on a train, a locomotive like that, than it is in an airplane. You see them come up and look out the window there, but there you're on autopilot and you're not going to miss anything quickly, but on the head-end of a train traveling at that speed, you have to keep your eyes forward at all times, and you cannot be distracted because, as you know in this case, where you have just one signal light, you've got to see that, and you've got to know what color it is, and you've got to remember, and you can't be thinking about something else, especially if you're there by yourself, which most of them are.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. And the crossings.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. And the crossings. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. And especially if you're in a push position. The amount of privacy that the operator has is quite limited.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Representative Bachus, I just handled a complaintand I will not name the railroad, because I think that they have taken it to heart, and so there's no sense making any bigger deal about itof where they were having children's birthday parties and Cub Scout troops and were putting them in the pull end of the car facing the traffic, and we went through quite a wrangle.
As I understand now, they have said that they're going to drop the parties back further in the train, but they were using it as a marketing device because they could see everything going on, and they were getting on the train, as children would, with boom boxes and balloons and everything else, and the operator was extremely distracted. But at least that carrier has cleaned it up. I don't know what's going on in other carriers. But you hit it on the head.
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Mr. BACHUS. And let me say that naturally you're going to be distracted by that sort of thing, if you're human.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. It's impossible to block that out.
I would say that that's another reason why these operators should not bewhy these trains shouldn't be pushed, because of just the total lack of privacy.
I think my time has expired.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Bachusonly because right now we're going to have one vote. They scheduled the bells for five in case there is a recorded vote on another one, so I'd like to deal with this panel so we don't have to keep them here in case we do have two votes.
Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. Johnson, I know you commented a while ago that railroad management had been warned continuously, over and over again, defective cars, unqualified personnel, environmental problems, signal problems, rulemaking procedures, systematic problems. I think you mentioned things are unraveling, blatant disregard on behalf of the railroads, and you expect that to continue, don't you, unless something's changed?
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Mr. JOHNSON. Absolutely.
Mr. CLEMENT. Why would the railroads be that way? Why would they just ignore? They're doing better than they've ever done financially.
Mr. JOHNSON. That's what we say as well, Congressman. We have no idea. And the only thing that we can say is it's got to be the profit. It's got to be the bottom line.
We have information at one railroad, because a car was loaded with some type of commodity that needed to get to a destination, ranin fact, published a notice to their inspectors saying, ''Do not bad order these cars. Do not set these cars out of trains until they're empty. We'll fix it when the car's empty.'' Mr. CLEMENT. You're saying this is just a total disregard for the public's welfare, and
Mr. JOHNSON. Absolutely.
Mr. CLEMENT. I notice you also mention sabotage. I think I heard that word the other day about an excuse that was used in my office why they couldn't do something. First thing that came out of their mouth, they used the word ''sabotage.'' Is that something, when they don't want to tell you the truth, they use that word?
Mr. JOHNSON. That's our opinion. When they've tried to cover up the two major derailments, the first thing they said was sabotage.
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We go into some detail in our written explanation.
Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. McLaughlin, I know you mentioned about restoring the user fee. When was it abandoned, the user fee?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Pardon me?
Mr. CLEMENT. You'd like to see that the user fee be restored.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. It was abolished last year by this Congress.
Mr. CLEMENT. Right. And you'd like to see it restored again, because we've had a lot of accidents since last year, haven't we?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes, I would. I understand that was about $40 million they were relieved of.
Mr. CLEMENT. You mentioned a while ago that you hold railroad management responsible for the engineers' loss of life. Could you explain what you mean?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. What I mean is strictly that two-way end-of-train device, if that had been working, in several of what they call ''runaway trains,'' those trains would not have been running away.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 An engineer is not up there setting the air one pound at a time when he's going 60 miles an hour down a grade, that he knows when he gets to the bottom he's probably going to die. If he had a way of applying the brakes from the other end of the train, which used to be able to be done when they had a caboose, but they removed the caboose and the person in that caboose, so that if the train was running away he could apply the brakes from the other end.
I guess if you have to understand what we keep talking about herenot everybody may understandthe brakes are applied with air pressure that runs from the engine completely through the train. If there is any blockage in that train or develops in any way, you can only set the air on the part up to that blockage.
But this two-way end-of-train device would allow you to apply the brakes from the rear-end, which would apply the brakes on the rest of the train and you would be able to stop.
This is what these runaway trains are all about.
Mr. CLEMENT. You also mention about that you don't even have radios, do you? You don't even have a way of communicating, do you?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. I would say most trains have radios, but there's no requirement that they have to work, and if they don't work you just simply don't have any communications, and the carriers do not want the regulation that a radio has to work on that train because, if it did, then you come to abefore it could leave that terminal, that radio would have to work or they would have to take that engine off of that train.
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So that's the reason, but I guess we're going to have to have a rule that says ''a radio on it and it has to work.'' Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. Brunkenhoefer, I know you made a comment a while ago about
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Clement, we have about 6 minutes. Mr. Oberstar does have questions, too. Can I ask you to suspend your question, and we'll come back?
Mr. CLEMENT. That would be fine.
Ms. MOLINARI. I'm afraid we'll have to ask you gentlemen if you would stay. It may actually be shorter if it's only one vote.
I just have to add, because I have to clear up this confusion on user fees, there was not a dedicated fund for user fees. Now, we could all have an agreement as to whether there should be or shouldn't be, but we charged railroads for user fees that went into the general fund, and you had to go and testify before the Appropriations Committee anyway, so there was no direct connection.
Getting rid of user fees does not deny FRA the ability to get an increased budget for inspections. There was absolutely no dedicated fund. I think there was some confusion that may have been created by some misinformation here.
We'll be right back.
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Mr. BACHUS [assuming Chair]. I call the subcommittee to order.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
One of the most serious issues in this entire hearing we're going to be going through over the next several days of hearings is that of hours of service rules.
Members of this committee, as a whole, have experience in the aviation sector on the impact of hours of service for flight attendants, for pilots, as I said in my opening remarks.
The FAA has just issued a flight and duty time notice of proposed rulemaking that is an improvement over existing law, but still not as good as it should be. And that NPRM is short of what I understand the position of railroad labor to be with respect to hours of service in the railroad industry.
Current law requires engineers to work no more than 12 continuous hours without a minimum of 10 hours off-duty; is that correct?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. OBERSTAR. And that you have at least 8 consecutive hours off-duty in each 24-hour period; is that correct?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. The GAO criticized the hours of service rules in an April 1992 finding that I have read very carefully because they allow rotating schedules. An engineer could work a day shift on Tuesday and a night shift on Thursday, in effect requiring you to reset your biological clock.
When I worked in the iron ore mines and we had a week of 311 shift, and then we had a change-overwe'd have these 7-day shifts or 10-day shifts, and you have 5 day of 311 and then you had to ''sleep fast,'' as we called it, and show up for the 73 shift for 4 days or 5 days. Then you had 3 days off.
I recall how difficult it was to switch my body clock, and on some of those shifts I was up on the ore dumps switching track, and I'd have three dumps and three gondolas and three trainmen on three different dumps, and there came a time when I couldn't remember who was where, even when I had marked it down, because sometimes it would take them a long time to dump their cars, and oftentimes in the rain you had to jack track because the rain caused the ore dump to slip.
In addition, there is a problem where it isn't even as much the length of shift as it is the crew calling. You may often get only 2 or 3 hours notice before going out on a shift where, what you call in the industry, extra boards. We called it extra hours in the mining industry.
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I'd like you to comment on the effect that such short hours switching of the biological body clock has upon your ability to operate that train when you're out there 12 hours continuous service.
My question is longer than I hope your answer will be.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. I think it is. Congressman, if we have regular shiftsand we do have a lot of regular shifts in the railroad industrythat's not the real problem.
As you pointed out, the real problem is where you have irregular shifts, or freight trains run on a 24-hour schedule, and you're in what you call a pool of people. You just go whenever your turn comes. That could come at any time of the day or night.
Those are the tough ones to cope with, and that is why we say if we could be notified 8 hours before we were going to go to work it would help. But under most schedules, we're notified maybe 2 hours before we go to work.
I personally have been on call, subject to call all day long, and at 10 at night I'm still subject to call. I've been off maybe 24 hours, but now I've been up all day long, and we have families, we have obligations we have to do, too. Engineers are just not machines that are waiting to run that train.
Maybe you lay your head on that pillow at 10, and the phone rings and they say, ''We need you to take this train out at midnight, and then you are expected to go on that train and work for 12 consecutive hours.
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We're not like a person who is driving on an interstate. If you're driving into the night on an interstate you can stop and get a cup of coffee or you can start looking for a motel when you get tired. We can't do that. We have to keep going.
Mr. OBERSTAR. How much of that type of hours of service practice is subject to your labor/management negotiations covered by a contract, and how much is subject to Federal Railroad Administration rulemaking, and which would you prefer?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Well, I would say
Mr. OBERSTAR. FRA standard, or having it in your contract?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. We don't seem to be able to negotiate that whatsoever. I mean, we have to abide by the law, and whenafter you've been off 8 hours, the railroads say you're subject to go to work.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So the railroad will work you to the law.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Exactly.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And would you prefer that the law be abolished?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. We would prefer to have different rules that applied to the law. Like, for instance, 8 hours notice that we're going to go to work.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. You'd like the law to be in effect, but to have some flexibility within the law to adjust those hours of service?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes, if I understand your question correctly, yes. We do need the law, and the law is all right if we just could arrange the calling times and the rest schedules, and that's what's difficult to do.
We have some agreements where, if you've been on duty long enough, you can mark off for 10 or 12 hours, regardless of whether you've completed your 12 hours or not, but it'sfor 50 percent of our people, it's a real problem.
Mr. OBERSTAR. The Illinois Institute of Technology Research is conducting a test based on these very concepts that we're talking about, under a grant from FRA, in which they are testing 20 engineers tested on a 5-day period with a severe rotation schedule, with discontinuous service, with sleep interrupted by phone calls. Are you familiar with this test? Do you think it's going to be useful? And will it set a basis for future change in rulemaking or change in law?
Mr. KEPPEN. I'm familiar with the test being conducted at ITTR. There's also another project where they're looking at log books for various locomotive engineers where they have kept track of what they do during their off-duty time.
I think it certainly couldyou know, both of those projects could contribute to a process whereby the regulation or whatever statute, however it winds up, is improved upon, but my concern is the slow pace of change.
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Once again, I would say to the industry, ''Do what you can do now. Look at the countermeasures that are available. Educate people on the hazards and how to address some of those concerns, particularly management that makes decisions with respect to calling practices and things like that.'' Beyond that, give people a good quality place where they can get some rest when they have an opportunity, after working 12 hours. Do those kinds of things.
And you can do those. That's within the purview of management. They can make that decision, if they just would look at these issues seriously and say, ''By gosh, I can't just manage my equipment. I also have to provide good management practices for the human factor in my railroad operation.'' Mr. OBERSTAR. I'd like to shift quickly, if I may, Mr. Chairman, to training questions.
This panel has talked about the different requirements of skills and, of course, that's why you have the different craftssignalmen, maintenance-of-way, locomotive engineers, they all do different duties, have different responsibilities, different training, and different experience.
Signalmen are being used to inspect track. We understand that one railroad company says, ''We'll give them 4 hours of training to do this job.''
What is the problem with a signalman doing that versus a maintenance-of-way person doing that work? What is the different kind of training that a signalman gets, and over how long a period of time, compared to the training and experience that a maintenance-of-way craftsman has?
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Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Congressman, I've got the president from the signalmen sitting right behind me. Could I swap chairs with him so he can answer your question?
Mr. OBERSTAR. And identify himself, his union, for the record.
Mr. PICKETT. Good afternoon, Congressman. I'm Dan Pickett. I'm president of Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
My answer to that question is that the training on the track is quite different than what signal is. We have signal training that's very comprehensive, and most of the railroad industry, and especially the class ones, have the training that is there.
There is no way that we can give an OK, and in these instances what they're asking the signalmen to do is OK trains to go over broken rails, which has historically been through the track department.
One particular railroad has requested that our people start doing that, and we've requested, through our office, that the signalmen not be required to do that from the FRA, that the FRA step in and say that the requirements are a lot more comprehensive than what the railroads are saying. We don't want the impact of us.
We have another particular railroad that has asked us to, once it has been determinednow, they're using the track people yet, but they have asked that, once that has been determined that, if the rail is broken, it's safe, that we bond to make the circuit clear and allow the trains to run over a broken rail as if there is not a broken rail there.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Just this one question then, and I will desist, because there are other Members. I'd like to come back again. But how long a period of time do you consider it necessary for a signalman to be sufficiently trained so that person can perform the work of a signalman?
MR. PICKETT. The trainingmost of the time we have three segments of 2-week training that they go through. Some railroads put that all together and havenormally it's 6 weeks. But does that make a signalman? I think no. I'd be happy to answer, but the short answer to that would be no.
I think a period of time of on-the-job training takes a good, substantial amount of time. I would think that a signalmanyou don't become a signalman normally for 2 to 3 years.
Mr. OBERSTAR. For a railroad to say that they'll put a signalman through 4 hours of training and qualify that person to walk a train over a broken rail is, in your opinion, not a safe operating condition?
Mr. PICKETT. Very unsafe.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to come back later with some other questions.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you. I guess I'll proceed next.
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Let me ask you this question, Do we have any members of the panel that have operated a locomotive?
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. OK. So we do have enough. Let me ask you this question. Let's suppose that you're operating an engine and there is a parallel roadway, and there is a crossing ahead, and on the parallel roadway there are two teenagers operating a car, and they're going a little faster than you're going and you look up ahead and you see a crossing. What goes through your mind?
I've never been in that position and I don't
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. I'd like to answer that. I ran a locomotive for 38 years.
There were many, many instances, not just like you portrayed, but where you could see cars coming that actually were going to cross, and it looks like it was a dead heat, and you see trucksand I've hit a lot of them, too.
But what do you go through? Your heart pounds heavy, and you're sitting there helpless. There's nothing you can do. And you can see these things coming up.
We've had engineers that have hit cars and things like that or cars with families in them, kids, and the last thing they see is the kids in the window. It's traumatic, very traumatic to our engineers.
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We're completely helpless. Blow the whistle, ring the bell. That's all we can do. And put the train in emergency and stop a mile down the track.
Mr. BACHUS. And you actually can't put the train in emergency until you're right on the crossing, because if you did that you would do it at every crossing where traffic was approaching, because you don't know until it's too late whether or not they will stop or not.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. That's exactly right.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Amen.
Mr. BACHUS. I will tell you that I guess it was very timely. I mentioned in my opening testimony that I rode the Sunset Limited from Phoenix to New Orleans back and forth this last week, sitting up 18 feet in an observation car, and I will tell you that I went up and started seeing, as the train would approach these small towns, and you would see just what you've describedthe cars coming up to the crossing, and me knowing that maybe one out of 10,000 or one out of 5,000 may try to cross the track or may make that decision.
And then, as 3 approached, I'd been up there about 20 minutes, and as 3 approached I began to see school buses.
I will tell you that after about 10 or 15 minutes of that I'd had enough. I actually went downstairs, because it was all I could take. I mean, it was a very stressfulit was more stressful than anything I do in this job.
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Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Beyond that, Mr. Chairman, even when we have to make those judgments as an engineer and we have to put the train in emergency, we have to be aware of the train track dynamics of what is behind us. The forces that come together when you have thousands of tons and you start putting brakes on them literally can pitch cars out of the train.
And we very well, by making the determinationthe decision is that we're going to put the train in emergency to hopefully slow up a tenth of a mile an hour to miss somebody, by making that choice what happens behind us in the train track dynamicsthere may be a defective car, there may be a defective track, it just may be the way that the terrain is or the makeup of the train, which we'll talk about some other day. We may be doing more damage to the community by training to avoid the accident than the one unfortunate care we're going to hit.
Mr. BACHUS. What you're saying is the speed. What speed do you choose? If you slow down, you invite people to try to beat a train. You actuallyyou almost sucker them in. I say that because, you know, it's an incredible thing to see.
Let me ask you this. I will say I was in Texas, and that was Southern Pacific track, and I want to commend them for one thing: they gated both sides. They gated the entire crossing.
I've often seen crossings where we know that people are going to go around the barriers, where gateswhere it closes only half the crossing, and people can go around it.
