SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOC
RAILROAD TRACK SAFETY
TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
MARCH 29, 2001
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
DON YOUNG, Alaska, Chairman
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin, Vice-Chair
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
STEPHEN HORN, California
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN L. MICA, Florida
JACK QUINN, New York
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
DOUG BEREUTER, Nebraska
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ROB SIMMONS, Connecticut
MIKE ROGERS, Michigan
SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, West Virginia
MARK STEVEN KIRK, Illinois
HENRY E. BROWN, Jr., South Carolina
TIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
BRIAN D. KERNS, Indiana
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
TODD RUSSELL PLATTS, Pennsylvania
MIKE FERGUSON, New Jersey
SAM GRAVES, Missouri
C.L. (BUTCH) OTTER, Idaho
MARK R. KENNEDY, Minnesota
JOHN ABNEY CULBERSON, Texas
BILL SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
BOB FILNER, California
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCGENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
JUANITA MILLENDER-MCDONALD, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
BRIAN BAIRD, Washington
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
BRAD CARSON, Oklahoma
JIM MATHESON, Utah
MICHAEL M. HONDA, California
RICK LARSEN, Washington
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Subcommittee on Railroads
JACK QUINN, New York, Chairman
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
JOHN L. MICA, Florida
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
ROB SIMMONS, Connecticut
SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, West Virginia
TODD RUSSELL PLATTS, Pennsylvania
MIKE FERGUSON, New Jersey, Vice-Chair
DON YOUNG, Alaska
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
JERROLD NADLER, New York
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
BOB FILNER, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCEARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
RICK LARSEN, Washington
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
Chipkevich, Robert, Director, Office of Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials Investigations, National Transportation Safety Board
Dettmann, Charles E., Executive Vice President, Safety and Operations, Association of American Railroads
Inclima, Richard, Director of Education and Safety, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes
Lindsey, S. Mark, Chief Counsel and Acting Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, accompanied by George A. Gavalla, Associate Administrator for Safety
Pickett, W. Dan, International President, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Clement, Hon. Bob, of Tennessee
Cummings, Hon. Elijah E., of Maryland
Ferguson, Hon. Mike, of New Jersey
Oberstar, Hon. James L., of Minnesota
Rahall, Hon. Nick J., II, of West Virginia
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY WITNESSES
Dettmann, Charles E
Lindsey, S. Mark
Pickett, W. Dan
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Chipkevich, Robert, Director, Office of Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials Investigations, National Transportation Safety Board, Recommendation Reports
Inclima, Richard, Director of Education and Safety, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes:
Accident/Incident Overview January to December, 1998
Accident/Incident Overview January to December, 1999
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Accident/Incident Overview January to December, 2000
Train Accident Rate, January-December, chart
Summary of Accident/Incident Counts, January-December, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, chart
Summary of Accident/Incident Counts, January-December, Norfolk Southern Corporation, chart
Summary of Accident/Incident Counts, January-December, CSX Transportation, chart
Summary of Accident/Incident Counts, January-December, Union Pacific Railroad Company, chart
C&O Maintenance of Way Manpower Pilot, report, Federal Railroad Administration, July 1999
Lindsey, S. Mark, Chief Counsel and Acting Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, report, FY 2001 Technical Training Course Catalog, Safety Improvement and Development Team
Pickett, W. Dan, International President, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, response to questions from Rep. Clement
RAILROAD TRACK SAFETY
Thursday, March 29, 2001
House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Washington, D.C.
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:10 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Jack Quinn [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. QUINN. Good morning, and thanks for your attention this morning and thanks for your participation.
It gives me tremendous pleasure to call to order the first meeting of the Subcommittee on Railroads of the 107th Congress. I want to welcome all of our new and returning subcommittee members who are here. Some will be in and out of the meeting this morning because of other assignments.
I also want to thank our distinguished full committee chairman, Don Young, for separating out rail issues from the previous Grounds Subcommittee. We believe that by reinstituting this Subcommittee on Railroads we are acknowledging the important role that the railroad industry plays in our national transportation system.
We have a full agenda of important rail transportation policy issues and legislation planned for this coming Congress, and I'm extremely eager to get that partnership started with my friend, Bob Clement, who we will hear from in just a few minutes.
This morning's hearing will focus on track safety aspects of railroading. The quality and condition of track and roadbed are literally make or break issues for railroads, both the safety of operations and also economics.
Usually we hear about track conditions only when there is a failure. For example, there was an Amtrak derailment last week in Iowa which, based on current information, at least, may have been track related. One passenger died and a number of others were injured. We want to prevent this kind of occurrence, but we can also learn from accidents how to improve rail safety in the future.
Hopefully, today's hearing will shed some light on the Iowa derailment and we will be able to conclude that it was an isolated incident and not the beginning of any kind of a trend.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Keeping the rail network in a safe and efficient operating condition is vitally important work around the clock. Working on tracks in the open and under all kinds of weather conditions is harsh and unforgiving work. It is a tribute to the railroad's workforce that we have a rail network that, by and large, performs safely and efficiently.
We certainly are interested in improving on the current level of safety in the industry, as we are in any industry, as we work on the pending reauthorization of the Federal Railroad Administration's safety programs this year.