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Do the labor unions have any policy towardI know what your preference is, but I sometimes wonder why every crossing that's gated isn't gated completely.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. This guy is responsible for the gates.
Mr. PICKETT. We're also the ones that install and maintain the gates.
Again, I'm Dan Pickett, president of the signalmen.
We, personally, as far as the signalmen's organization, feel that four-quadrant gate, which the Norfolk/Southern Corporation has run some tests on, is a good device that will prevent a lot of the accidents.
Now, there is some concern of existingthat people get inside and get confused, and you have to time one to come down a little bit slower than what the other would allow them to do it. But you still have that concern.
But it is this organization thatit is far safer to have the four-quadrant gate than it is to have no gates at all or to have the flashings, just the flashers.
About half of the crossings in the United States are equipped only with flashing devices, and out of the fourth that have the warning devices on them.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. BACHUS. I've observed people at a crossing. It appears as if you think there were green lights inviting them to come, as opposed to red lights warning of a train. It's an incredible thing to see.
My time has expired, and I've been kicked out of my chair.
Ms. MOLINARI [resuming Chair]. I really wouldI know these are very important issues, and I appreciate the interest of our panel, but I do, in respect to the people who came from out of town who have been sitting here all day, will go one more round, but I ask that we all understand that these gentlemen will all be called back. Whatever additional questions you have, we'd like to submit to them, but we still have several more panels left to go.
As I said, aside from the people, we do have MTA, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and the Mass Transit of Maryland. As if their problems aren't severe enough, I don't want to have to call them back for an additional day.
Well, my goodness, I want to thank you all very much.
I really cannot over-stress, please, the ability to move this as quickly as possible. We're already asking our last panel to come back again tomorrow morning, because I'd like to have this wrapped up within the next hour and a half, and I don't want to give short shrift because this panel has been here for 2 hours.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. OBERSTAR. I just want to revisit the issue of research on hours of service and the effect on alertness and effectiveness.
We know, from experience with air traffic controllers, that a majority of mistakes made are made in the first hour coming on duty. Then there is a very quick rise in sharpness of focus and attention and operation over the next 3 hours. Then you need a break away from controls for 15 or 20 minutes, and then come back to controls. And then, toward the end of the shift, you begin to see an increase in slippage of alertness and sharpness of action.
Is there a kind of a rhythm that you follow that you can observe with a locomotive engineer in the course of a shift that parallels what I've just described?
Mr. KEPPEN. The statistical work that we have done on the work shift data that one or two railroads have been willing to supply us do indicate that there are patterns. They are perhaps not as pronounced, because I believeI personally believe the controllers know when they are going to go to work, even if it's an odd hour. They know when they're going to go to work.
In many cases, people in unassigned or extra board service don't know when they're going to go to work, so you don't see quite the same variation. It's not quite as accentuated. It's there, but it's not quiteit suggests to me that people are really tired all the time. People that work in unassigned service have long shifts, variable start times, or extremely dense shiftsgo to work a lot of times in a five-or 7-day period.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Should this issue be remedied by legislation specifically or by direction to the FRA to initiate a rulemaking that will provide more flexibility?
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Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. We've got a law. We'd like to have it improved.
What we're concerned about is that this FRA today under these circumstances may give us reasonable rules, but tomorrow the buzz words of ''productivity'' and ''flexibility'' that we see may drastically change what we have, and we are scared to death that if we open up our act and allow rulemaking to take place, that now, if not in the future, what we're going to end up with is a lot less stringent requirements than we have now, and so we are very reluctant to open up the act to throw it open to complete rulemaking.
I read what's going on in the trucking industry. They just want them to work more hours.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I understand your concern.
The second question is, In the airline industry, pilots have to be licensed, certified; machinists who do maintenance on aircraft have to meet the FAA licensing requirement for A&P. Who, besides locomotive engineers, in the railroad industry of your various crafts have a certification requirement by the FRA?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. The FRA requires certain standards of the industry, but let me say right now that we have the lowest standards for requirements in the world that we can find and translate.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 The FRA-adopted regulations that are the lowest in the worldand Mr. McLaughlin and my union have training standards that exceed the FRA, and when Mr. McLaughlin's union and my union go to the bargaining table, we are pressured to lower our training requirements contained in our collective bargaining agreement to go down to the levels of the FRA.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Should the Congress direct FRA to change those standards? Can they change it by themselves by rulemaking?
Mr. BACHUS. If the gentleman will yield?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. May I make a comment? I'm not sure the entire panelI know the panel probably understands this, but the FRA is statutory, and it's my understanding they cannot change the rules and regulations. It is the law. Unlike Motor Carriers or FAA, which can change their standards by rules and regulations, it's exclusively statutory and requires a change in the law.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I understand, but I'm
Mr. JONES. On engineer certification it's different than the hours of service. Hours of service has a statutory. Engineer certification was brought back by an act that said that the FRA would set standards and regulations on engineer certification.
What happened there, because of the lax of what we thought of the FRA at that time, what they did is actually let the railroads submit their plan for certification to the FRA, and if the FRA did not act upon it, then it automatically came as the plan for certification on that particularly railroad.
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They did not set the standards as 6 months, 1 year, one-and-a-half years. They can go back and revisit it just bydo the rulemaking process.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And they can set standards for signalmen, for maintenance-of-way, for carmen?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But the standards that they have set, which are not statutorily set, but are administratively set, are lower than those that you require for your own qualification in your crafts?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. There are minimum standards only for the locomotive engineer. Those minimum standards that are only for the locomotive engineer are the lowest in the world. There are no
Mr. OBERSTAR. No standards for any other.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER [continuing]. Other standards in the industry for anybody.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Any other craft?
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. For anybody.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you. That's a sad commentary on this industry and on this agency.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Keppen, you have the last word, and then we're going to dismiss this panel.
Mr. KEPPEN. Just another example of this, Congressman, the locomotive inspection, through collective bargaining or an enforcement enacted by Congress, the railroad had the right to designate inspectors for locomotives, so, rather than the mechanical people who are really trained to look at all of the things that potentially could go wrong with that equipment, they designated engineers.
We have been begging, pleading, cajoling, doing everything we can for 2 years to say, ''If you're going to designate us, as locomotive engineers, to inspect these locomotives, at least provide us the training so we can make a good quality inspection so we can ensure this equipment is safe.'' We're not there yet today.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much. Gentlemen, thank you all very much. This hearing is by no means over. Obviously, I have to, out of respect for the people who did come from various other parts of our country, give them some time today before the rest of the committee leaves, but we have just begun discussion on what this Congress needs to do, and we will be calling you back, if not formally to testify, in informal meetings as we begin to craft legislation and future regulations and initiatives.
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 I want to thank you all very much. We will be in touch. Your testimony has been extremely helpful.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN. Thank you.
Mr. BRUNKENHOEFER. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. JOHNSON. Madam Chairwoman, for the record, the carmen are filing an appendix, in addition to the statement of Mr. Johnson, containing miscellaneous data and information.
Ms. MOLINARI. When will you be doing that?
Mr. JOHNSON. We have done so.
Ms. MOLINARI. OK. So all Members can have that distributed by close of business today?
Mr. JOHNSON. Yes.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chairwoman, as this panel leaves, I would also just like to thank them. That's as thorough testimony as I've heard, and not only the oral testimony, but the written testimony, which has given us a lot to study.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Absolutely. Thank you very much.
Let me call the next panel up. We're going to have: Mr. Ed Harper, president and CEO of Association of American Railroads.
Mr. Harper, I believe you're going to be accompanied by Mr. Fran Pursley, vice president, operations support, CSX?
Mr. HARPER. That's correct.
Ms. MOLINARI. Also, Mr. Bill Loftus, president, American Short Line Railroad Association.
I'd also like to ask if Ms. Gerri Hall, executive director, Operation Lifesaver, would also please come to the table. We'll take all your testimony.
For those in the audience who did not get the meeting noticeand I do hope all the members and staff havewe will be reconvening tomorrow morning at 11:30right now our room is 2253at which point in time we'll be hearing from FRA and NTSB. It was our feeling on both sides of the aisle that so many important issues have been raised that need to be addressed to both NTSB and FRA, with the hour getting later and later, we wanted to make sure we had as full participation as possible by the Members.
Frankly, it might be helpful, with all the information overload that we're getting, that we do have some time to think on this so that tomorrow can be as productive as possible.
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So to those of you that are interested, that's tomorrow at 11:30, Rayburn 2253, for FRA and NTSB.
Mr. Harper, please, if you would begin your long-anticipated testimony and defenseand could you please also introduce the people who are with you?
TESTIMONY OF EDWIN L. HARPER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS, ACCOMPANIED BY CHARLES DETTMANN, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, OPERATIONS, RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY, ROBERT W. BLANCHETTE, GENERAL COUNSEL, AND FRANK E. PURSLEY, VICE PRESIDENT, OPERATIONS SUPPORT, CSX TRANSPORTATION; WILLIAM E. LOFTUS, PRESIDENT, THE AMERICAN SHORT LINE RAILROAD ASSOCIATION; AND GERRI L. HALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPERATION LIFESAVER, INC
Mr. HARPER. Yes, I'd be pleased to do so.
I have with me, as you mentioned, Frank Pursley, vice president of operations support at CSX Transportation. He's been in the railroad business for 30 years; also, Mr. Charles Dettmann, executive vice president of the AAR for research, operations, and technology, a railroader for 32 years; and Mr. Bob Blanchette, our counsel, who has been in the railroad industry for some 30 years.
Madam Chairwoman, members of the subcommittee, the American railroad industry appreciates this opportunity to tell the Congress its story on railroad safety.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 We're advised that the subcommittee intends, over the next several weeks, to address a number of safety issues. Accordingly, AAR's formal testimony filed with the committee deals with a wide range of topics in addition to the questions of human factors and highway grade crossings that are the subjects of today's hearings.
The other general categories are: train control, braking, railroad equipment, track, sabotage, and the special concerns that the industry has about passenger services operating over freight railroads.
Obviously, these hearings occur in the aftermath of tragic accidents that occupy our thoughts and command the deep sympathy of every railroader. These events make clear that the safety job is never done.
Indeed, on America's railroads safety has long been and continues to be a top daily priority.
The prominence of safety in the railroad industry must be stressed. It is the reason that the industry compiled impressive safety records in 1992, 1993, 1994, and continued to show improvement in 1995, as documented in my full testimony.
These safety records are systematically collected data subject to FRA audit, not anecdotes.
Because safety and efficiency are such natural allies, the industry has been working on improvements since well before Federal regulation existed.
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Through its interchange rules, its certification and inspection procedures, and its extensive research and testing initiatives, the AAR is proud of its role in this continuing endeavor.
The role of self-regulation and industry standard setting is important, because there's always a strong temptation, when accidents occur to ask what Government can do to impose new regulations or laws on an industry that is already heavily regulated.
Obviously, the first step is to ascertain the facts. This is being done by the appropriate agencies in cooperation with the railroads, themselves.
Until those inquiries are completed, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on those specific accidents; however, it appears no systemic safety problems in rail operations have surfaced. For this reason, there's no factual support for any precipitous action.
If ongoing NTSB, FRA, and railroad investigations do indicate systemic problems, the railroads stand ready to find solutions and to implement them.
In addition, we intend to concentrate on the special challenges created by passenger trains operating over freight lines. We're sensitive to the benefits rail passenger service brings to our Nation, but we also recognize that technology and regulations needed for passenger operations may pose problems different than those required for freight.
Working together, the railroad companies and the men and women who work on the railroads have made considerable headway to eliminate accidents caused by lapses in human performance, the first area of today's hearing.
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Train accident rates attributable to human factors have been reduced by 41 percent since 1981, and 22 percent since 1990.
AAR is particularly proud to be a part of the work/rest task force constituted by industry and labor to probe the difficult issue of employees' hours of service.
Since 1992, a data base has been compiled covering more than 2 million crew starts. All aspects of crew shifts have been evaluated, and a pilot program will soon be launched.
As my testimony notes, this work is in addition to the efforts underway at individual railroads.
Fortunately, Congress has provided for waivers in the hours of service laws to permit pilot projects.
Because this issue is so involved and complex, a quick fix cannot be expected. Given these undertakings, AAR urges Congress not to change existing laws or remit them to regulatory rather than legislative oversight.
AAR maintains that the facts today do not support change.
By contrast, railroad-only initiatives can have only limited effect in reducing needless but tragic deaths and injuries at public highway grade crossings. Grade crossing accidents are the largest single cause of death involving trains. They are almost always cases of driver error, realistically beyond the reach of the railroads.
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In this area, the extent of government involvement will control the trend.
My testimony outlines a four-point program that can result in measurable improvements.
One, the Government should continue and increase the section 130 program.
Two, the Federal Government should establish a national mandate and uniform process for closing unnecessary grade crossings.
Three, the Government should finance a multi-year national grade crossing safety education program such as Operation Lifesaver and the Highways or Dieways program it launched.
Four, the Government should create a national grade crossing warning device problem reporting system that would provide timely and accurate notification for any device failures to the appropriate Government agencies.
In the meanwhile, AAR is working with the FRA on a comprehensive analysis of grade crossing accident data to provide an improved basis for the determination of future research needs and priorities.
And we have with us experts prepared to answer questions about engineer certification, which is directly a railroad company issue.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Harper.
Mr. LOFTUS. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
I represent the small railroads, non-class-ones. My main purpose, of course, is to emphasize that non-class-one, the small railroads, are equally committed to safety as you see from our larger colleagues.
Railroads have achieved fantastic gains in railroad safety, yet the statistics do not really answer the questions raised by the latest series of accidents, both passenger and freight. We obviously need to do more.
We in the short line and the regional railroad side of the industry believe strongly that the quantum leap forward has to come from cooperative efforts rather than more laws and regulations and tougher enforcement tools.
Command and control regulation and enforcement has been the traditional regulatory and adversarial pattern for years, and, while it may have helped to get us where we are today, we do not believe it will take us much farther.
Despite some of the statements we have just heard, together labor and management tackled a terrible alcohol problem beginning in 1979. Of operating employees, 19 percent admitted drinking on the job. That labor/management cooperative program, with regulation, has reduced that to below 1 percent every year the last 3 years.
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Grade crossing and inspection maintenance standards which FRA published last year were written by AAR, Short Line Association, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
Roadway worker safety standards, which we are now implementing, were written by the BMWE, again the signalmen, Shortline Association, and the AAR.
You already heard Ed talk about stress and rest.
I raise these examples in support of the direction FRA has taken in recent years under the leadership of Administrator Molitoris to change the adversarial culture of railroad safety rulemaking.
Her goal has been to change the pattern of confrontation between labor and management on rail safety issues and to open the process to dialog and common action.
FRA also had to change from its traditional pattern of publishing proposed regulations and then letting the warring parties battle among themselves and with FRA staff.
The outcome of those regulatory battles was a set of regulations that pleased no one and perhaps were of limited value.
We hope this committee, in its view of what all the witnesses tell you today and tomorrow, will see the value of cooperative action and do your part in helping support and encourage us to continue it.
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A few things on grade crossing safety. The section 130 program is absolutely essential to what has happened in grade crossing safety and what has yet to happen. That program cut in half the number of accidents, fatalities, and injuries.
To have that program go into a block grant at the States we think would be a very, very serious and regressive mistake.
Whistle bansState and local laws restricting the sounding of locomotive whistles at grade crossings are a detriment to safety. Congress has asked for FRA rulemaking. FRA has a rule on the books, pending final resolution, and we've all testified. They need your support in dealing with a very difficult political process dealing with whistle bans.
Finally, the selection and installation of grade crossing warning systemsin a pending rulemaking, FRA proposes to prohibit railroads from unilaterally selecting and installing highway rail grade crossing warning systems at public highway rail crossings, and to require that railroads furnish State highway authorities with information necessary for State grade crossing planning and prioritization.
We and our member railroads fully support that rule. It solves the Easterwood problem. It takes away from this process. Unfortunately, what the trail lawyers have brought into it, confusion and opposition. And it simply provides a very clear statement that what goes on those crossings in terms of protective devices, warning devices, are, indeed, a State decision, as it should be.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Loftus.
Ms. HALL. Thank you, Chairwoman Molinari, for inviting Operation Lifesaver to appear here at this human factors and grade crossing safety hearing.