Part of FRA's responsibility is overseeing the inspection and safe condition of tracks and other related structures. In mid-1998, FRA issued new track standards originally mandated by 1992 legislation. We now have about a year-and-a-half of experience under these new standards to examine. That, I hope, will be the major focus of the testimony that we hear this morning at our hearing.
We are also very interested in identifying any deficiencies in current laws and regulations for consideration when we reauthorize FRA later this year.
We have a good cross-section of witnesses this morning, representing labor, management, and Federal agencies, so I think the information we receive will be very, very helpful to the subcommittee and, further, to the full committee.
On an administrative note, I do want to remind everybodythis is probably the good news, ladies and gentlemenwe have to vacate the room by 1:00. Chairman Young has another hearing that will be in here by then. We're going to ask you to keep pretty closely to the five-minute rule, because we have received your full testimony and had a chance to review it.
Finally, before I yield to Mr. Clement, let me just take a minute to say that today is the last Railroad Subcommittee hearing that is going to be staffed by Ms. Alice Tournquist, who is here. She sneaked out of the room, probably because she knew that this was going to happen.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Laughter.]
Mr. QUINN. Alice has served the subcommittee majority professional staff now for six years, since the railroad jurisdiction was transferred to the Transportation Committee at the beginning of the 104th Congress. She has always provided our Members with accurate information and good, sound advice. She was a major contributor to the ICC Termination Act, the 1997 Amtrak reform legislation, the current railroad retirement reform legislation, and numerous hearings on rail safety, economic regulations, rail labor issues, and rail infrastructure programs.
Alice, you will be missed by many. We hate to see you go, but we wish you the very best in all your future endeavors.
I thought it was me. I show up as the chairman, and all of the sudden the staff starts to run out of the rooms and the building.
Mr. QUINN. But she has assured me that, if given the opportunity, she may return.
Thank you, Alice, for all you've done not only for us on the subcommittee but the full committee. We deeply appreciate it.
Mr. QUINN. With that, I'd like to yield to my partner, Mr. Bob Clement.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, very much. I'll just submit my statement as if read.
Mr. QUINN. Without objection.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
This is our first of many hearings that we are going to hold in the 107th Congress, and I am pleased to have such a great chairman as Jack Quinn. Chairman Quinn and I are dear friends, and we've met several times already to discuss and deliberate about rail issues, as well as what hearings we are going to hold in the 107th Congress and what we want to accomplish, so I think you are going to see a lot of activity, a lot of energy, and a lot of focus on rail issues in the 107th Congress.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also want to say that we have one of our panelists here today, Mr. Chipkevich, who I've known in the pastand I want to welcome all the panels here, our various panels. Mr. Chipkevich, Mr. Chairman, was one of my employees at the Tennessee Public Service Commission when I was chairman of the Commission once upon a time in the 1970s. I'm pleased to have him come here. I remember his involvement there, as well as when he left. He was dearly missed because he did such a wonderful job representing the State of Tennessee and rail interests at that particular time.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm looking forward to hearing from the panelists.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Clement.
I yield now to the ranking member of the full committee, Mr. Oberstar, for any opening remarks.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Congratulations on assuming the chairmanship of the subcommittee. I was very touched by your letter yielding the chairmanship of the Steel Caucus because of your commitment to the responsibilities of this subcommittee.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. The Steel Caucus is very important to both of us, but you clearly made it a very high priority, and also a very touching personal note about your family's long involvement with railroading, and your father, particularly. Anyone who so respects a father has my respect.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Railroad safety is the most important issue on which this subcommittee could begin its endeavors. I look on this hearing as only one in what I expect will be a series of hearings including in-depth review of the rail safety issues. We owe it to Amtrak, to those who ride Amtrak, to freight rails, to those who operate the trains, those who maintain the right-of-way, and those who live alongside the rails to do the very best possible job in railroad safety.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Federal Railroad Administration's safety program was due to be authorized in 1998, and I drafted legislation which I hoped would be included in the reauthorization, the Rail Safety Reform Act of 1999, to address the major safety concerns that I saw, that I drew on my experience in aviation and my in-depth review of rail safety issues.
I'd like to take just a few moments to summarize what I see as the key issues in rail safety.
Employee fatiguethe silent killer that works its way into every action that we engage in every mode of transportation, whether a river pilot, maritime vessel pilot, airline pilot, or a locomotive engineer. Vince Lombardi once said, ''Fatigue makes cowards of us all.'' What he meant was that it weakens our ability to be as quick and responsive and alert as we need to be at all times.
I worked the graveyard shift in the iron ore mines many, many summers, and one of those summers I was sampling ore atop the rail car. It was raining. It was about 2:00 a.m. I was tired. I wasn't as quick and sensitive as I needed to be. I stepped on some loose rock and flipped off the top of a 15-foot-high rail car, ore car, and landed right between two railroad ties. A few inches one way or the other, and Republicans would never have had to worry about my seat in Congress.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Had that happened, an autopsy would never have shown fatigue as the cause of accident.
So it is time and again. The hours of service rules that govern railroad workers can only be changed by statute, and have been changed only once since 1907. Congress must act, and we must address the issue of hours of service in the course of these and future hearings.