I am delighted to be here. I am struck by how strange it is to be on this side of the desk, since I worked for the Senate Commerce Committee for years and was often on the other side of the panel.
In any event, my name is Geri Hall, and I am the new executive director of Operation Lifesaver.
I would like to give you a little background on Operation Lifesaver, where we've gotten to since we were first created as an experimental program in 1972, and some of the initiatives that we have underway, some of the reasons why I hope that we will continue to receive the support of the many partners that we have in trying to eliminate deaths and injuries at highway rail grade crossings and along railroad rights-of-way.
Operation Lifesaver is a nationwide, nonprofit, public information program which is dedicated to eliminating those deaths and injuries. It was begun in 1972 by the State of Idaho and Union Pacific Railroad after the 1971 death statistics on highway road grade crossings reached an all-time high of 1,200 people.
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Over the last years, we have seen vehicle train collisions down, reduced by 30 percent, and related injuries have declined by 27 percent, but regrettably we have an almost steady rate of fatalities at highway rail grade crossings.
In 1986 the national support center for Operation Lifesaver was established in Alexandria, Virginia. We now have 49 State coordinators who are working with some 1,500 presenters to go out to driver's ed classes and elementary schools and school bus driver education opportunities throughout the United States.
We have a lot of people to thank. We work with this Congress. The ISTEA bill has given us support. The Railroad Appropriations give us support. We have a lot of partners. Some of them are at this table. We also work very closely with the American Trucking Associations, the American Automobile Association, and a large number of transit and other railroad and transportation manufacturing groups to continue with our program.
We are almost wholly a matter of human factors and changing human behavior. This is at the real heart of Operational Lifesaver and our programs. And rather than go through anything in my testimony, I'd like to sort of summarize the fact that a vehicle and a train collide somewhere in the United States every 90 minutes, and it's largely due to the human factor element.
Too many people don't believe that there are trains on our tracks any more, after a period of time when the trains were beginning to go into decline when freight was dropping off. I think there are a lot of us who grew up in a time when they didn't expect trains along tracks.
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In the last 10 years alone we've seen a 40 percent increase in freight rail traffic across the United States. Of this increase, 10 percent has occurred in the last year, alone. We have nine million new drivers who are under the age of 19. We have too many drivers who really fail to understand that a train can't stop quickly, and a lot of people are trying to beat the train.
Before the Highways or Dieways PSA campaignthe public service announcement campaignthat we kicked off in Texas was initiated, we did a poll of 400 Texans. Forty-five percent said that they would cross the tracks when the crossing lights were flashing. One-third said it was OK to drive around gates that were down at a crossing. Twenty percent said that it was more acceptable to drive around the gates than it was to run a red light at a highway intersection.
People really obviously don't understand the risk that they're taking when they come to a railroad highway intersection, and that's what it is. It's an intersection. The sheer fact that the impact of a train striking a car or truck is similar to an automobile striking a Coca-Cola can doesn't have any particular impact in the average person's mind.
In any event, the critical importance of our mission was really escalated, I think, by the terrible tragedy in Fox River Grove on October 25th when these students lost their lives in a school bus collision near Chicago.
We have been given, I guess, a tragic opportunity to try to educate people once more. We've been deluged with calls. Suddenly every major newspaper and TV market in the country wanted to talk to us about what the real statistics were.
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We've had literally thousands of post cards and letters from parents and teachers and little children who want to know more about being safe around trains, and we're still trying to catch up with that with our little staff of three people.
We have State coordinators in 49 States who helped organize the task force meetings that took place in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Los Angeles and Chicago, and they've done a splendid job. It's a big task.
I look around at the people who have been at the hearing today. Mr. Kim, you have a wonderful State coordinator in California who's doing everything he can to try to solve the problem in southern California where people are committing suicide on the tracks. I realize that grade crossing is the most important issue here today, but we have a big suicide problem with trespassing on the tracks.
I had a conversation with Representative Bachus last week on what we can do about these issues.
This heightened awareness gives us a wonderful platform for carrying forth with some of the activities we have underway. Physics 101 is a commercial driver's video and training kit which was developed on grade crossing safety with one of our partners, with the American Trucking Association. Today they are helping us send out copies of that training module for commercial drivers to all of their 50 State associations.
The emergency responders of this country are sort of a neglected portion of rail safety. Oftentimes they believe that because they've got a light on the top of their vehicle and they are on the way to help somebody who's in a dire emergency who's in terrible trouble with a heart attack or a car wreck of their own, part of the time they believe thatmany times they believe that the train can stop for them because they have that light on the top of their cab, and it is not true.
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In response to a terrible accident in Catlettand they're really not accidents, they're preventable tragedies. In Catlett, Virginia, we lost two fire fighters in a fire truck that was struck by an Amtrak train, and, as a result of that, we've worked very closely with the Fairfax Fire/Rescue and Police Department. Deputy Chief Ken Jones is here today from Fairfax County, and I wanted to thank him publicly for helping us develop this EMT emergency responders video and module. He's back here somewhere, but I guess he's hiding.
In any event, another man, Robert Wright, who is with the Bowie Volunteer Fire Department and the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, has helped us with this video, as well.
They're all part of our partnership. We have a lot of enforcement people and emergency responders that are working with us.
This is all too close to us. In Richmond we had a train hit an ambulance last Friday morning, and it was turned over. Nobody was injured badly, but it was further evidence that this is a continuing problem.
We also have an agreement with the National School Transportation Association, the National Association for Pupil Transportation, and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services to develop a new video for training school bus operators, and we are going to be moving forward to get that done before the school year starts.
Without further ado, we have a videotape. I don't know whether we have time for it.
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Ms. MOLINARI. I think, if it's OK, what we'll do is we'll wait until the end of the hearing and then show the video, so that those peoplewe can stay, and then the people who have to testify can get on their way.
Ms. HALL. That's just fine.
Highways or Dieways is a monumental, I would say, and hard-hitting campaign that we've opened up in Texas. Texas is our No. 1 problem State. It has half of the track in the United States, and just about half of the fatalities at road grade crossings.
That video has been developed with assistance from the Association of American Railroads, and we are proceeding to try to take that across the country. It's a very expensive prospect, because we're trying to do it right.
At the heart of all that are our volunteers, and we don't want to neglect those people. We have actual human factors research that establishes that it's that face-to-face contact with people who are actually operating the trains who go and talk to the classrooms and the school bus drivers about how much danger they really are in at the crossing.
With that, I will end my remarks. Some day I hope that we can have a hearing on trespassing issues and the railroads. It's an equal problem. For all that we talk about the fact that there are almost 600 deaths at highway rail grade crossings in the United States, we have an escalating number of trespasser fatalities because people just don't realize that railroads are a dangerous private property, and it's not a smart idea to be fishing on the railroad trestle or walking down the tracks.
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A lot of our media are giving us problems in that area because they insist that this is the romanticized, kind of glorious vision of American life. It is not. It's a deadly problem.
Thank you again for having us.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you. Thanks for pointing out some very important issues that slip by most of us during the course of a day.
Many, many, many questions that I'm going to just try and cut short, but obviously, Mr. Harper, you have sat through the testimony of the union representatives. I guess the first question I'd like you to address is a very serious allegation, and Mr. Pursley might want to answer that question also relative to the fact that railfreight rail, in particularare disciplining individuals who bring reports of incidents to the attention of management and middle management.
Mr. HARPER. Well, I think there is no effort, certainly that I'm aware of, to intimidate people in terms of making their reports.
One of the things that railroad management is concerned about is that there be thorough reports, and that every accident be reported.
I think certainly that, as was suggested during the colloquy with the labor panel, that the labor unions are not shy, retiring, and without resources or interest in making sure that the facts and the truth come out.
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They not only have their own informal channels, but there are also formal channels through the FRA to alert the FRA if there are any efforts to intimidate people from responding or reporting true accidents.
I think that, as a matter of fact, that investigations by the GAO, as was cited earlier, do not find any systematic effort to deny people the opportunity to properly report accidents.
There may be mistakes in reporting, but fundamentally the statistics that are the record of the railroad industry are correct, sound, and thoroughly reported.
Mr. PURSLEY. No job on CSX is so important or so urgent that we cannot take the time to do that job safely or perform that work safely. That's our motto in safety on CSX. Safety is everyone's responsibility. It's the rank and file's, it's the middle management's, it's top management's.
Our concern is that if an employee is injured that he feel comfortable to report that injury, and that we get medical attention to that employee.
We are very concerned when an employee is injured and he doesn't feel that he needs medical attention, and he waits a few days and he gets an infection or something from that injury.
So we encourage our employees to report injuries, even if they do not believe they are reportable at the time.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Let me just askand I want to come back to that question, but before my time is up I did want to ask, because it's very pertinentI was just looking to see if Bob Franks was hereto the situation that took place in New Jersey. The engineer was a constituent of mine who apparently had been certified, and yet was found to be deficient in distinguishing colors, and had also embarked on split shift.
While there has been no direct analysis of what caused that, those are some concerns.
So, Mr. Harper, let me ask you two questions, or maybe the gentleman there. What more do we need to do to improve operator certification to make sure that at least something as flagrant as an inability to distinguish between colors is taken care of?
Also, you had mentioned in your testimony that hours of service lawthat you have begun pilot projects. Can you bring us a little bit up to date as to where you are on those pilot projects?
Mr. HARPER. Fine. With respect to engineer certification, I think, as was mentioned before, that is something that is provided for in Federal law that the FRA directly approves the certification programs of the individual railroad companies. The AAR does not have a role in this certification process. So, if I may, I'll refer that question to Mr. Pursley and then we'll come back on hours of service to Mr. Dettmann, who is a member of the work/rest task force that Mr. Keppen, who was on the labor panel, is also a member of.
Page 126 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. Pursley?
Mr. PURSLEY. I can speak to our program at CSX. In the engineer recertification, if an engineer cannot see colors and he takes the test that the physician gives him, we will take that individual to the field, and if he cannot see the various aspects that are displayed in the territory that he works, he is disqualified.
Ms. MOLINARI. Let me just askthat brings me to another question. When you say somebody is disqualified, he's disqualified permanently, or does he get a chance to take the test again?
Mr. PURSLEY. We would allow him to take the test again. The person is disqualified permanently until his condition improves.
Ms. MOLINARI. And what if you have someone who is an engineer and has certain incidents where they haveat what point in time is an engineer just taken off the job because there's been so many incidents that have occurred while he's been in charge? Is there any standard for that?
Mr. PURSLEY. Are you talking about the color blindness?
Ms. MOLINARI. No. In general.
Mr. PURSLEY. In general. Well, what the regulation doesand we at CSX comply with thatis it has specific rules, or what they call ''cardinal rules.'' If an engineer fails to stop at a red signal, as an example, then in a first offense we take that engineer out of service for 30 days. For a second offense within a year, we'll take him out for a year, and then 3 years. So it's a progressive type of discipline.
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Ms. MOLINARI. And, Mr. Harper, is that generally what the industry does?
Mr. HARPER. Yes. I believe there are progressive sanctions if there is a repeated violation, and then eventually the certification for the individual can be revoked, and that's appealable then to the FRA.
Ms. MOLINARI. OK. And what was the date? There was something like 150 days that this engineer had been remanded, suspensions? I guess maybe we'll save this for New Jersey Transit, too, but it was something where there was a significant compilation of days that this engineer had been suspended, and then was obviously allowed back for this fateful accident.
OK. Just one more final question on the hours of service laws, because that's really one of our primary concerns today.
Where are we as an industry? What do we need to do to make sure that this happens?
Mr. DETTMANN. Madam Chairwoman, the work/rest task force has been ongoing for 3 years now. In looking at the 2 million engineer and trainman starts, what we are trying to do is determine the correlation between the 5-day work period ahead when a crew member is involved in an accident or an incident or a rules violation, i.e., tie the actual occurrence of something that's wrong to what the work history has been ahead of that.
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One of the big problems we've had is the data. Our accident/injury work history is so small that we have got to use massive amounts of data to indicate statistically what is really going on.
A year and a half ago we had a series of recommendations to the railroad industry. The initial data said this is what we have found as far as work history that would indicate you need to be more aware of an incidence's chance of happening.
Following that, the only data that we have come up with that has shown us anything is actually confirming what we have found so far.
So we are peeling the layers of the onion back, together with rail labor. The meeting that Bill Keppen talked about in Fort Worth last month is to begin with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe trainmen and locomotive engineers at the Spokane, Washington, terminal. The meeting is going to be April the 19th, where all of the union representatives and the local management people will get together and discuss what the task force has found so far.
As we begin to look back at statistically what's happening, we're trying to get down into the more personal. Why are things happening in the Spokane terminal? It is not something that management is doing alone. It is not something that we in Cleveland or Washington are doing.
We are right now going to the people on the ground that work day in and day out at Spokane. It is from that that we truly expect that a pilot project will be forthcoming for which we will ask for the waiver from FRA.
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Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Wise.
Mr. WISE. Thank you very much. I'm going to basically ask the same questions that were asked of the labor panel.
My first question deals with the MARC accident, the Silver Spring tragedy.
In the MARC accident, the placement of signals has become an issue. My question to you, I guess, Mr. Harper, would be whether you think that the FRA should have rules on the placement of signals and that there should be a warning signal before any stop signal after a station stop.
Mr. HARPER. Well, obviously we can't comment on any specific accident or location, but I think that the
Mr. WISE. Yes, sir, I thinkI'm sure you studied this one. It's a major national story, and it's brought into question several commuter issues, so I would hope that you could comment on it. And if it's a liability question, I'd appreciate it if you'd put that on the record, not that you would be admitting any liability for any of the member railroads, but I've got to know the extent to which liability issues are clouding these hearings.
Mr. HARPER. I think liability is always an issue, and we have, if we may, established a firm policy that it is wrong to speculate with respect to specific accidents because we have professional investigators of the Federal Government, the National Transportation Board, that will unravel this and make sound judgments, informed judgments, on what actually went on in that specific situation. Here we're talking about a passenger situation.
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And if I could clear up one bit of misinformation perhaps that has gained some currency with respect to cab signals and automatic train stopping systems, there has been some discussion that the Nation was blanketed at one time with this type of system, that there was a Federal regulation requiring passenger trains going 79 miles an hour to operate on track with cab signals.
And, in fact, in 1944 about 4.7 percent of the total rail network was covered by such signals.
During the 1950's, it may have increased a little bit5, maybe 8 percent, at the most.
Today we still have 4.7, approximately 5 percent, of the rail network covered by this type of signal. That signal was never in place, however, on the MARC line in the accident that you mentioned.
Mr. WISE. Getting back to my signal questionand I appreciate the informationI'm not asking you to speculate on the cause of this accident. I'm not asking you to speculate whether the signal was operating or not operating. You're right. That's something that the investigators will have to determine. I'm not asking you to speculate on whether the signal was working and therefore the engineer forgot about it after his stop at Kensington and went on.
What I'm asking is whether, as a matter of course, there should be a warning signal in place before a stop signal if there's been a stop intervening between the first signal.
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Mr. HARPER. Mr. Dettmann, would you like to comment on the signaling systems in the railroads, which I think is the thrust of your question, because I think that should be a part of a safety study as to where signals go. I think that's an appropriate part of a study, rather than a speculation on my part.
Mr. DETTMANN. Congressman Wise, the placement of signals is designed for optimum stopping distance, be it passenger or freight, and the types of trains that are operating on that particular track.
Now, as anyone who has run a locomotive, as I have for a short time in my career, you really ought to be expecting that your train will be stopped at various places at various times.
I say that, because of incursions on the railroad, grade crossings, for whatever reason, you must be ready to use the brakes to stop the train. Your train is liable to be stopped anywhere.
Now, the rules explicitly say, ''If you are stopped in between a block on a particular route, then you must proceed prepared to stop before reaching the next signal.'' That's what the rules say.
And the rules are very explicit because if a condition has changed, if a rail has broken, if something else has happened, you don't know in the interim time what has happened, and so the rules are providing for that.
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At the same time, our people are continually going over the same trackage, so the operation is not so much a signal placement issue in the railroad industry, but the rules of what happens when an occurrence arises.
Frank, you may have
Mr. PURSLEY. No, I have nothing to add.
Mr. WISE. I follow. I'm not satisfied yet, because in the case ofin this particular case you had a regular stop, the Kensington stop, and the question is whether there ought to, as a routine matter, be a signal after that stop, a warning signal, before the stop signal on down the track.
But, if I could, let me turn to another area that goes with hours of service.
One of the real concerns about causes of fatigue among railroad workers is unpredictability of schedules. The extra board engineers are often called out to work on 2 hours notice, so that an engineer may not have gotten an adequate rest before beingduring his time off, or before being called out. Perhaps he didn't know he was going to be called out.
What is being done? And would the industry support a requirement to give engineers more advanced notice of when a duty period is about to start?
Page 133 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. DETTMANN. Congressman Wise, this has been an issue for many years in the industry, and our work/rest outfit is looking at focusing on three issues: one is shift length, which is the only one the hours of service addresses; another is shift density, how often an employee works; and the other is shift variability, and that is the issue that has been discussed here about going to work for example at 6 this morning and then going to work at 2 tomorrow afternoon, which is what the FRA's IITR study is looking at.
Our information so far on the 2 million starts is saying that there is no unique variability issue as far as safety is concerned, but there is potentially a combination of those three variables that come into play, which is why we're going after the pilot project in Spokane.
Now, the issue of advanced notice, I would love to sit here and tell you that the railroad industry could forecast 8 hours from now when a train is going to be ready. Unfortunately, with the vagaries of a physical operation, many times that's not the case.
Modern technology has brought in crew calling systems where, instead of crews calling the caller and finding out what the latest information on the board is, there are automatic voice responses that's updated by computers, so that our train and engine service employees can call in and find out when it looks like the train's getting out.
Would I sit here and tell you that's a perfect answer and that's the solution? No. We still have issues about making it more timely as the railroad becomes more time and demand responsive such that we could work toward 8 hours notice.
Page 134 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 We recognize advance notice is an issue. It is being addressed on many properties to try and get the most accurate and timely information to our people so they can plan both their work life and their home life.
Mr. WISE. Mr. Dettmann, justI'll be very brief, Madam Chair. I know what I'd forgotten in my first question. Following up, you had remarked on the signal question about engineers knowing the track, and that is certainly true of an engineer that routinely runs that track. However, it has struck me that seniority is shifting rapidly in this industry, and it's very likely that you're going to have someone who's moved from freight to commuter rail in situations where they may not have driven that track for a number of years, perhaps weeks at a time. Anyway, they're going back and forth.
Does that then call for perhaps more signals, more devices, if you don't have the same people running that road the whole time?
Mr. DETTMANN. Congressman, my experience in the industry is the signaling is not the issue, it's training. I mean, as an employee exercises their seniority from passenger into freight service, or rather than going west out of a city, you choose to exercise your seniority to go south out of a city.
Things change and that's why the companies have requirements that if you haven't been over the railroad in a given period of time, say 180 days, then you take student trips.
Or if you are uncomfortable, you go to the road foreman of engines, who was a locomotive engineer and who has responsiblity, and say, ''I would like to have student trips over the territory.'' There are many ways to address the matter of familiarity of crew members on the track without getting to a signal issue to solve a particular problem.
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Mr. WISE. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Bachus?
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
I want to read an excerpt of a letter I received from a constituent, and he's also a good friend of mine. It says, ''Dear Spencer, in the United States a train and a vehicle collide every 90 minutes.'' I'm sure he got that from Operation Lifesaver. Geri Hall's been going around the United States saying that.
''Preliminary statistics for 1995 also indicate that 174 such crashes occurred in Alabama, resulting in 18 deaths and 66 injuries.'' Nationwide, by the way, that's about 600 deaths every year.
''My 17-year-old daughter, Amelia, and three of her friends, all in the bloom of life, all counselors at YMCA Camp Cosby, were four of these unnecessary fatalities. They were killed last June by a train at a lonely railroad crossing in Alpine. No gates fell across their car's pathway. No flashing lights. No ringing bells.'' You know, when you think of those four young women killed out there, maybe you don't visualize that. You know, there were seven killed at Fox River Grove, and I think we can all visualize that because we all saw that on TV that morning. But this was four here, not too far from where I live.
My wife is here today. Our daughter played with this little girl from the time they were in diapers.
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I say that to saythis is not an indictment. Let me say this from my years of experience. I don't blame the railroads for these injuries and these deaths. I believe that they share the responsibility. And I don't blame this Congress. I don't blame our State and Federal Governments. I don't blame the traveling public. They're allevery accident is different. Some are caused bystupidity on the part of someone in an automobile.
But that doesn't mean that theyeven when that happens, they may bring two or three people with them. There may be a teenager who's trying to beat a train, and with him could be your daughter or your son.
But what I will sayand this is what I want to stress to this panelis that, Ed, you have a proposal here, your recommendations by AAR, that could cut in half these deaths.
I want you to hold up this. Geri, I think you may have brought this. I'm not sure who originated this.
We've spent a lot of time here talking about the 10 percent of trains hitting trains. The red is grade crossing accidents. That is the most preventable part of the chart, too. That is what weand, in fact, this Congress, through the section 130 program, if we had not had the section 130 program and Operation Lifesaver, we would have had twice the fatalities. If the railroads had not spent millions and millions of dollars, we would have twice what we have today.
Page 137 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Although rail freight is up 40 percent, these collisions are down 30 percent.
But I simply want to sayand tell me if I'm wrongto the panel, the Association of American Railroads had proposed the elimination of a number of crossings, the separation of a number of crossingsand I think in Fox River Grove, when you have one major highway running into another major road, sometimes that's the way to gomore education of the public, which worked, and really some responsibility established between the national Government and the State government and local government.
Finally, we have appropriated millions of dollars which have been diverted from this program into highway projects.
I would simply say, How good could we do? I'd like some comment from the rail industry on what we could do to this figure. And how do we do it?
Mr. HARPER. Congressman, you're absolutely correct. Nine out of ten deaths are either grade crossings or trespassers, the kind of suicides that Geri Hall was mentioning. And it is something that we've absolutely got to keep our eye on. We've absolutely got to pursue the section 130 money.
It would be a travesty to let that money disappear into the woodwork, because I think it is probably the most cost-effective safety program the Federal Government has ever had.
Page 138 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 I think when you see the public service announcement that Geri Hall and Operation Lifesaver are promoting around the country, it needs to go everywhere. I think when you see that you'll say, ''Everybody in America has got to see this,'' and that's the kind of thing that's going to make people aware and keep them from racing trains across grade crossings.
This is the fundamental kinds of things that need to be done.
Sometimes there may be an active warning device that falters or fails. Texas has had a pretty good program, a 1800 number, where people can call in. If it isn't working right, call in the government authority, they call the railroads, it gets fixed promptly. That works.
I think those are the key issues.
And one more issue that was brought up earlier today was an issue about responsibility. In fact, it was an issue that Secretary Pena and his task force on grade crossing mentioned yesterday.
John Hartnet, could you bring out that one other chart. This really is what we're talking about in terms of responsibility. I don't know if you all can see that, but basically we're talking about highway intersections and whether the intersection is one highway with another highway or a railroad with a highway.
But down there, the choice between the octagonal sign and the electric signal, that's a governmental choice. But when it comes to a railroad grade crossing, who's in charge here? Who decides what crossing device ought be there?
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It used to be clear. It used to be clear that the State government made that decision. But it is no longer clear who is in charge here.
This was one of the problems that Secretary Pena was pointing out yesterday.
We feel that we ought to make clear that the State government is the one that decides. Just as they decide on highway intersections, they ought to decide what kind of warning devices there are when there's an intersection between a railroad and a highway. It's as simple as that. This is not complex law. It's a simple issue of who's in charge, who makes that decision, who's responsible for that decision. I think that's an important piece of getting at this grade crossing issue.
Mr. BACHUS. I would say this one shorttwo more questions, very shortly. You mentioned the Texas notification plan, and I've drafted legislation which would take that nation-wide at very little expense, but it would reduce fatalities a tremendous amount.
The elimination of grade crossingsI know as a fact, that I have a city in my District where the railroad has been trying to close redundant crossings for 15 years. We've had about 12 deaths, and the railroad has paid out judgments of about $6 million during that period of time, when the railroads have actually offered to close those crossings and to separate it.
What statutory help can we give you in that regard?
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Mr. HARPER. I think one of the things that would be very, very helpful is if there were a mandated Federal process for examining the necessity of grade crossings so people focus on the issue.
It's easy for people to walk away from the issue of grade crossings and say, ''Well, somebody wants the crossing, so let's not bother with it,'' but we need to focus on these unnecessary grade crossings because they are hazardous. We've seen the statistics, we know the facts.
Grade separation is a wonderful thing to be able to do. Four-quadrant gates might be a possibility. There are a number of possibilities. But eliminating the crossings altogether, just a the Federal Government did when it created the high-speed rail passenger line between Washington and New York, that's the secret to high speed: eliminate the grade crossings. There are no grade crossings when you ride the metroliner to New York. There are none. That's the ultimate answer to grade crossing safety.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you.
Mr. HARPER. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr Bachus.
Page 141 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
I am happy to see this panel here, and I regret I was not here for all of your oral testimony, but I had it ahead of time and read it last night on the flight back from Minnesota.
I just want to ask, Mr. Harper: the FRA reported some time ago that the present hours of service rules would allow an employee to work as many as 112 hours a week, and they also found that working 80 to 90 hours is ''not extraordinary.'' Is that a practice within the industry?
Mr. HARPER. Mr. Dettmann is our representative on the hours of service task force, and with his 30 years of experience in the railroad operation perhaps he can give you a more in-depth answer to that question than I can.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Dettmann?
Mr. DETTMANN. Congressman Oberstar, theoretically it's possible, theoretically. I would dare say that there is a minimal
Mr. OBERSTAR. That's not what FRA said. They said this is not extraordinaryworking 80 to 90 hours a week is not extraordinary. Do you challenge that statement?
Mr. DETTMANN. No. I'm suggesting, though, that there are ways that that works in long pools with plenty of time off in between, that there are chances, if you work 12, off 10, work 12, off 10, and continue to do that through the week.
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My experience is not to see that highly prevalent in the railroad industry.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, if they say it's not extraordinary and back it up with documentation, it seems to me that that's burdensome, that that's overwhelming. That should not be allowed.
Mr. DETTMANN. Well, I would suggest the hours of service, Congressman, is a concern of all of us. You weren't here when I was describing the experience that we're having now
Mr. OBERSTAR. No. I have read your testimony, though.
Mr. DETTMANN. One of the difficulties we have is that there are many of our train and engine crew members who choose a lifestyle like that. Because of their seniority, which would allow to go and bid and bump into places like this, there is a choice of working like this.
There are also
Mr. OBERSTAR. Should they be allowed to do that? Should they be allowed to work 80 to 90 hours a week even if they choose it?
Mr. DETTMANN. Our experience so far in the hours of service of the 2 million engineer starts have been as follows: between midnight and 6 a.m. the potential for an incident increases for a train or engineer crew who has been on duty more than 9 hours during that period of time, the potential for an incident increases when an employee has worked five consecutive permissible shifts with an average shift length greater than 10 hours, i.e., more than 50 hours, getting into 60 or 70 hours a week.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Potential increases for what?
Mr. DETTMANN. For an incident, which is an accident, an incident, or a rules violation. That's our definition.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So does your industry then intercede and say that we draw the line at this
Mr. DETTMANN. That is one of the things that we are doing, is we are telling our people, ''You are going into territory where it can happen.'' One of the concerns, Congressman, is we are restricting an individual's seniority and their right to work, which is built into the labor contract between the railroads and the rail unions.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That may well be, but I would not want to have an employee of my company putting himself or herself at risk and my train, my engineer, my equipment, my tracks, the load that I'm carrying at risk just because that person wants to work extra hours and make the extra time.
Mr. DETTMANN. That is one of the issues which underlies the complexity of the work/rest issue.
One other conclusion: more than six consecutive permissible starts in a 7-day period has shown that an incident has a greater chance of happening.
Page 144 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Now, I would submit to you, sir, that this is why labor and management are working together in the work/rest task force, because there are many complex issues underlying this as to the choices that an employee has and the requirement for safety.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, you're doing some research. You've got this joint task force working. We've seen this sort of thing in aviation, and I'm very familiar with it. There is a project I described earlier underway at the Illinois Institute of Technology Research, and they're doing some very interesting studies on crew alertness and finding 20 percent fail when they are subjected to the destructive practice of daytime shift 1 day and nighttime shift a day or 2 later. That kind of disruption of the body rhythm is the kind of thing that places a person at risk.
Within the industry, are you just doing this research, or are you actually making some changes in practice?
Mr. DETTMANN. We have not gotten to the change state yet because we don't know what to change. And I would submit to you that as to the work that FRA is doing at IITRI in Chicago, industry inputs were not considered, nor was labor's considered when it was initially begun. We do not feel, in the railroad industry, that it is as accurate as it could be to emulate the work and rest lifestyle of employees.
Now, having said that, we feel that the research we're doing on variability, on shift length, and on the shift density impact hours of service. Variability can impact circadian rhythms, and density can also, which is your point just brought up about how often you work and that you're going to work 80 or 90 hours.
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Our research over the 2 million engineer starts has not shown any correlation with safety problems between any single one of those, but it appears there may be a correlation when you put all three together, and that's what this pilot project is designed to do with laborto see if we can't get back in and address those issues in a way that labor and management can address the solutions, as well.
We do not have any cookbook solutions at this time.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I understand you have a very different situation than the airline industry, where pilots can fly out and fly back to their original point of issue, and you've often got one-way operations. An engineer puts in his shift, and then winds up at the end of that shift at a remote destination, and you can't quite call that person back.
But maybe it requires hiring some more crew to provide you that flexibility. Have you looked at that?
Mr. DETTMANN. That's one of the issues, Congressman. I would submit to you that in addition to this work/rest effort I mentioned, there are various railroads who have gone to having a 14-hour rest policy.
One of the most interesting, efforts that's underway is in Canada right now, where they are taking their engineers and putting them in explicit time pools. You will only be called in this 10-hour period, and if you don't get called in this 10-hour period then you wait until the next day to go out. That's to provide more regularity in an engineer's time when they go to work.
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The report is due out next month. This is a joint effort of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, the AAR, and Circadian Technologies in Canada. We're all looking forward to it.
Conrail, one of our major carriers in this country, has taken that same philosophy and beginning to do that. Mr. Keppen mentioned that.
So it is not as though we're closing our eyes to the issues or afraid to hire more people.
The issue of safety is underlying because it is much more complex when issues get to labor agreements, restricting of seniority, and things of that nature.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. We'll have another round of questions?
Ms. MOLINARI. Sure. We're here.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Kim, did we ask you if you needed to ask a question?
Mr. KIM. Yes, Madam Chair, I do have a couple of questions. I'm sorry. I had to excuse myself for some emergency out there and I missed really the main part of the presentation, but I did have a chance to read.
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Just a couple of questions.
Based upon previous testimony, I have a feeling thatand I can understand their point of view. They lost engineers and crew and crew membersthere's a lack of cooperation between management and labor, especially the dialog is missing, communication.
They've brought this to your attention many times about the safety issue, and you have sort of ignored it. Those are strong comments that have been made as far as you've been ignoring certain safety defects and mechanical defects and trying to hide it, etc.
Now, today's subject is human error, not the mechanical, which I'll address again next time.
But you mentioned that the operation red block program has been very successful? That's one example of success between you and management and union, eliminating all this alcohol abuse on the job.
Now, why can't management and labor be again cooperative, have close communication when we're talking about public safety issues? Why do you have this kind of gap? What happened since this cooperative program? Has that deteriorated?
That's my first question.
My second question is: obviously by frustration they're asking more Government regulations, more tight control on the safety issue, perhaps even licensing, etc. Do you think we need more Government regulations on this to assure that there would be better safety?
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Those are the two concerns I have.
Mr. HARPER. Let me just comment on the first situation.
There is a great deal of cooperation between labor and management and organized labor and the carriers in this industry, and I think that's been one of the major focal points of the hearing this afternoon, speaking specifically about the work/rest task force. It is a prime example of, I think, a very constructive kind of cooperation.
I think communications on individual railroads are issues of the culture of those particular railroads. There are procedures and processes where, if there are serious safety violations that an employee observes, that he can take proper steps, through his union organization or through reports to the FRA or through the company, to call these problems to the attention of upper management and make progress on solving them.
So there has been important cooperation. There probably is always room for improvement, but important steps were made in the right direction.