Employee protectionsrail workers are the first line of defense insuring rail safety. We have to broaden the law to prohibit threats and intimidation or any other action to discourage employees from filing a safety complaint. There is no excuse that when a carman puts a yellow tag on a car that that car doesn't go in the garage. If that happens in aviation, that airplane doesn't fly.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Grade crossing safetysubstantial progress has been made in reducing fatalities on the rail highway grade crossings from 1,000 a year down to less than 500. That's good progress. But in a collision between a train and a car or a truck, the car loses, the truck loses. Everybody loses.
Collisions between motor vehicles and trains are 11 times more likely to result in fatalities than collisions between motor vehicles.
Passenger service safety standardsthe bill I introduced would establish new standards for emergency windows in passenger trains; improvements in signal systems on right-of-ways that are shared by passenger and freight trains; safer fuel tanks on newer version, the newly-delivered locomotives; positive train control in high-priority corridors.
Safety rule-making and enforcementthe rule-making process takes excruciating long time. It is unconscionable to take a decade to develop and issues rules that protect the safety and welfare of rail workers.
The study that I initiated by the inspector general showed that rule-making takes longerwell, last yearin the Department of Transportation when it did when the Administration took office eight years earlier, and that is unconscionable and unacceptable, and we've got to see that that changes.
There has been an improvement in the rate of train accidents on mainline track. It fell by 30 percent, and a good deal of that is due to the RSACthe Rail Safety Advisory Committeeand the safety assurance and compliance program. The collaborative approach has been working. We need to look at that and see how well and how much we can improve it.
Important rules such as the power brake rule that took years to develop and issue are now being delayed by executive order. The power brake rule was developed in response to a 1992 directive by Congress. It still is not final. The Administration has delayed it for an additional 60 days.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is just a thumbnail sketch, Mr. Chairman, of the issues that I consider to be critical and that I hope will be reviewed in greater depth as these hearings go along.
I congratulate you on starting your tenure, Mr. Chairman, by launching into rail safety issues.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. We appreciate your advice and counsel on all these matters as we make our way through this session. Thank you very much.
I'd like to yield to the vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Mr. Ferguson, for any opening statements.
Mr. FERGUSON. I have nothing at this time, but I do have a statement I'd like to submit for the record.
Mr. QUINN. Without objection, so ordered.
Anything from Mr. Cummings in an opening statement, sir?
Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Chairman, I'd will be very brief.
First of all, I do, too, want to congratulate you on your chairmanship. Mr. Chairman, in my five years in the Congress, you have gained a reputation with me and many others on this side of the aisle as being one who believes very strongly in the whole concept of bipartisanship, and I really do appreciate seeing you in the position that you are in, and look forward to working with you.
I also have a statement which I will submit for the record.
Mr. QUINN. Without objection, so ordered.
Thank you for the comments.
Mr. Platts, any opening statement?
Mr. PLATTS. No, thank you.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Baldacci, opening statement this morning?
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BALDACCI. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Just very briefly, I'd like to associate the comments of Mr. Cummings and others that have commended your stellar leadership in this area. I'm looking forward to working together with you.
Also, to the Federal Rail Administration, as a representative in Maine, we are concerned about high-speed rail access in the northeast corridor and bringing that about some time soon during this 21st century as we look forward to that, and the safety issues are very prominent amongst them, and we would like to be able to review those safety issues and do it in as much expedited a process, consideration for safety also being very prominent.
I remembered when Secretary Slater was here and he was telling us that, even though aviation service has been diminished, the trains are coming, the trains are coming. And I don't know if they've left the station or not, but we haven't seen any come yet. So I hope that the Federal Rail Administration does all that it can do to ensure that that, in fact, happens, at least in the northeast corridor.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Baldacci.
I think as we begin the 21st century we've given ourselves a long time to get it done in the next 99 years.
Mr. QUINN. We don't want to give them too much of an out here, though.
Thank you for your kind remarks.
Mr. Simmons, opening remarks?
Mr. SIMMONS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I represent eastern Connecticut and come from the town of Stonington, which hosted the first interstate railroad in America, a connection between Providence and Stonington back in the 1840s, so railroads have been a part of our community for a long time. We have had our share of train wrecks over the years, and railroad safety is critical to us.
The northeastern corridor high-speed system has been constructed over the last several years, and, of the eight ground-level crossings that exist on that right-of-way, six are in my District, five in my home town, so I take a great deal of interest in ground-level crossing safety. We have implemented a recommendation for quad gates at the Westminster crossing, but none of the others have been completed at this point.
I look forward to hearing your testimony, first and foremost, but, secondly, working with you closely to ensure that those crossings are properly gated, not only for the safety of local citizens who live in the community, but also for our traveling passengers and for those men and women who work on the rails, which we all know can be a dangerous undertaking.
I look forward to your testimony and I look forward to working with you on this issue in this Congress.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Simmons.
Ms. Capito, any opening remarks at this point?
Mrs. CAPITO. No, thank you.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
Before we begin with our first panel, I would like to ask unanimous consent that the record remain open from today's hearing for the usual 30 days after the hearing for the submission of additional written material for the record, including responses to follow-up questions from the Members.
Hearing no objection, that is so ordered.
We have basically two panels here this morning. Our first panel consists of: Mr. Mark Lindsey, the chief counsel and acting administrator from the Federal Railroad Administration; and Mr. Robert Chipkevich, the director of railroad, pipeline, and hazardous materials safety from the National Transportation Safety Board. Mr. Gavalla will join Mr. Lindsey for any questions that we have later.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Gentlemen, thank you for your appearance here this morning. We'd like to remind you that your opening remarks can be kept to about five minutes or so. We'll hear from both of you before we entertain questions from the subcommittee.
You may begin.
TESTIMONY OF S. MARK LINDSEY, CHIEF COUNSEL AND ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION, ACCOMPANIED BY GEORGE A. GAVALLA, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR SAFETY; AND ROBERT CHIPKEVICH, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF RAILROAD, PIPELINE, AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS INVESTIGATIONS, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD
Mr. LINDSEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to appear before you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. We are delighted to have the distinguished Subcommittee on Railroads paying attention to the issues about which we care so very deeply.
Accompanying me today is George Gavalla, who is our Associate Administrator for Safety.
Secretary Mineta has emphasized very strongly that safety is our fundamental mission both at FRA and in the Department of Transportation, and he personally takes it very seriously.
As I begin, I want to express our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of Stella Riehl, who was killed in that unfortunate Amtrak derailment to which you referred, Mr. Chairman, and to the other Amtrak passengers who were injured in that accident at Nodaway, Iowa. We work very hard to prevent that kind of thing from occurring, and, thankfully, it is quite rare.
In 2000 not one of the Nation's 495 million rail passengers died in a train accident. From the end of 1997 through the end of 2000, there were no fatalities based on rail operations alone, among the 1.4 billion railroad passengers in our country. In that same period, however, 13 people died in two fatal train accidents at grade crossings that were gated but at which trucks had, nevertheless, gotten in the way of a rapidly-moving train at the last possible instant.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Overall, our Nation's railroads are very safe. In 2000 we had the lowest number of fatalities on record associated with railroad operationsthat's 928. Among those, the number of employee fatalities, 24, was also the lowest on record. We are very pleased with both of those. The employee fatality number represents a 35-percent decline over the last four years, and that is very much the kind of result for which we strive day in and day out.
At the same time that fatalities were dropping, railroad traffic was rising significantly, to the highest level in the last 25 years.
Approximately 95 percent, or 880, of those 928 fatalities occurred either in grade crossing wrecks or as a result of trespassers on the railroad right-of-way being killed. Trespasser fatalities and grade crossing accidents together did reach a new low, but 880 is far more than we would like to see. And we keep looking for ways to keep people out of harm's way; to find ways of getting inside the head of the driver or the potential trespasser to persuade people that driving around down crossing gates is an extremely bad idea, or that railroad bridges are not a good place from which to fish, is proving to be a very hard sell.
Unfortunately, fatalities from grade crossing wrecks went up slightly last year, from 404 the prior year to 414. We are working hard to make sure that that is an aberration and this next year that the numbers will drop.
I think these very encouraging overall statistics are substantially attributable to the combination of collaboratively working together with rail management and rail labor and our firm enforcement in places where collaboration hasn't proven to do quite enough.
In our regulatory program, we collaborate through the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, which is comprised of stakeholders from across the industry. That has caused rulemaking to take a little bit longer than it otherwise might, but the additional time is well worth the investment, we think, because of the improvement that is going forward in our rulesand we can discuss those later.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Also, by tapping the talents and the manpower of rail management and rail labor in a collaborative manner through the Safety Assurance and Compliance Program, we are multiplying our forces collaboratively in the enforcement area, and at times reaching things that we do not yet regulate. We're finding that in SACP programs, which is what we call these for short, that when labor and management and FRA work together and develop a systemic program, even if it has not been touched by a regulation, we get the problem solved, and that's helping a very great deal.
In that context, let's look then at track safety specifically. In general, the track on major freight and passenger routes is excellent, well in excess of minimum safety standards.
The chart before you over here plots on the solid line track-caused accidents for the last 25 years, most of the time that we have regulated track safety. The broken line shows traffic on Class I railroads in ton-miles so that you can see that, over the time that we have regulated track safety, accidents have declined very sharply in the face of rising traffic. That also means that the rate of accidents has gone down even more sharply than has their raw number. Track safety is, indeed, very good.
For 2000 the rate of track-caused accidents per million train-miles is 1.39. To help put that in context, if you were taking a train back and forth across the United States in continuous round trips, you could cross the contiguous United States roughly 100 times before having a reportable track-caused accident, and statistically that accident would most likely be a relative fender bender very close to our threshold in reportable damage of $6,600. The state of the Nation's railroads is pretty good.
On mainline track it is even better in that either you, Mr. Chairman, or Mr. Oberstar, I think, referred to a rate of .54 accidents per million train-miles on mainline track.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Unfortunately, track-caused accidents in yards are up over the last couple of years. Yard derailments generally occur at much lower speeds, often five or ten miles per hour, and involve a much lower probability of injury to people or release of hazardous materials. However, deteriorating conditions in yards can often presage other problems elsewhere on the railroad, so we want both to keep them down for their own sake and to watch them carefully for what they tell us about what else is going on.