With respect to what promotes safety, I think when you look at the record of improved safety in the railroad industry, that I don't think that safety comes from additional micro-management and Government regulations.
When you look at some of the tremendous increasesand I believe they're on the chart over therein term of improved safety on the railroads, it comes from investmentdecisions by management to pour money back into the business in terms of upgrading the maintenance of our track and structures, in terms of investing in better steels, investing in welded rail to reduce the number of derailments that we have in the industry, and other things that the industry takes at its own initiative.
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For example, at one time we had a number of derailments from broken wheels. We saw the problem, we initiated some research, and came up with a solution, which is the heat-treated, curve-plate wheel.
Those are the kinds of things that are really responsible for the quantum leaps, the big improvements in safety in the railroad industry. I would suggest it is those, rather than micro-management and additional regulation, that is going to continue progress in the industry.
Mr. KIM. Madam Chair, can I ask one more question here? I'm going to zero in to Cajon Pass again in California, which a strange accident happened three times, same location, looks like about the same thingsame brake failure. According to previous testimony, it looks like there were some mechanical defects that were noticed, brought to the management's attention, they tried to hide itsomething like that. That's kind of shocking to me.
Obviously, that's not a human error. There's no fatigue involved on this, there's no alcohol involved. Sabotage? No, they ruled that out because it was sort of fabricated by the management, but it was in the newspaper, headline news, as a matter of fact, for several days in my area in California.
Now, having said that, in your opinion, why did this happen again and again, same location? It seemed like another brake failure, all the crew members and the engineers jumped out of the train.
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Can you tell me why this happened twice within a year?
Mr. HARPER. Well, you asked for my opinion. I began being responsible for professional investigation of accidentsnot train accidentsover 20 years ago. One of the things that I have found consistently over that 20-year period is you don't find out why accidents were caused by reading newspapers. What you do is you hire professional investigators, people who are real experts in what's going on, and have them do a conscientious, professional job. That, unfortunately, isn't the next day's headline. It takes time to do that kind of work.
That's why we have a National Transportation Safety Board to investigate those kinds of situations.
And if there is malfeasance or misfeasance with respect to FRA regulations, the FRA has the power to investigate and to bring to the surface any wrongdoing and I'm sure they will do that.
Mr. KIM. Well, my question is how this accident possibly happened twice within a year at the same location, same type of accident. I'd like to hear your opinion. How did that happen?
Mr. HARPER. My opinion will be formed when we get the NTSB's final report.
Page 151 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. KIM. So that is your answer, then.
Mr. HARPER. Yes, sir.
Mr. KIM. Until the investigation is completed, you have no opinion?
Mr. HARPER. That's correct.
Mr. KIM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Is there a Mr. Chairman?
Mr. WISE. No, there is no Mr. Chairman, but, under the agreement of us, Ms. Molinari, she asked me to pass the baton to Mr. Clement.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Harper, in the mid1980's the railroad industry phased out the use of cabooses, and we were told that this would have no adverse safety effects, yet cabooses allowed the application of brakes from the rear of the train, and the one-way end-of-train devices installed by the industry did not. Why didn't the industry install two-way EOTs in the first place, as the Canadian rail industry did?
Mr. HARPER. I think there are three or four reasons for that.
No. 1, the technology took a while to develop on two-way end-of-train devices. I think people weren't sure how well they were going to work.
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No. 2, the Canadian experience, after devices were installed, they did not find extensive use of the two-way end-of-train devices. The device was there, but not used that often.
No. 3, as we came forward in time, there was anticipation, ''Well, what kind of FRA regulation will there be?'' I think there was general agreement that you don't necessarily need two-way end-of-train devices in every specific location, and therefore what would be the exclusions that might come up in the FRA's regulations?
So I think each one of these things was something that slowed down the process.
As we've indicated and as we announced, the railroad industry, the class one members of the AAR, are committed to installing the two-way end-of-train devices well in advance of the legislatively installed mandate deadline.
Mr. CLEMENT. Also, employment in the railroad industry, as you know, has declined by one-third over the past decade, even while train miles have increased. Doesn't this mean longer hours, more fatigue, and more adverse effects on safety?
Mr. HARPER. Not necessarily. I think that for that issue I should refer back to the testimony that Mr. Dettmann has just given about the research on the actual experience with over 2 million crew starts to find out what really is happening and what really are the fatigue issues. We should be addressing those rather than perhaps what might be my preconceptions as to how the system should work.
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Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. Loftus, do short line railroads generally operate the same type of unpredictable schedules as class one railroads that require engineers to show up for work on as little as 2 hours notice?
Mr. LOFTUS. No, we do not, Congressman Clement. Our schedules are moreI would describe them as assigned scheduled work assignments as opposed to pool operations.
As you heard earlier, the large railroads really have a great deal of assigned scheduled operations, also. When you get into a pool, as Mr. Dettmann had described, a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operation, that's where the problem you've been discussing arises.
Some of our larger roads may have pools, but they would be relatively small and would not have the same problems that you're looking at here.
Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. Loftus, in your testimony you say that low-tonnage freight should be exempted from the two-way end-of-train device rule. How do you define ''low tonnage''?
Mr. LOFTUS. That's an issue that we spent the morning with the Federal Railroad Administration discussing at their safety conference, and the answer is we don't have a definite answer yet.
But in applying two-way end-of-train devices, Congress excluded local trains, transfer trains, work trains, trains operating below 30 miles an hour.
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So in the process of applying the requirement now, we, the large railroads, the unions, and FRA, are looking at how you define those without creating a situation of where a very expensive device is being forced on smaller railroads with no true direct safety benefit out of it.
We've raised the issue that low tonnage short-haul trains should be excluded from that, despite whatever grade. FRA has questions about that. Again, we discussed it from various aspects today. We believe that, in the long run, we will be able to have our people, where necessary, participate in two-way end-of-train devices, but, at the same time, where it's no safety benefit, follow the law and have them excluded by the legal exception.
Mr. CLEMENT. Ms. Hall, has Operation Lifesaver worked to get grade-crossing-related questions included in the written examination examinations for drivers' licenses by the States?
Ms. HALL. We're working on that. The States set their own curriculum, basically, for driver's licensing. A couple of years ago, in 1992, we came out with an educational module called, ''Why wait?'' which is specifically designed for the driver's ed class. It includes a videotape and a teacher's manual.
We've done some recent human factors research that told us that young people that are going through driver's ed believe they know just about everything there is to know about driving and they won't read a manual, but they will watch a video, so we've taken that approach.
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Several States have adopted Operation Lifesaver presentations as part of their driver's ed curriculum, and they are actively using this.
Mr. CLEMENT. Ms. Hall, what were Operation Lifesaver's recommendations concerning the 1985 Sycamore, South Carolina, wreck involving low-bed trucks and high-profile crossings?
Ms. HALL. To a very large extent, I think that we're talking about an awareness issue. Oftentimes the people that are driving low-bed trucks are odd-shaped trucks, are not part of the usual truck driving contingency, so we're not going to reach them necessarily through the commercial driver training that is done. There may be somebody that has put together a truckload on a low-boy and they're not regular drivers, so I think that they're part of our broader outreach to the general population.
We need to work cooperatively to identify those crossings, with the help of our State coordinators and folks that are involved in safety out in the States, to identify those crossings that are likely to pose a problem, and to increase the education generally of the population with regard to some of those crossings.
Mr. CLEMENT. Ms. Hall, in the Fox River Grove accident the intersection was not marked with a stop line instructing drivers to stop before the grade crossing. Do you know how common this is? Is any survey underway to identify similar hazardous crossings around the country?
Page 156 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Ms. HALL. The NTSB and the Federal Railroad Administration have agreed that such a survey is in order, and I believe that's underway. There may be someone here at the table that can address that more thoroughly. It's something that we're participating in, but we are not a lead organization.
Mr. WISE. Gentleman from Alabama, in your absence the chairwoman had asked me to pass the baton back and forth. I'm happy to turn it back to you.
Actually then in that case we're ready. This, I believe, completes the first round of questions, if the gentleman had a second round he wanted to undertake.
Mr. BACHUS. All right. I'd rather ask questions than come over there.
Mr. WISE. Fire away then.
Mr. BACHUS. Ms. Hall, would you comment on the Texas 1800 grade crossing number program?
Ms. HALL. Well, this will be scrolling back into my previous incarnation as a Senate staffer, but at the time that I was with the Senate Commerce Committee we believed that was something that should be explored for national use.
There was hope that we could see a model program to expand this 1800 number concept gradually through the United States. There are some legal implications and some questions of how you're going to get that information to the right railroad in time and whether we can track the responses.
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There may be some need for a Good Samaritan kind of clause to protect people who are giving the best information they know how from being brought to suit over a situation where they really maybe misidentified a crossing and nothing was done and there was a subsequent wreck.
There are some issues to be ironed out, but we had hoped that could be accomplished some day.
Mr. BACHUS. Now, it's my understanding that program has lowered the number of deaths and injuries and accidents in Texas.
Ms. HALL. I think it would be hard to say exactly how much was due to that program's operation and how much of it was due to grade crossing improvements and Operation Lifesaver activities that are going on throughout the State.
Mr. BACHUS. Do you think that's an essential part of any grade crossing safety effort?
Ms. HALL. I think it's important that we have means of identifying crossings where there is a problem so that the railroads can take action.
Mr. BACHUS. Is that the way to go, with identifying when there are malfunctions or problems with a crossing?
Page 158 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Ms. HALL. I think it's one of the ways to go. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. OK. Does anybody else on the panel want to comment?
Mr. LOFTUS. I think that it has had some positive benefits in the State of Texas. We've not yet been able to quantify those, to the best of my knowledge, but I think it is a positive step forward and is one more thing that calls people's attention to the grade crossing and the importanceand building their confidence that the signals are operating properly and giving them proper information.
Mr. BACHUS. Do you have any idea of the cost? Have you all done any costing of that initiative?
Mr. LOFTUS. I do not have a cost figure on that.
Ms. HALL. I'd have to get that information for you as best we could estimate it at the time.
Mr. BACHUS. OK. I've looked atin fact, I've prepared some legislation which would give an incentive payment to local communities which eliminate grade crossings. Do you all have any comment on that? Now, this would be those crossings which had traffic. It wouldn't be a short line railroad, Bill, I hate to tell you, that ran across there once every 2 months, but, I mean, on just a line, a spur, like a branch to a factory or something. I'm talking about something that has 30 mile or above traffic and so much frequency.
Page 159 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. LOFTUS. I might say one thing about the short line situation where you do have, in a small town, a lot of our crossings have not made the priority level of the State in order to get automatic warning devices, and so we'll have many crossings with essentially cross bucks, but yet you are in a growing community and it hasn't caught up with you.
So Operation Lifesaver is very, very important to us. Almost all our railroads in every State are active in that.
Closing of crossings is just as difficult in a small town as it is in a neighborhood in a big city, but yet I think your point that you had said earlier, that using section 130 funds as an incentive to persuade towns to close a set of crossings and improve others, I think is right on target and how we have to attack the problem.
You just cannot go down that line of railroad and put a warning gate and flashing lights at every one of them. The public money is not there to do that.
Mr. HARPER. To your point, although there is no industry position on the incentive payment you mentioned, there are some railroads that are offering incentives to communities to close crossings.
Mr. BACHUS. And I think part of that responsibility is the governmental agency, because many of those tracks were there before the roads were there.
Mr. HARPER. True.
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Mr. BACHUS. I'll pass.
Mr. WISE. The gentleman from Minnesota.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Earlier in the day with the railroad brotherhoods I raised the issue of certification, and, as of today, the only craft that is certified by FRA is the locomotive engineer.
What would you think about a certification process with standards set to achieve certification status for the other craftssignalmen, carmen, maintenance-of-way?
Mr. HARPER. I don't feel that safety is automatically enhanced by having the FRA create a particular certification process. I think the individual railroad companies are aware of the skill needs of their employees and provide training programs to match the skills required with the assignments given.
With respect to locomotive engineers, there the requirements for certification are established and it's provided that the FRA will establish the certification program with the individual railroads, and that's the process that has been pursued there.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Why wouldn't it be useful to have a standard by which people hired in these crafts would have to meet a standard and be certified, and a process in which the railroads and Federal Railway Administration and the brotherhoods, themselves, are participating? It's worked very well in aviation.
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Mr. HARPER. Well, it may be that one size does not necessarily fit all situations, and it may be that the range of equipment, the range of practices within the airline industry is a narrower ambit than you'd find in the railroad industry.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I don't think so. You've got far, far more equipment to maintain, far more variations on equipment in the airline industry than you have in the railroad industry.
Mr. LOFTUS. Mr. Oberstar, I'd like to
Mr. OBERSTAR. On the two-way end-of-train device
Mr. LOFTUS. Mr. Oberstar, I'd like to comment on the certification issue.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes.
Mr. LOFTUS. Purely from a small railroad perspective, we generally have employees who are more flexiblelet me say it that wayas opposed to more craft-oriented larger railroads. In that process, they tend to have, perhaps even in the same week or the same day, multiple assignments.
So we don't think of it as much as being certification a being a trained employee. An employee who is properly trained to do multiple functions we think is equally as beneficial as a person trained in a single craft but the only ability to do that particular type of work.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Who should set the standard for that training?
Mr. LOFTUS. Actually, in the process, it turns out to be, in more cases than not, labor and management. We've just gone through roadway worker safetythe AAR, the Short Line Association, maintenance-of-way employees, and Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen. In that process we write regulations which are now pending before FRA, and we're sure they'll be published, in where we established not certification but training, both in terms of initial training, daily training, daily briefingsall the requirements an individual needs to know in not only doing the person's job, but also complying with the fundamental safety rules that are out there that protects that individual as he or she is on the track.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I saw a report of a railroad that says they can put a signalman through a 4-hour course to train that person to perform the function of a maintenance-of-way person. Four hours doesn't give you the experience, doesn't give you the on-the-job acquaintance with the range of circumstances that you're going to find. That's simply not adequate, in my judgment.
Mr. LOFTUS. I'd have to agree with you. If it's a situation where any of our employees on a small railroad is out on that track for whatever reason and sees a broken rail, that employee has to tell a responsible person that rail is broken. That's not an inspection. It's just somebody seeing a very serious accident.
I think if we had perhaps the same report you have, we certainly could comment more on it, but no, I'd agree with you. Four hours training for track inspection is not a rational thing to do.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Somehow you have to come to whether it's industry and labor agreeing on it or industry, labor, and FRA agreeing on it. There has to be some sort of objective standard set up that will be credible.
Railroad crossing signalsvery quickly, Mr. Harper, you said that, in the opinion of the AAR, this is an issue that the States should decide. But not just theyou didn't mean the State highway department alone should decide that, I hope.
Mr. HARPER. Well, the State highway department in conjunction with the localities usually decide.
Mr. OBERSTAR. What about the railroads? Shouldn't they be part of this decision, too?
Mr. HARPER. The railroads, under the system that developed and worked really very well for almost 30 years, the railroads provided information to the State department of transportation. But, as the Secretary of Transportation clearly pointed out in the results of his task force, part of the problem is it is not clear who is in charge, who is responsible for making that final decision about what signals, what warning devices ought to be at that crossing.
Mr. OBERSTAR. How should we get to that point of who should decide, make that clear?
Page 164 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. HARPER. I think it should be clear as to who should decide, and I think that in the case
Mr. OBERSTAR. How do we get there is what I'm asking.
Mr. HARPER. Excuse me?
Mr. OBERSTAR. How do we get there? What kind of a process? Should we conveneshould we ask the Secretary of Transportation to convene a conference, as we did in aviation safety, to bring all the participants in the railroad industry together and the State highway departments and have a conference and come out with some recommendations and then put those into effect?
Mr. HARPER. I'm not sure that that much is required. We're talking about thousands of locations across the country, and those are specific to individual localities and cities and States, and so I don't know
Mr. OBERSTAR. But we're talking about the generic question of who should decide. It's a very important question.
Mr. HARPER. Who should decide I think should be the State government. They're basically responsible for their highway system and road systems, are they not? I think that's still part of the State's rights and powers reserved for the State.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But if the State decides something that doesn't fit with your railroading operations, you're not going to be happy with it if it doesn't make good sense.