At FRA we try to deploy our scarce resources to minimize the safety risks across the rail system. In track, that means focusing principally on mainline track that carries passengers, that carries high volumes of hazardous materials, and that carries the heaviest tonnages of freight, and we try to do that so that our resources will be skewed toward those mainlines and less toward the yards.
FRA's Track Safety Standards, which we enforce, prescribe minimum standards for track structure and geometry, as well as requirements for visual inspection of tracks and for mechanized internal rail flaw detection. The standards vary by allowable train speeds. The railroad determines how fast it wishes to travel over a line and sets that in timetable speeds. It is then obligated by law to maintain its tracks to the standards required by the regulation in order to operate at those speeds. The standards prescribe not only physically what the track has to be like, but how often and in what manner the railroad must then inspect those tracks.
We then come behind the railroad and monitor how it is doing. We check the railroad's records of its inspections. We go out and look at the tracks to see what the condition of the rails really is.
The Track Safety Standards were most recently revised in June of 1998, based on consensus recommendations from the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee. Stakeholders across the railroad industry who are knowledgeable about track contributed to that rule, including railroad management and railroad labor.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Highlights that were added to the track standards at that time included a new subpart dealing with high-speed rail, covering speeds from 90 to 200 miles per hour, and new requirements that railroads implement written instructions for the installation and handling of continuous welded rail that took into account the latest research in continuous welded rail and its handling.
We extended prior requirements for internal rail flaw detection to assure that all track at Class 3 and above is covered by those requirements and added an additional factor based on tonnage to determine how frequently those examinations must be done.
We permitted railroads to begin to handle their records electronically, and then we revised the excepted track standard to add a gauge requirement, stiffening up the requirements for excepted track.
Mr. QUINN. Excuse me, Mr. Lindsey. If you don't mind, that bell meant that Members will have to leave for a vote shortly. If I could interrupt youbecause we have your statementI'd like to give Mr. Chipkevich his five minutes now, and when we return then we can deal with the questions that we have.
Is that okay?
Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Chipkevich?
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, members of the committee.
Mr. Clement, I appreciate the kind words.
It is a pleasure to represent the National Transportation Safety Board before you today on the subject of railroad track safety.
In 1999, the railroad industry transported more than $35 billion in freight and more than 1.43 trillion revenue ton miles. These figures raise each year and places greater demand on track performance. Railroad cars weighing over 150 tons are now common on our railroads. The increase in traffic, however, brings an increase in accidents.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC According to data published by the FRA, in 1996 there were 2,443 train accidents with 905 of those track related. In 1999, there were 2,768 train accidents with 995 of those accidents track related.
It was fortunate that the number of fatalities in that period related to this issue dropped from 26 in 1996 to nine in 1999. With the continuing increase in railroad traffic, however, the railroad industry must remain vigilant.
NTSB has been investigating railroad accidents since 1967, and, as a result of those investigations, has issued 1,930 safety recommendations, including 131 related to railroad track, itself.
Some on going Safety Board investigations in which track is an issue of concern include Arlington, Texas, involving an Amtrak train derailment.
Issues being looked at include procedures for maintaining track with known stability problems, procedures for responding to train crews' reports of track problems, and procedures for changing track classification.
Carbondale, Kansas, another Amtrak train derailment, traveling from Chicago to Los Angelesissues include the quality control and oversight of ultrasonic testing of rail and the quality of rail used in that particular section of track.
Eunice, Louisianathis accident involved a train derailment with significant hazardous materials on board, cost exceeding $35 million. Issues include inspection of jointed track and oversight of the track inspections.
The most recent accident we are investigating in which track is involved occurred on March 17, 2001, near Nodaway, Iowa. At approximately 11:40 p.m., an Amtrak train en route from Chicago to Oakland, California, derailed. At the time of the derailment, the train was operating at a speed of about 52 miles per hour. The train was carrying 241 passengers and a crew of 15 at the time of the accident, which resulted in one passenger fatality and over 90 injuries. The track was owned, inspected, maintained, and operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The track had a maximum allowable operating speed of 60 miles per hour for freight trains and 79 miles per hour for passenger trains.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The rail through this accident site was continuous welded rail, except for a jointed section at the point of derailment. At the point of derailment, a 14-foot-11.5-inch rail plug was installed to repair a fracture that had been detected by ultrasonic inspection on February 13th. According to the BNSF, because that track carries high tonnage and passenger service, for the past 14 years the track was inspected daily and ultrasonic rail testing was conducted on that particular track in the rail every month or every 30 days.
The replacement rail at this location was not inspector tested for internal defectsthere was no ultrasonic inspectionbut was visually inspected for excessive wear and surface damage. Rail from this accident site is being brought to our laboratory in Washington, where we will do a close examination of it, and we certainly offer the opportunity for committee members or staff to come and see that rail.
Mr. Chairman, in July of 1997 the FRA published a notice of proposed rulemaking to revise track safety standards. The FRA incorporated many of the Safety Board's concerns in the final rule, which became effective in September of 1998. Some improvements in track safety standards, as a result of the rule, include gauge restraint measurement systems, accepted track regulations, continuous welded rail improvements, flattened rail, rail conditions that prevent ultrasonic inspection, and visual inspections.
We were disappointed that the final rule did not mandate the use of advanced track inspection technology such as track geometry cars, which we believe could be helpful with the inspection. Data identified by a track geometry car would enable a track inspector to more effectively identify track anomalies, monitor those track segments that are bordering on potential defects, and monitor the results of track work that has been performed.
Following the Eunice, Louisiana, derailment, the Union Pacific advised the Safety Board staff the track at that scene had been inspected daily; however, a post-accident inspection by Safety Board investigation team revealed numerous track defects, including 403 cracked and broken splice bars. In addition, numerous tie defects were also observed on the track, so that the track speed had to be reduced from 40 miles per hour to ten miles per hour.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The most strenuous track safety standards will not increase safety if corrective action is not taken when defects are noted. The FRA data shows that in 1999 there were 51,918 inspections performed, with 183,863 defects reported. We would like to be sure that remedial action is taken that is appropriate on the recorded defects.
Mr. Chairman, that completes my statement. I would be happy to respond to your questions whenever appropriate.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you both for your opening statements.
We are told we only have one vote, so by the time the Members get over there and back we'll probably be ready to resume in about 20 minutes.
We stand adjourned.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Clement is either on his way or doesn't like us any more. I'm certain it's not the second one.
We're going to begin. Mr. Larsen and, of course, Mr. Ferguson are both here. The three of us have a couple of questions for this panel, and we do want the move along.
If Mr. Clement does return and has further questions, I'm sure the witnesses would entertain answering anything in writing or getting back to him over the telephone, I'm certain.
I'm going to yield to Mr. Ferguson, who has a time constraint of his own, for the first question for this first panel.
Let me say before he can begin, Mr. Lindsey, I sort of cut you off a little bit there so that we could get our second witness. Were you okay with that? Do you have anything to add right now?
Mr. LINDSEY. No, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Okay. Mr. Ferguson?
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. FERGUSON. I want to thank the chairman for his leadership and his concern about rail safety. He really has proven to be a tremendous chairman. I'm delighted to be here to be able to serve with him.
I want to thank members of the panel for testifying today.
I represent the Seventh District in New Jersey. In our District we have more rail lines than any other District in our State. You think about New Jersey and you think it is a small State, but we have 13 Congressional Districts. And it is not only passenger rail; we have a lot of cargo and freight rail that come through our District. We are kind of a hub in the north-central part of the State where we have kind of a nexus of a lot of people and the ports of Port Elizabeth, Port Newark. We have Newark Airport. We have a lot of people and a lot of freight and a lot of cargo that needs to get around the State and around our entire region, so certainly rail safety is something that is very, very important to me and to my constituents and to all of us certainly here on the panel, and I appreciate the work that you are doing to try and ensure that we continue to keep our rail lines as safe as possible, not only for those who are riding our trains, but particularly for those people who live near our rail lines, the crossings, and certainly the folks who live in the communities that I believe these rail lines help to make better. We need to make sure we make them better all the way around, so I appreciate the work that you have been doing.
I just had one quick question for Mr. Lindsey.
In your written testimony, Mr. Lindsey, you discuss bridge structural integrity problems encountered on some small railroads. Is there a national trend on railroads, generally, as we know there is in our highways, of aging bridges that will eventually have to be replaced at a very high cost?
Mr. LINDSEY. I wouldn't characterize it as a problem at this point, Mr. Ferguson, but it is certainly something that railroads have to watch.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC By and large, railroad bridges were over-built initially for extremely heavy steam locomotives, and so they are very robust structures, for the most part.
On some lines, however, particularly shortlines, the bridges were built for somewhat lighter equipment, and they are now having a problem with newer, heavier rail cars coming onto their lines, and quite a few shortlines will end up having to strengthen those bridge structures for them to remain in service. I think that is the principal place where we've really got an issue.
Mr. FERGUSON. Thanks very much. I appreciate your being here today. I thank all the gentlemen.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LINDSEY. Thank you, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Ferguson.
Mr. Lindsey, I want to go back to something that you mentioned, and I'm going to paraphrase. I think you said that the railroads do some of this work, and I want to talk about this Iowa mishap with Amtrak, not to dwell on that this morning but I guess since it is most recent to use it as an example.
You mentioned that you sort of monitor the railroads, follow behind them. Let me ask you, and then we may need some follow-up from Mr. Chipkevich. In the Iowa accident with Amtrak, when was that track inspected previous to the accident? Do you know?
Mr. LINDSEY. I believe it had been visually inspected the day prior.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. LINDSEY. I'll check that, but my recollection is that BN was doing visual inspection daily on that line.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LINDSEY. And then automated inspection every 30 days. I think this accident occurred on the 29th day of that 30-day cycle of automated inspection.
Mr. QUINN. Yes. And the 30-day, is that a voluntary number or is that a number we impose on them?
Mr. LINDSEY. It's a little bit of each, sir, in that we require internal rail flaw inspection automatically of all track above Class 3. BN was doing it more frequently than the regulations would require. What they told us was that, because of the winter and the high tonnage on that line, they chose to do it more frequently than we required.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. Chipkevich, anything to add to those questions, please?
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. No, sir. We were advised that they were doing internal inspections about every 30 days. Given the tonnage on that track, internal inspections would have been required much less frequently than that.