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Mr. HARPER. I think we would have to deal with that. The Federal Railroad Administration has some responsibility.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I'll just give you an example. We had a very, very bad situation in the village of ORR in my District right along highway 53 that goes up north to Canada. There's a logging road where logging trucks carry logs off to paper mills and other users. There's a school on the east side of the tracks, the railroad tracks, and then highway 53, and the town is over here.
There were terrible accidents at that site. So I just said, ''Look, nobody is in charge here, so I'm going to be in charge.'' I got all the complaints about it. And I got the railroad and I got the logging companies and I got the State highway department, got the city officials, got everybody together and we had a conference and we figured out what to do and we did it. Nobody has been killed at that site. We've got a good site.
So I'm looking foryou've got to have some standards of how you get to this thing. Not every individual Member of Congress can go around and be a policeman at every site in the country.
Mr. HARPER. I would agree to that.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And in the airline business, when there's a major problem of this nature you get all the players together, sit them down, have a conference, divide the issues up, and work to a solution, and then the industry and the FAA all come to agreement, the airline and labor all come to agreement, and you get solutions. That's how we've dealt with the issue.
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Ms. MOLINARI. I'm afraid, Mr. Harper, I'm going to allow you to answer, and thenwe can have a multitude of hearings on this, Mr. Oberstar, and I appreciate your earnestness to everyone here. It's easy enough to get this group back before us. We still have people from Long Island, from New Jersey, and from Maryland who have spent the day here with us, so I do want to get them on before you leave.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Saved by the bell, Mr. Harper.
Ms. MOLINARI. If I can ask Mr. Harper to answer that question, and then
Mr. HARPER. Briefly, the system is in place now if we would let it work and clear up the confusion created by a case a couple of years ago about who is responsible. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you gentleman and Ms. Hall very, very much. Some Members still have additional questions. I anticipate that you will agree that if their questions are submitted in writing that you will put forth an answer directed to this committee.
As I said, it is clear that within the near future we're going to have to bring you back again as we start to put forth some of our ideas onto paper.
So by no means this is goodbye. This is just farewell.
Page 167 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Ms. MOLINARI. Our next paneland no, we're not paying for your dinnerMr. Thomas Prendergast, president, MTA Long Island Railroad. I believe he is accompanied by Mr. Daniel Foth, executive director, commuter rail, American Public Transit Association. We also have Ms. Shirley DeLibero, executive director, New Jersey Transit; and Secretary David Winstead, Maryland Department of Transportation, accompanied by Mr. John A. Agro, administrator, Mass Transit Administration of Maryland.
First of all, let me thank you all for your patience. As you can ascertain, this is a very serious issue to the members of this committee, as I'm sure it is to the entire Congress and to most Americans, so we do appreciate your waiting around for your participation.
With that, Mr. Prendergast, would you please begin?
TESTIMONY OF THOMAS F. PRENDERGAST, PRESIDENT, MTA LONG ISLAND RAILROAD, ACCOMPANIED BY DANIEL FOTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR-COMMUTER RAIL, AMERICAN PUBLIC TRANSIT ASSOCIATION; SHIRLEY A. DELIBERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW JERSEY TRANSIT, ACCOMPANIED BY ROBERT A. RANDALL, VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER, RAIL OPERATIONS; DAVID WINSTEAD, SECRETARY, MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, ACCOMPANIED BY JOHN A. AGRO, JR., ADMINISTRATOR, MARYLAND MASS TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION
Mr. PRENDERGAST. Thank you.
My name is Thomas Prendergast, and I am president of the MTA Long Island Railroad. I am here today representing the American Public Transit Association's 15 commuter railroad systems located within the United States.
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We appreciate the opportunity to present the views of America's commuter railroads on the issue of rail safety.
This morning our commuter agencies transported about a half million people to work, and, to the best of my knowledge, without significant incident. Later today we expect to take as many home safely, as well.
Ms. MOLINARI. Much later today.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. True. APTA's commuter railroads carry more than 348 million people a year, and we are the fastest-growing segment of public transportation. That is because we go where people live and work these days and because we provide safe, reliable, and high-quality service.
Travel on America's commuter railroads is safe. In fact, the chances of losing your life on a commuter train or Amtrak or less than 1 in 588 million. The death rate for auto travel, regrettably, is five times worse, according to the National Safety Council.
As safe as we are, accidents happen. Oftentimes, in the wake of accidents there is a flurry of activity and a temptation to rush to judgment prior to analyzing all the facts.
Page 169 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 The commuter railroads want to be your full partners in ensuring safety for our customers and our employees. I can tell you, as one who has had to personally tell loved ones that their spouse or family members would not be returning home to them, that safety is of paramount importance to me. I can assure you that all of my colleagues feel the same.
Each commuter railroad devotes a great deal of time and money to system safety. When an accident occurs, we want to know right away what happened, why it happened, and what we can do to prevent it from happening again.
There is risk, however, in reacting to terrible events with haste. In the interest of protecting the public safety, there can be a temptation to mandate safety ahead of the final diagnosis.
We propose, instead, to follow the lead of the National Transportation Safety Board, who we consider to be the world's preeminent safety investigator.
Using NTSB recommendations, we will work alongside with the Federal Railroad and Federal Transit Administrations, as well as others, including labor, to produce solutions to protect the lives of our customers and our passengers.
This leads me to comment on the FRA emergency order number 20, which was recently issued following the Maryland accident.
During the past week, commuter railroads worked together and met with both the FRA and FTA on safety concerns raised by this emergency order. We had a very constructive meeting, and I am pleased to report that the commuter railroads will work closely with the FRA to implement it, while ensuring that the new operating rules do not create unintended consequences for safety, lengthen commuting times excessively, or cause unacceptable service interruption without significant improvements to safety.
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The commuter rail industry has spent the last decade infusing significant amounts of money in the form of billions of dollars into its equipment, facilities, and employee training so as to provide the safest levels of operation.
Depending on the NTSB findings, further technological safety improvements may be warranted. However, in this time of declining support for public transportation investment, now more than ever we need to develop partnerships at both the State and Federal levels to implement such improvements. This is especially true for safety research and development.
For example, New York's MTA, San Francisco's BART, and the Toronto Transit Commission are moving forward with communication-based positive train separation signaling systems. Such a program may provide greatly enhanced levels of safety and deal with some of the human factors issues that have been addressed today, but they are estimated to cost billions of dollars.
In addition, the commuter railroads agreed last month to adopt and maintain passenger car safety standards. We will be working with the FRA and FDA on this important effort, and our goal is to adopt a comprehensive set of passenger safety car standards by the end of the year.
Commuter railroads are always reviewing human factors in train operations to find ways to improve safe methods of operating while maintaining cost-effective service. We invest many dollars into training and other employee education programs.
Page 171 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Recent events have called into question the use of what we call ''swing'' or ''split'' shifts by commuter and freight railroads. Many commuter rail systems use swing shifts. Approximately one-third of the scheduled trains in commuter rail use such shifts.
It might be interesting for the committee to note that the most senior experienced locomotive engineers usually bid to work these shifts because they pay the best. This is due to the overtime and other pay considerations.
Despite the higher pay per individual, such shifts can oftentimes save commuter railroads substantial amounts of money in operating expenses versus hiring additional employees to run morning and afternoon shifts.
Our commuter rail members pledge to work with the FRA on this issue to gather the best information so as to determine what improvements need to be made to reduce the possibility of human error and fatigue incidents.
In the final analysis, the communication-based signal system that the FRA is testing may prove to be the answer to our employee error concerns. APTA supports this research effort and requests that the committee expand it to include test uses on one or two commuter railroads.
APTA supports the DOT and Operation Lifesaver programs to improve grade crossing safety and increased awareness by the public of the dangers of highway rail grade crossings. Many commuter railroads, including mine on Long Island, are actively involved in outreach to local schools and communities to help educate people to the hazards inherent in grade crossing operations.
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In addition, we believe a new approach to highway rail grade crossings should be explored. The current system of divided responsibility among Federal and State highway departments, freight and commuter railroads, and the local municipalities is troubling. We've heard testimony and discussion on that today.
This situation can lead to finger pointing where highway designers are accused of ignoring railroad concerns and vice versa.
Finally on this issue, fine for drive-arounds, people who deliberately ignore the warning devices at grade crossings, are oftentimes minimal, and in some cases as low as $20, yet a locomotive engineer at a railroad, if he or she runs a red signal or violates a device, may lose their job. That disparity needs to change.
The overall approach to many technical and operating advances will require a chance to the traditional approaches to safety. Today's total system safety requires a program that is tailored to meet the needs of our individual systems, which are different.
Of our 15 members, no two are exactly alike. A one-size-fits-all command and control approach by Government will not work well in assessing the what and how of safety rules. We endorse the need to standardize the what, but support the concept of flexibility in carrying out the how.
In the rail transit side, which is non-regulatoryand it's an area that I and Shirley are involved inyou have an excellent safety record without necessarily regulations, but there is a commitment to ensure that there are safe operations.
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Maximum safety is achieved on a performance basis. We think we should go ahead and set the standard, but allow the different commuter railroads to develop the workable means to achieve that standard.
The Federal Transit Administration, in overseeing heavy and light rail transit, has used such an approach. It has provided that transit industry with one of the best overall safety records in transportation.
That's what we mean by partnership with this Congress, the FRA, the FTA, NTSB, our employees, and the freight and commuter railroads together. Together we can and will achieve optimum safety for our customers and employees. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Prendergast.
Ms. DELIBERO. Good afternoon, Madam Chairwoman and members of the subcommittee. I am Shirley DeLibero, the executive director of New Jersey Transit. With me is Bob Randall, who is the vice president and general manager of rail operations.
New Jersey Transit is New Jersey's public transportation corporation. It provides bus, rail, and light rail services to 316,500 passengers daily. It is the Nation's third-largest provider of bus and commuter rail services, operating 589 daily trains on 12 rail lines, and offering more than 13,300 daily trips on 170 bus routes State-wide.
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New Jersey Transit has been chosen by the American Public Transit Association as the best in the Nation.
As you know, a tragic accident occurred recently in New Jersey. At 8:40 a.m. on Friday, February 9, 1996, two New Jersey Transit trains sideswiped at the intersection of the Bergen and Main Lines. Two New Jersey Transit engineers and one passenger were killed in the accident.
The two trains sideswiped at the intersection of track two of the Bergen County Line and track one of the Main Line. Train 1107 was headed westbound from Hoboken to Suffern on Main Line track one and had a clear signal to proceed. Train 1254 was traveling eastbound to Hoboken on Bergen Line track two and had a stop signal. Train 1254 passed the stop signal, and the two trains collided. Train 1254 was traveling at 18 miles per hour at the time of the accident. Train 1107 was traveling 53 miles per hour.
The accident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration, with the full cooperation of New Jersey Transit.
The NTSB's preliminary investigation has revealed that all signals and all equipment, including braking systems, were working as intended. Train dispatch and operations in Hoboken were also found to be working properly. The NTSB also inspected and found no problems with the track.
Page 175 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 At this time the NTSB has completed most of its investigation, and the NTSB must still evaluate the autopsy reports and perform a data analysis of the event recorders. We expect a final report in which the NTSB will determine the probable cause of the accident in approximately 9 to 12 months. Our own analysis will be completed in the very near future.
I want to assure you that New Jersey Transit is a very safe system. We have an excellent safety record. Our overall accident record for January through October 1995, according to the FRA statistics, was 0.79 per million train miles. It's the best ratio for all passenger and freight railroad groups. The group average was 5.9 during that timeframe.
According to the Association of American Railroads and the FRA, we are also the top-ranking railroad in our group for having the least employee on-duty injuries. For calendar year 1995, New Jersey Transit's frequency rate for employee on-duty injuries, including fatalities, was 2.35 injuries for every 200,000 hours worked. The group average was 6.96.
All New Jersey Transit locomotive engineers are certified pursuant to Federal Railroad Administration guidelines. Certification of locomotive engineers became effective on September 17th, 1991. An engineer is certified every 3 years after completing State and Federal motor vehicle license checks and written examinations on operating rules, safety practices, operating practices, equipment inspection practices, train handling practices, physical characteristics, and the Federal safety rules.
In addition, the engineer must pass a medical examination, be observed while operating a train, and demonstrate compliance with rules, safety, and time tables.
Page 176 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 A locomotive engineer can have his or her certification revoked for a number of reasons, including failure to control a locomotive or train in accordance with a signal indication and entering a track segment without proper authority.
New Jersey Transit is one of the safest railroads in the Nation, and we will continue to dedicate ourselves to maintaining the safety of the entire New Jersey Transit system.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much.
Mr. WINSTEAD. Chairman Molinari, Congressmen Wise and Bachus, I'm pleased to be here. My name is David Winstead, and I'm Transportation Secretary for the State of Maryland. I was appointed by Governor Glendening a year ago January.
On my left is John Agro, who's administrator of the Mass Transit Administration, which is one of six modal agencies under the department of transportation, and operates our MARC service, as well as bus service and light rail and subway service in Baltimore.
We are pleased to be here to have this opportunity to present Maryland DOT's views regarding rail safety.
Page 177 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 As you all probably know from recent media coverage of our unfortunate accident, we contract with CSX Transportation to operate our MARC commuter rail systems on both the Camden Line, as well as the Brunswick Line, and with Amtrak to operate our MARC service in the northeast corridor through the State.
MARC serves the entire Baltimore/Washington metroplex, which, in terms of population size and market size, is the fourth largest in the country, providing direct connection with other rail service in the Washington, D.C., area, including our Metro Rail here in Washington under WMATA, Virginia Railway Express, as well as Amtrak.
You should be aware that the regional rail providers, both MARC, VRE, Amtrak, and Metro Rail, continually communicate regarding mutual interests of marketing, scheduling, service, as well as safety issues.
As you know, we recently experienced in February involving a major wreck with both MARC commuter train and the Amtrak train in Silver Spring, Maryland. We continue to convey our heartfelt sympathy to the families and the passengers and crew members that were lost, the 11 lives that were lost.
I can't emphasize enough, however, that has always been and continues to be a top priority. In the 20-year history of our MARC service, we've actually had no train-to-train collision incidents or fatalities before the February 16th incident, so we've had a very excellent safety record over the last 20 years of operation.
Equipment has always complied with Federal safety guidelines, and operators are required to comply with Federal standards in operating the system.
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We continue to assist the NTSB in their investigation in moderating the progress of their investigation, as well as participating on about six subcommittees that are currently underway looking at train operation, equipment, signals, as well as human factors and emergency response.
On February the 20th, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order to enhance passenger rail safety. The order called for a variety of interim measures to be taken pending the NTSB's study and final investigation and report.
Two of these measures involve safety of train operation and were implemented by CSXT within 24 hours of the issuance of the orders, and a third measure involved the inspection of emergency window exits, and MARC is currently working expeditiously to comply with all elements of the Federal order.
At the same time that these regulations were issued and we were engaged in the investigation, we were also reviewing our own, both the safety procedures on our MARC service, as well as equipment, and 5 days after the accident, concurrent with the executive order issuance, we announced some safety enhancement measures, both dealing with our emergency windows, as well as our doors, and a capital investment out of our transportation fund of $5.6 million to support those efforts.
The accident has also raised the issue of cab car/MU operation, and this practice is currently under review by the FRA in concert with the commuter rail industry.
Page 179 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 The USDOT order has also directed all passenger railroad operators to investigate the feasibility of a number of technical enhancements, including cab signaling and automatic train control.
As we move forward, we continue to examine these options and issues, and we are aggressively pursuing both the safety improvements on the windows, as well as retrofitting some of the doors.
While attention may now be on Maryland, issues of this nature are clearly being debated on the national level and before this committee. I believe that our actions taken several weeks ago and our financial commitment to safety enhancement following the accident underscore Maryland's commitment to operating safe commuter rail operations.
I want to recommend that Congress fully consider its role, both financially and legislatively, to ensure safety and efficiency of rail travel. We obviously are seeing dwindling Federal transit funding, and in some senses that frustrates our attempts on the safety end and with our own resources, although we have put a substantial amount of capital operating and annually have about $34 million in operating budget for our MARC service.
When this committee addresses the reauthorization of the highway and transit programs, we urge you to pay careful attention to the provisions of capital funding for commuter rail, as well as the rail transit programs, generally.
The examination of freight and passenger rail compatibility, the review of standards and funding solutions, to the extent that there are changes in the standards, are clearly within the purview and under the Federal responsibility. Acting on these responsibilities we feel is important to the future of commuter rail throughout the country.
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I would mention that our growth over the last 6 years has doubled in terms of passenger. We currently carry 20,000 passenger trips daily.
I would pledge again to our ridersand I think we've done this effectively over the last 3 weeks since the accident, that we continue to provide safe, convenient service which is under increased demand, and will continue to do so. It is our fastest-growing transit service in our department, and we stand behind it as both a safe system and getting safer.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you all very much. I know this has been a difficult time for most of you seated at the table relative to the recent tragedies that have occurred.
Mr. Winstead, let me start with you on a very basic question.
Obviously, any accident is a tragedy that results in death or injury. What seems to compound it in the case of Maryland is the situationreports that have come forth thus far that seem to indicate that the loss of life would have been minimal as a result of the actual impact and, in fact, most of the people that we lost were either burned to death or died through smoke inhalation because of their inability to get out of the train.
Now, I understand you have four out of 40 windows that were emergency exits.
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Mr. WINSTEAD. Right.
Ms. MOLINARI. What are you doing to make the trains under your purview more easily identifiable in terms of exit routes and easier to exit?
Mr. WINSTEAD. Madam Chairwoman, as you know, the equipment we had was to full FRA standards in terms of notices, but we are moving, as I mentioned, with both the commitment of dollars to include emergency windows on all the windows in our equipment, as well as to look for better signage and some retrofitting of the exit doors or the emergency exit apparatus on the doors.
If John Agro would like to comment in terms of specifics
Mr. AGRO. I believe it's very difficult for us to sit here and suggest that one process or another may have made the difference. Obviously, had there been an opportunity to do so, we would have taken that action.
What we have found is that, given the significance of this incident, the accident, where all train members of the crew were killed, there was no opportunity for direction or guidance on the part of that crew.
Given the existence of the significance of an accident where there may be significant disorientation by the individuals, they may be injured, there may be the presence of smoke, there may be the presence of fire, that, notwithstanding the establishment of a regulation that says, ''four emergency windows per passenger car is sufficient,'' we felt that, as a matter of State policy, that it was not, and we are moving forward to retrofit each of our passenger cars so that every window will become an emergency exit window.
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Additionally, we found on our passenger cars that the emergency exit mechanism for the doors on a number of our carson about 60 of our 110 carsare not what we would characterize as being ''passenger friendly.'' That may be an understatement, as Congressman Wise probably found for himself last Friday when he rode our service.
But what we recognize is that that is what was the standard practice in the industry. There are a number of other operating railroads that have similar mechanisms.
But, again, we feel that that mechanism, alone, is not sufficient. It may be sufficient to address incidents where individuals are able to get up and move in a very orderly fashion to exit a car, but clearly in a catastrophic situation there needs to be a mechanism immediately at the door in the vestibule area, and that is what we are committed to dogo back and again, as a matter of State policy, and retrofit each of those cars to ensure that they have easy exit from the vehicle.
Ms. MOLINARI. But right nowGlen, you can correct me if I'm wrongFRA doesn't have any standards established? We have to wait another year for passenger standards to be adopted so that we make sure this doesn't happen in other States until there's an accident.
Ms. DeLibero, just a very quick question for you. As indicated in some of my prior questioning, the engineer of the New Jersey Transit train was a constituent of mine and, of course, once the newspapers started to reveal some of the background, it was a little disturbing thatit raised questions as to how this person got certified, because of the difficulty that this individual had in distinguishing red from green. I understood that there was a light sensitivity, but not a color sensitivity.
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If you could also explain to me overalland when it comes to certification of engineers, I also understand that the majority of suspensions occurred before this individual was officially certified. I don't really quite understand, if there are so many suspensions on a record, how somebody does get certified. Or maybe I just misunderstood the reports.
Ms. DELIBERO. First, let me tell you about the eye incident.
We have two tests that are approved by FRA. All of our tests that we give to our engineers as part of the certification are FRA-approved.
There is a color wheel where he or she has to identify the colorsthe red, the green, the yellowand Mr. DuCurtis passed that well.
There were some minor problems with detecting some other color differentiations. As when you go and have an eye test, you know there is like a number 46, and there are several different colors that intermix with the numbers. He had some problem identifying several of the colors, but it was very minor, still within the realm of passing.
So he could identify signals, he could identify colors.
And FRA is nowthe NTSB is also, in conjunction with FRA, looking at this test, because several of our railroads have the same color test, and they're looking at it to make sure that there was noit hasn't yet been defined. As I said, they're still looking at the probable cause, but that was one of the areas they looked at because that was one of the deficiencies that he had.
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On the other one that you asked, this was over a 13-year period that he had the suspensions, and there were three suspensions that he had, and thenand Bob has it here. In fact, I happen to have the whole thing here. In 1983, he got 30 days for a yard derailment. He created a derailment in the yard. In 1986 he got 45 days, and that was because he passed a stop signal. And then he got 10 days actual suspension for reporting late on duty, and that was in 1987. And then in 1989 he got a 30-day suspension forthis was another stop indication that he missed.
None of these created any accidents. None of them created any material damage to the locomotive.
As a certification goesand I think someone described it earlierthe certification is that if you pass your first stop signal you get 30 days, and then, if it's within a year and you have the second one, then you get a year off. And then the third one you get 5 years off.
So if you look at the time element between each one of these, none of them warranted dismissal, and so he was still capable of getting his certification.
Had this accident, the way it happened, even though he hasn't had an infraction in the past 5 years since his certification, had he survived from this accident, because of the severity of this particular stop signal that he passed, he would have been terminated.
Page 185 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 So it depends on each incident as we look at the probable cause and the discipline that's determined.
Ms. MOLINARI. Let me just ask one more question, if I may. And maybe I'll direct this toward Mr. Prendergast, but clearly you can answer this, too.
An issue that comes up in this instanceand I'm sure it has been a situation actually in all of your caseshas to do with the fatigue that's caused by the lack of overall policy guidelines that have been set on shifts.
Has APTA come up with something in terms of making sure that there is some overall shift policy that
Mr. PRENDERGAST. No, we haven't, although we've listened to a lot of the testimony today in terms of studies with circadian rhythm people. But we have not, in and of itself.
APTA has, on the bus side and on the rail transit side, looked at the issue of fatigue, and it's possible we could use some of that information to see how it applies to the commuter rail network, as well.
Ms. MOLINARI. But are youis there some kind of conformity that you think the industry, in terms of commuter rail, may need?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. In incidents that have occurred in the last 3 years, there have been some cases where the issue of fatigue came up, so it certainly warrants an investigation to determine what effect, if any, it is playing on the performance of the engineer.
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When you have systems that very heavily rely on people complying with rules, the fatigue issue is very much a concern to all of us who operate these systems.
Ms. MOLINARI. Did anybody else want to add on that? Is that something you're looking at?
Mr. RANDALL. Yes. I just wanted to say that New Jersey Transit and the rest of the rail agencies, in the average about 25 percent of the assignments are these split shift assignments, but on New Jersey Transit, 25 percent of our engineers work less than 8 hours a day, 50 percent of the engineers work less than 10 hours a day, and 23 percent of our people work these split shift jobs. Our average engineer works 7.5 hours a day actually running a locomotive. They get a rest in the middle, and basically they run our morning rush and an evening rush.
We have a very good relationship with both our BLE and UTU. We go over assignments monthly. We review what we have. And we work to make any changes that are necessary to make these assignments as palatable as possible.
Ms. MOLINARI. However, doesn't that underscore a problem? I mean, it's great that there's cooperation there, but, again, from reports that came out, it seems that 25 percentand maybe you could verify this for me or notis based on the seniority, that the people who do get first crack at split shifts are people who have been in the system perhaps a little bit longer and may be at a certain point where they can afford it less in terms of their abilities to react.
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Mr. RANDALL. That's true, because the average split shift engineer has 35 years service on our railroad.
Ms. DELIBERO. There's one thing, Madam Chairwoman, that I think, as we look at the split shiftsand I know this was a real issue and I try to explain it as succinctly as I could to the newspapersthis particular DuCurtis' shift, he was on a split shift evening, which meant he came on at 6:58 in the morning and he worked until 12:58, so he was actually on 6 hours.
And then he was off 5 hours, which is called a break. He can do anything he wants on his break. If he chooses to sleep, he can sleep. If he chooses to go to the movies or entertain himself, he can do that.
Then he was back on again in the morning after his 5 hours and he had one more run.
Then he's off from 7 in the morning until 6 at night. That is his sleep time. And there was lots of confusion because everyone kept saying, ''It doesn't look like he had enough time to sleep.'' His time to sleep was in the day between 7 a.m. when he got off his duty until 6 p.m., and that was his sleep time. The other was a break time that we have to give them according to the FRA rules.
But we and the FRA and the NTSB are looking at all the split shifts, all the hours, and to look at the actual time that these engineers spend behind the wheel.
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Ms. MOLINARI. OK. I appreciate that. Again, yes, I think we can all sayand we've been on crazy schedules where we can have an ability to sleep for five or 6 hours, but if it's not our normal five or 6 hours, where we're working until 3 or 4 in the morning and then we have to be back at 10, most of us don't get that good night of sleep because we're not trained to have our bodies fall asleep at that time.
So while there may have been a relevant break, if it does break up your sleep cycle it's probably not going to be as restful. So I think that's something we all have to look at, and I thank the committee for indulging me in my lengthy questions.
Mr. WISE. Thank you.
First let me say to Secretary Winstead and Mr. Agro, I want to thank you and the MARC staff very much. You acted very quickly on our request to ride in the cab car. You expedited it. Everyone was very forthcoming, and I appreciate the spirit in which you did that. And you also educated me considerably.
I guess I just want to comment on the upgrading of the commuter cars. Obviously, it's vital. The two pictures behind you underscore that. There couldn't have been a worse combinationnot only a head-on collision, but the fuel tank apparently on the Amtrak train bursting and causing there to be an inferno in the MARC train.
Page 189 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 But I guess one question I would have is, What does it entail? Those are older cars that you have. My impression, windows are fairly tight. The windows are close together. What will it entail to actually make those exit windows on the car, for instance, that I rode in, which I think was the same as 286 that came to grief.
I would think that's going to be a considerable time and expenditure, won't it?
Mr. AGRO. Those cars actually are of fairly recent vintage.
Mr. WISE. Are they?
Mr. AGRO. Those cars were acquired within the last 10 years, which makes them relatively new by railroad standards.
The retrofit of the windows will not be maybe as difficult as you would think. It will require removing the rubber grouting around the window, as well as the window, itself, and replacing it with the type that is more easily removed.
I've actually had people, both males and females and people of various ages, go out and test our equipment to ensure that those type of window can be removed easily. In every case, we found that it can be.
Now, that's not to say that we will not confer with the Federal Railroad Administration or the National Transportation Safety Board before we go forward, because we will, to see if there are any additional recommendations that they may have about further enhancements to the operation that we have today.
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Mr. WISE. Is there an estimated cost?
Mr. AGRO. Yes. We have estimated the cost to replace the windows at $1.5 million.
Mr. WISE. Total, for the entire system?
Mr. AGRO. Total for the fleet. Yes.
Mr. WISE. And what does a new car cost that would come with each window so equipped?
Mr. AGRO. A brand new commuter rail car is somewhere in the range of $1.6 million today.
Mr. WISE. When you procure those carsand perhaps this is a suitable question for the entire panelwhen you procure those cars, do you set the standards that you want?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. When we procure the carsand we procure cars that are both multiple-unit and electric cars, as well as coaches that are pulled or pushed by diesel locomotiveswe procure those cars with crashworthiness standards that are consistent with what Amtrak has picked up since AAR has gotten out of the business of developing the passenger rail car standards.
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When we have a cab car or an MU car that is at the head-end of a train, we include crashworthiness standards that meet the requirements of a locomotive in terms of what we call ''buff strength'' on the end of the car. So we include those particular crashworthiness standards in the design of the car.
Mr. WISE. Thank you. Because, following the tragedyI forget whereit's my understanding that Amtrak did upgrade its cars, but that's not because there is an FRA standard; is that correct? My concern is thatand I accept the fact that all the cars meet FRA standards; I'm just not sure that those are very stringent standards.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. There is no FRA standard at this time.
Mr. WISE. OK.
Mr. RANDALL. Let me just say that New Jersey Transit, as well, used the Amtrak standards for crashworthiness, and also for the emergency windows. And we use a lot of their spec in ordering our cars so we're consistent with that.
Mr. WISE. So Amtrak right now is setting the highest standard, but that's a voluntary effort by Amtrak, isn't it?
Mr. RANDALL. Right.
Mr. WISE. OK.
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Mr. RANDALL. I think it's from a lot of NTSB recommendations over the years.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. There has been a history of accidents and reviewing the crashworthiness of vehicles for the past 20 years that have gotten us to the levels at which we specify and procure the equipment to those standards. It's not something we take lightly.
And, as a matter of fact, on the issue of emergency exits, the whole issue of how a car can withstand that level of impact and still have windows be able to open is one that we have to take a look at, because the level of energy absorbed in a collision like that is exceptionally high.
Mr. RANDALL. And let's say the industry relies on the NTSB and the findings that we have, because we don't have R&D and we don't have a lot of money to do that, so we don't crash cars to see exactly what' going to happen. We develop this as we go along over the years.
Mr. WISE. Can you ever design, though, a cab car on a push-pull situation that can absorb what a locomotive
Mr. PRENDERGAST. From a crashworthiness standpoint, you never want to design a vehicle to be able to withstand that level. If you did, you would have people suffer injuries from secondary collisions inside the vehicle. They'd be bouncing around.
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What you want with crashworthiness is an ability to make sure that you don't get one car floor override on top of another and then penetrate the car. You don't crush the car or open it up like it did in these accidents, if you can possibly do that. But you definitely want deformation of the car body to occur to absorb energy.
It's a very complex issue when you design a car body to make sure that you can absorb that energy. It's not something that's done very easily.
There has been a lot of discussion about the issue of whether or not you can have push-pull operation and whether you should have cabs at the front end of a train or whether you should have locomotives at the front end of a train.
In these two particular incidents, which happened to be head-on collisions, that's why that particular discussion is being entered into right now.
But if you have a rear-end collision and you have a locomotive into the back end of a train, you have the same type of issue.
So we focus our efforts on designing the car body to meet these crashworthiness standards, and they've been increasing over the years.
Mr. WISE. On the door matter, are the doorswhat I sawin effect, you had to have a quarter, and you had to be able to turn a top piece and a bottom piece to get in there to know then to pull a lever down that would open the door.
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Is thatyou said that's going to be changed. How much dexterity will be required on the new doors? I'm concerned about that. It takes some knowledge and some dexterity to actually handle that, and particularly in a crash situation.
Mr. AGRO. Actually, it's a balance between the amount of flexibility you give someone in terms of access to the emergency release and safeguarding other passengers from someone just inadvertently opening or pulling the cable.
It's not uncommon for passengers to be very anxious, when they arrive at their destination, to want to be the first off of a car. I think in large measure that's why you find the mechanism that you find todayalthough, again, in a worst-case situation it just isn't going to be adequate to allow people to exit the vehicle in a quick manner.
I think there's a balance there. Again, we're going to look towe understand that there are mechanisms that are in operation today on the Amtrak caragain, using them as an examplethat is a pulley, if you will, that is within the immediate vicinity of the exit door, itself.
We also recognize that it will have to meet ADA standards and be accessible by parties with disabilities. We're going to be conscious of all those issues.
Mr. WISE. One closing question. Mr. Agro, am I correct that on the MARC the personnel are actually CSX personnel, and that therefore it's my understanding that they're subject to the scheduling of CSX; is that correct?
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Mr. AGRO. That is correct. The personnel, the operation, itself, the operation of the cars, is contracted with CSX Transportation on the Capital and Metropolitan divisions, and with Amtrak on the northeast corridor within the State.
We do not have any ''operating'' personnel. Our personnel oversee the operation from a schedule adherence standpoint, customer service issues, things of that nature.
Mr. WISE. But in terms of shifts, sleeping time, seniority, all that, that's within the purview of CSX?
Mr. AGRO. That's under the purview of the operating railroad, CSX.
Mr. WISE. And my question for the other two transit authorities is, Do you have your own employees running the trains, or are they also the company whose rails you're running?