Mr. QUINN. Okay. Thanks very much.
Mr. Larsen, question?
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for putting this hearing on. We appreciate that very much. My District in Washington State runs from Everett, at the north Canadian border, and rail plays a very important part in moving freight and goods and helps our economy there.
I do have some questions that I would like to ask initially for Mr. Lindsey, and these questions are really looking at the performance of FRA and some regulations.
The NTSB data indicate that the FRA is not responding to recommendations perhaps as readily as some would like. Can you walk through perhaps why this might be the case, why it might be the perception, and what you might be doing to improve the agency's performance in responding to recommendations?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LINDSEY. Well, I'll take a stab, and then, I think, ask Mr. Gavalla to supplement. He's a little bit closer to that than I.
At the moment, I think we do have more open unacceptable recommendations than some of our colleagues, reflective mainly of two thingsthe NTSB has told us that they badly want us to complete a rulemaking on event recorders, and we have not done so yet. That proceeding is ongoing through the RSAC, and recently I think the NTSB changed a number of its recommendations from ''open- acceptable'' to ''open-unacceptable'' based on that rulemaking not having been completed. I've forgotten how many of those recommendations there were, but there were several.
There is one other area that is somewhat similar, and that is eluding me at the moment.
George, can you supply that?
Mr. GAVALLA. Certainly event recorders was one area, and steam locomotives was another area where we had ''open-acceptable'' and were reversed to ''open-unacceptable.''
For us it is a matter of priorities. We have a limited staff, and we have many things that are important priorities.
Let me give you an example with the event recorders. That would be the responsibility of our mechanical staff, the same people who were working to complete the first-ever passenger equipment safety standards and, at the same time, simultaneously trying to come up with the power brake regulations.
We were trying to do everything at once and weren't getting anywhere, so we decided to prioritize. We came up with the passenger equipment safety standards first and then we worked on power brake, and we informed the Board of our timetable for completing the event recorders.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC However, in the interim the Board decided that they felt it appropriate to reverse essentially seven acceptable ratings to seven unacceptable, and that's out of a total of 20. A similar thing happened on the locomotive inspection requirements, which we did come out with a recent rule, but apparently the Board was not happy with a few of the steam locomotive findings.
Mr. LARSEN. Mr. Chairman, a few more questions?
Mr. QUINN. Go right ahead.
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you.
Which of the FRA's recently-completed safety rule-makings have been affected by the current Administration's rule-making moratorium? And do you expect that any of those rules will eventually be issued? If not, which are the ones that are at risk of being withdrawn?
Mr. LINDSEY. Well, let's see. The power brake rule had its effective date extended for 60 days. That rule had been published, and its effective date was extended.
We issued a rule on wide-gage detection. Its effective date has also been extended by 60 days.
We've had a number of rulemakings in the pipeline that are, of course, now awaiting decision by a new Administration on what to do with those rulemakings. And, of course, right now there are comparatively few appointees in the Department to contemplate those and to form policy for the new Administration. So I think it may be a little while until there is an opportunity for the new Administration to consider them.
Mr. LARSEN. And a question for Mr. Chipkevich. In your testimony you addressed many of the Board's concerns, but that there remain up to 61 outstanding open recommendations. Could you identify the ones that you believe are most important and why?
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CHIPKEVICH. Yes, sir.
Some of the most important open recommendations involve positive train separation and positive train control, which have been on the NTSB's most-wanted list for several years now, as well as safety recommendations in the area of addressing fatigue issues.
We will provide the committee with a list of all open safety recommendations.
Mr. LARSEN. Could you do that? Thank you.
Mr. QUINN. We would appreciate that list, Mr. Chipkevich.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Lindsey, what is FRA doing to prevent derailments? And how many inspectors does FRA employ and what training do they have?
Mr. LINDSEY. We have 53 track inspectors, sir, and 11 track specialists who assist them, together with a group of experts in headquarters. The bulk of these people have in prior experience been track inspectors on railroads or supervisors of track on railroads. Some of them have been trained by FRA from the very beginning.
Mr. Gavalla can probably tell you in more detail what their training comprises.
Mr. CLEMENT. That would be fine.
Mr. LINDSEY. Would you do that, please, George?
Mr. GAVALLA. Certainly. We have a very rigorous and comprehensive formal training program where they go through standards; they go through regulations. But, more importantly, we actually put them out on the job with experienced track inspectors and put them through their paces out in the real-world environment. We supplement training. We don't just do a one-time training and then qualify them and let them off on their own. We think it is important to have continuous follow-up training, so we continuously run accident investigation classes, inspection classes, technical classes so they can keep up not only with the latest regulations but with the latest technologies that are out there, so it is a continuous training program throughout the life of an inspector.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. Chipkevich, I know that NTSB is often very critical of the modal administrations in terms of their responsiveness to NTSB recommendations. Relatively speaking, how responsive has FRA been to NTSB recommendations, especially those relating to track safety?
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. Generally, we have seen positive action in the area of track safety, particularly with the new NPRM that became effective in 1998, which incorporated many of our suggestions for improvements in actual track standards.