Mr. RANDALL. The New Jersey Transit employees are running our trains.
Ms. DELIBERO. Our own employees.
Mr. WISE. So you all set your own seniority rights and all of that?
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Mr. RANDALL. Yes.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. Our own employees, too.
Mr. WISE. Yes, sir. I understand. I appreciate that.
Once again, Mr. Secretary and Mr. Agro, I do want to thank you for the cooperation that you provided our office in this very, very difficult time.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you, Mr. Wise.
Mr. FRANKS. Madam Chair, thank you very much.
Madam Chair, the accident in New Jersey in February horrified us all, without question. It was a human tragedy. But I don't want that accident to eclipse what I think has been an exceptional safety record that New Jersey Transit has built up over its lifetime.
Ms. DeLibero, if you could once again highlight the safety record of this transit system?
Page 197 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Ms. DELIBERO. Right. In 1995, from January to October, those are the numbers that we have from the FRA, New Jersey Transit was 0.79, compared to the rest of the country and the rest of the railroads that are running about 5.62 incidents per million miles.
So our accident record over the past 13 years has been tremendous. And this is the first accident that we have had, and, believe me, we have taken it very, very seriously and to heart.
Mr. FRANKS. Ms. DeLibero, the ''Star Ledger'' of Newark this morning printed a letter to the editor from an engineer on the system. I'm not going to go into the technical elements, because it's more mechanical than it is human in nature, but I would appreciate it if you would submit your response to that letter that makes some very specific suggestions as to how safety procedures might be enhanced along New Jersey Transit's line.
Madam Chair, let me say finally that Ms. DeLibero has provided exemplary leadership for our transit system in New Jersey. Under her leadership, our ridership has been up, on-time performance has increased, service has expanded, and it has all occurred under the auspices of one of the great safety records in this country. It has also happened within an environment where there has not been a far increase in fully 4 years.
So the 11,000 folks that I represent who ride those trains on a daily basis are grateful for the reliable service. We're horrified by what happened, but we are, I think, assured that the agency, as well as the FRA and the NTSB, are taking every precaution to make sure that this type of accident simply never occurs again in our system.
Page 198 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Franks. I can say, as someone who is stunned by these accidents, I am equally as extremely jealous because I represent a community that doesn't have much mass transit in terms of rail service, so I certainly salute your dedication to the people who do make the trains run on time in your District.
Ms. DELIBERO. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Mr. Oberstar?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I appreciate very much your continuing these hearings and the deliberate fashion in which you've proceeded.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. It is very important to explore at length these questions, because they are not going to be answered all at once in one shot in this hearing, but this is an important beginning of what I think will be the most significant hearings in railroad safety in 20 years. No other committee has proceeded in the way that this committee has done on this subject.
Mr. Prendergast, have the commuter railroads reviewed the grade crossings on their rights-of-way with a view to identifying crossings that have the same hazards as those present in the Fox River Grove situation?
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Mr. PRENDERGAST. Subsequent to the NTSB investigation of that incident, a number of recommendations and information was shared with State jurisdictions, basically departments of transportation, telling them to do a survey of all the grade crossings within their State.
I know that the commuter railroads in the New York region have been working with their State departments of transportation in doing those surveys, with a primary focus on grade crossings that have preemptive devices that are tied in with traffic control devices, like the one that occurred in the Fox River Grove incident.
So we are actively involved with it. We're working with the New York State, within the MTA, working with the New York State department of transportation to complete that survey and identify those hazards.
Mr. RANDALL. I want to say that in New Jersey we've done the same thing. We've identified all the crossings. We've already made all our inspections, working very closely with the DOT.
From that, we are going to test every crossing in the State that fits in this area at least once a year, and we'll do it jointly because we have to do it jointly to get the proper readings.
Mr. OBERSTAR. In the previous panel, the Association of American Railroads' president said that the matter of railroad crossing signals is a matter that the State should decide, that the State highway department should decide.
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We had quite some exchange following that about whether railroads should be involved or not.
How is this matter of railroad grade crossings decided with the passenger rail?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. I can tell you in New York State the New York State DOT takes the lead. We prefer that. When you have an issue where you have three different jurisdictional elements competing for what they think is the ultimate safety of that particular crossing, you have to have someone be a person who can decide which is the way to go.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That's one thing, and I appreciate that, and that'sif Mr. Harper's answer had been in the way that had been phrased in the way you did, I think it would have been more credible.
But who participates? If you've got a lead agency, then who else has to participate?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. The railroad has to participate. In New York State there is also a regulatory body, the Public Transportation Safety Board, which some States have and some States do not have. You also have the local jurisdiction, who may have responsibility for traffic control devices in that particular area, whether it be a county or a local municipality.
Page 201 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 For sure, whatever requirements we have from the Federal Railroad Administration with respect to our grade crossing signals, themselves, they would be involved.
But the three basic players are the State department of transportation, the local municipality, and the railroad.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So that in the end, when there is a problem, there is some locus of responsibility.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. Yes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. You can't all say, as the old cowboy movie, ''They went thataway.'' Mr. RANDALL. What happens in the State of New Jersey, if that's a problemif you had a problem with a crossing, generally the local police go to the crossing first. They protect it until I can get signal people there to work on it. We work very closely together with the State, the local municipalities, and the railroad. We're all responsible.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And when corrective action needs to be taken, who initiates? Which agency initiates that corrective action?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. In our case it would depend on where the problem occurred, but if there was a dispute with respect to interpretation, in our case New York State department of transportation would make the call.
Mr. OBERSTAR. OK.
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Ms. DELIBERO. Much the same in New Jersey.
Mr. OBERSTAR. All right.
Mr. WINSTEAD. Congressman, in Maryland we have, under the same department, we have highway, we have the toll bridges and authorities, motor vehicles, and MTA, so essentially our coordination with State Highway Administration on the signal crossings.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That's a good practice of intermodalism. It's good to see that. That's something we are very much in favor of in this committee.
Amtrak responded to NTSB's recommendations by installing emergency windows in every window position in its cars. You said it would cost, Mr. Prendergast, a million and a half dollars to replace all the windows. How long a period of time do you think it would take to do that, and how important do you think that
Mr. PRENDERGAST. That's theirs.
Mr. WINSTEAD. That was actually on the MARC.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That was yours? Sorry about that.
Mr. AGRO. We have estimated 1 year to do the retrofit of the windows, as well as the retrofit of the doors.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. A year to undertake the whole thing?
Mr. AGRO. Yes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And how significant do you think that is to undertake this? In your judgment, is it worth the cost?
Mr. AGRO. Absolutely.
Mr. WINSTEAD. Congressman, I would mention, just to give you a frame of reference on investment, we have a $5.5 billion trust fund over the next 5 years, and of that about $400 million are devoted to capital improvements on our MARC service, so a substantial amount of that moneyso the $1.5 million for the windows and $6 million for the doors are $6 million out of $400 million.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
One final question. Placement of signals is an issue. Earlier in your statement you said you think that DOT should be the coordinating entity for grade crossing issues. How about placement of signals? Should that be an FRA role? Should that be a State department of transportation as a lead agency issue?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. I'll speak for Long Island Railroad and the MTA. As one who has had responsibility for setting policy on signal systems, as well as being responsible for designing and installing signal systems, I feel pretty strongly that that responsibility should rest with the railroad responsible for operating the system.
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The inter-relationship between the operating rules of a railroad and its signal systemand they vary from railroad to railroad. They really do. There may be 15 different commuter railroads and 15 different rule books and 15 different signal systems, all of which are safe.
To state that we're going to have a set standard or regulation as to the placement of signals, in my mind, could cause a great deal of havoc because it may run counter to designing a system that ensure the safe train operation.
I feel pretty strongly it has to be the local railroad involved with designing and installing the signal system.
Mr. RANDALL. Yes. I want to emphasize the same thing. It's physical characteristics of the railroad. We have different blocks, different braking distances.
I know on our railroad it takes us 14 months to train an engineer, and that's really on one division. We have two major divisions, the Newark and the Hoboken, and it would take 2 or 3 months more, just on physical characteristics, to train somebody on that. I agree with Tom Mr. OBERSTAR. A quick questionthe last oneis on whistles. That issue has not been raised, and I wanted to raise it earlier.
I know many of our colleagues on this committee represent urban areas where whistles blowing in the night are a nuisance to the residents. On the other hand, we know very well that there is a very high correlation between whistle blowing and safety at crossings.
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Many local governments, local jurisdictions, pass ordinances to prohibit whistle-blowing at certain hours, certain times, certain places. What do you think? What are your views about bans on whistle-blowing and the usefulness of whistle-blowing?
Mr. FOTH. Mr. Oberstar, Madam Chairwoman, APTA's commuter railroads have no position on what occurred in the switch rail bill. Some of the systems like what occurred. Other systems have a situation where they literally blow the whistle from the time they start the train until the time they arrive in the station 45 miles later.
We prefer, I think, the compromise that may be coming in the Senate Amtrak bill, assuming the Senate Amtrak bill comes forward, where there's more cooperation between the FRA and the local communities to determine the best way to ensure safety and also meet the concerns of the local citizens as far as blowing whistles in the middle of the night, etc.
Mr. RANDALL. But as I think somebody mentioned before, if you get somebody running parallel to you and you want to sound your whistle at the road crossings, even if you can't see somebody, somebody is aware that there is a train coming.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. One of the things I think we have to do as an industry is look at new technology for enhanced levels of protection at grade crossings.
I definitely agree with the decision we should try to eliminate as many grade crossings as possible. If you cannot eliminate them through engineering means, have a better level of enforcement, maybe through four-quadrant gates, maybe through enhanced levels of safety protection.
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But the whistle issue needs to be looked at in the context of all the other safety issues you may have in terms of warning devices at a crossing. If you didn't have gates, you certainly would need to have whistles.
That's the way I think thatwe feel it's a better way to approach it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you.
What I would propose there, Mr. Oberstar, if we have high-speed trains operating at crossings, public crossings where we have no four-quadrant gates, I think we ought to preempt those whistle laws. That may be kind of an extreme measure, because it is, as you said, and all the testimony is it's very effective in getting people off the crossings.
I think what we might do, by doing that, if we preempt these laws that say you can't blow the whistle, maybe we'd get more cooperation from local governments in closing redundant crossings or being part of an effort to enforce traffic laws, as Mr. Prendergast said earlier, when you fine people $20, or, in Alabama, when you remit the fine and cost, which is even a worse message to the public.
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I want to ask you about trespassers. It hasn't been covered, and we're sort of at the end of the hour, but how much of a problem is that and how much cooperation do you get from local law enforcement? And what would you propose we do, if anything?
Ms. DELIBERO. Let me just speak for New Jersey Transit. It is a major problem.
Last year I think we had probably 30 deaths due to trespassing. It's very, very difficult. We've tried everything. I've gone on the air, done public speaking on this, gone to the municipalities. In New Jersey, since we cover the entire State, I have gotten my police chief literally to meet with all the other police chiefs to see if we can really send the message out there to these people about trespassing.
It's interesting. We had a situation about a year ago where kids were playing chicken on the track and one kid didn't quite make it17 years old and got killed. We had gone to the high schools and everything, and I was out there doing a live broadcast with a TV camera talking about this incident and talking about how emphatic people must stay off the railroad, and there were a bunch of teenagers coming up the track.
It's very, very difficult. I wish we knew how we could get our arms around it. It's a very serious situation, but it's one that really needs a lot of attention.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. We try to address it in very high-density areas with fencing the right-of-way, but they still try to come over the fence.
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But what has been mostthe best progress that we've been able to make on the issue is a very extensive outreach program, starting with, believe it or not, first and second graders. We start at that level and try to institute in their mind why it's hazardous for them to be on the tracks.
Mr. RANDALL. I also want to add that, of the fatalities, 60 percent are suicides. We've developed that it's a 30-year-old white male. So we did the same thing, going to the schools, and we find out that's a very, very small amount of people. So we tried to isolate it to where it's happening in the States. Believe it or not, they're in clusters, so we try to get our training people out there and our safety people out there to hit those various areas to say that we've had fatalities in this area and try to make them aware of what's happening out there.
It's very, very, very dangerous.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you. I'll ask one other question.
We discussed earlier the push-pull operation or the cab car operations. As to each agency, do you allis the operator insulated from the passengers? And what measures do you all take to make sure that the passengers don't distract the operators?
Mr. PRENDERGAST. At the Long Island Railroad we operate 756 trains a day. About 80 percent of them are what we call ''multiple unit electric operation,'' so the cab is right part of the front car that people ride in, but it is segregated from the front car with a door that closes.
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We try to keep that door closed as much as possible. There are some times, due to a vent failure of an air conditioning system, where they'll open the car to get ventilation. But the engineer is basically prohibited from talking to anybody on the train while he or she is driving it.
It's something that you have to stay on top of with supervision enforcement, but we have not found a problem wit it.
Mr. RANDALL. Also, we're looking at the same thing. Basically, you have rules that nobody can ride up there with that engineer, but we're getting 30 new cars delivered, and talking to the BLE in developing what we have, we're going to close that area in on the new arrivals.
Ms. DELIBERO. I'd just like to say, as we started the new emergency rule yesterday, I decided to go out and actually ride in a cab car to check out the calling of the signals that is now in effect, and I can tell you the first thing they asked me for was my head-in pass.
So in order to go in there you have to have a head-in pass. Even though I'm the executive director I had to show that, so we try to keep that place as isolated for just the engineers as possible.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you.
Page 210 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 4 Mr. AGRO. As relates to MARC service, again, with the service being operated by both CSX and Amtrak, they adhere to fairly strict rules in terms of individuals not being permitted in the cab car, itself, in the cab section.
It's an area that obviously we are concerned about. We are joining with all the other commuter railroads in looking at the push operation in terms of the characteristics of how we all operate it and whether we should make some modifications in that area.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you. I'd like to say personally that I think that commuter rail is absolutely essential. It's something we cannot do without. Obviously, it environmentally is a great benefit.
I'm amazed that more people don't utilize it. I know people that will get a cab and take an hour to get to BWI on Friday afternoon, and I can get there in 30 minutes and spend $4 and they spend $50.
Mr. WINSTEAD. Well, Congressman, I would mention that if we didn't have the 20,000 trips on MARC dailyand that's doubled in the last 6 yearsthe Capital Beltway that many of you all get to work on would be a lot worse. I can assure you.
Mr. BACHUS. I commend you for the job you do, and I think you all have an excellent safety record.
Mr. WISE. If the gentleman would yield for just a second, I'd just like to follow up on what Secretary Winstead said.
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I know that from the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, that MARC train makes it possible for a lot of people to work here and not to be clogging up also residential space and things like that. They're able to get to a very fine place, West Virginia, and to be able to commute and come in daily to work. So we're very appreciative of MARC in West Virginia.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you. And I'd close by saying that we do understand the importance of your service and are very supportive. That's why, as the chairman said, when we see these accidents we hope that the one thing they don't do is turn people away from commuter rail, which is much safer than other modes.
Ms. MOLINARI. Well, then, I just have to jump in, because, while I don't have MTA and Long Island Railroad in my District, it does serve a valuable purpose, and we in the general New York City metropolitan area are glad that it's there and it does run on time.
Mr. PRENDERGAST. Thank you.
Ms. MOLINARI. Is that it? Well, let me again thank you all very much. This testimony was very important to us. We appreciate your patience.
I know I speak on behalf of the entire committee that we learned a tremendous amount.
Again, we do ask that you also stay available to us as we proceed from here. I'm sure that we'll have the need, if not to bring you here, to at least contact you by phone to get your feedback regarding various proposals that we have going on.
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Ms. MOLINARI. I'd like to ask now, by unanimous consent, that we hold this record open for 30 days so that we can communicate.
Mr. WISE. I have another unanimous consent request.
Ms. MOLINARI. Sure.
Mr. WISE. It may have already been permitted, but I'd ask unanimous consent for Mr. Lipinski's opening statement to be made a part of the record.
[Mr. Lipinski's prepared statement follows:]
Ms. MOLINARI. Thank you. And I do want to thank the audience. You do notice that before we held a hearing of this length we got you new chairs. It seems that the chairs did pass the test, although we'll watch you as you try to get up from those seats.
Thank you all very much. We look forward to working with you in the future on rail safety.
[Whereupon, at 6:39 p.m. the committee was recessed, to reconvene at 11:30 a.m.
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