I think some of the areas that we've had problems in the past, such as a lack of standards to require an ultrasonic inspection of rail, have been incorporated in the rule. We had an accident in 1992 in Superior, Wisconsin, that resulted in evacuation of 40,000 people. One of the problems with that track was that the rail had a lot of shelling on the top of the rail, so that when internal inspections were done the waves could not penetrate and find internal defects. There is now a requirement and new standards that would require action to correct the rail and be able to do a proper inspection or to remove that rail from service. So I think in the area of track safety, and particular standards, there have been improvements in that area.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Clement.
Let me get back to Mr. Gavalla for a minute. In response to Mr. Clement's question, you said that you put the inspectors through a rigorousyour wordtraining. How many hours are they trained before they are on their own? Give me a sense for what is rigorous. I mean, I had a ninth grade English teacher that I thought was rigorous, and not so. As you can tell.
Mr. GAVALLA. Understand that we're talking about FRA's inspectors
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. GAVALLA.and not the railroad's own inspection workforce.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. GAVALLA. Typically, an inspector, for at least a one-year period, would be in a status where they are a probationary employee, and that would be a training period for that entire year.
The inspection classes that I alluded to and the technical classes are typically one-week classes.
In addition to that, during the course of a year, each region to which an inspector is assigned will have at least two technical workshops, in addition
Mr. QUINN. Lasting how long each?
Mr. GAVALLA. A couple days each.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you. Go ahead.
Mr. GAVALLA. And so that is essentially to give you a sense of the types of training activities. And then, of course, for
Mr. QUINN. Excuse me. So a couple of two-day sessions?
Mr. GAVALLA. This is part of the follow-up training. There is a one-year period of probation where they're working with qualified inspectors.
Mr. QUINN. Great.
Mr. GAVALLA. There are the week-long classes that can be in accident investigations, could be in technical areas, could be in inspection practices. In addition to that, there are at least a couple of technical conferences during the course of the year.
Mr. QUINN. Excellent.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GAVALLA. And in some cases we have people specializing in certain areas who receive specialized training.
Mr. QUINN. Some seminars. I'm just trying to get a sense for what that is. That's very helpful. Thank you.
Mr. LINDSEY. Would it be helpful, Mr. Chairman, if we submitted a syllabus of the classes that we do put our track guys through?
Mr. QUINN. I think it would be for maybe some of the Members to take a look at. That would be very helpful. Thank you. Not that we're going to run out and memorize it.
Mr. CLEMENT. Mr. Chairman, would you like to hear about my slow-talking teacher that I had when I was growing up?
Mr. QUINN. Well, she was successful.
Mr. CLEMENT. Who said she was a she?
Mr. QUINN. The only man who submits written testimony and takes longer to tell us about submitting his written testimony.
Mr. CLEMENT. In fact, when I was in New York one time they said, ''You don't always talk like that?''
Mr. QUINN. Bob, you talked about advanced track inspections. I don't know what that is. Can you give me a couple of examples, for instances? What are we talking about in that advanced track inspections?
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. I think one of the issues that we would like to see are track geometry cars required to be used over the track so that it can give good information about the condition of the track, give the heads-up to people about what to be looking for, early indications of track problems, and then, after track repairs have been made, good indications of how well the work has been performed.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Great. And you mentioned that not all of that advanced track inspection was in FRA's 1998 track safety standards.
Mr. Lindsey, can you respond as to why it wasn't all in there? Is it an expense problem?
Mr. LINDSEY. I'm not quite sure which technologies Mr. Chipkevich might have in mind that weren't in there. We did include a requirement for all track above Class 3 that internal rail flaw detection be done automatically at varying intervals.
We, ourselves, have an automatic track inspection car that we use to inspect about 30,000 miles of track a year that looks at track geometry and surfacing issues. Most of the railroads, the major ones, have such cars, themselves, that they also use.
We have also recently put a final rule in place for gage restraint measurement, and that can be done on two levels on an automated basis, one on a car. What this car actually does in passing over the track is apply the forces that a train would, to see whether or not the track structure is capable of maintaining the gage of the rail, the distance that they are apart. That's one of the most significant causes of track-caused accidents.
There is also a hand-usable version of this technology that an individual track inspector can use to test the strength of the rail, and we think that is an extremely important addition to our arsenal.
Mr. QUINN. Sure. Mr. Chipkevich, you're here at the table. Is there anything Mr. Lindsey has nothe may have left anything out. Do you care to respond?
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. We'd note that some of the requirements involving use of the geometry car that can provide this additional data and information, it is not a requirement to use this type of equipment, but rather it is an example of where a company can do more, but if they don't use this type of equipment on a tract or an area, that there is no hammer or mandate that it be done.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Okay. Thanks very much.
I have a question, Mr. Chipkevich. I know NTSB is looking at theI'm going to get back to this Iowa mishap with Amtrakyou're looking at a segment of the track that I think you or someone referred to as ''a plug,'' some temporary track there. And it is way too early, I know, to talk about what the cause was for that accident. Can you give me a sense as to how much of this temporary track, this plug technology is being used on railroad track these days, please.
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. I don't have an answer for you on that. We have not investigated significant number of accidents where a plug has been put in as a replacement piece or a temporary piece while they are awaiting further work on the track. The history of any type of accidents or problems is one thing we'll certainly look at during our investigation.
Mr. QUINN. We would be interested to hear that. I know you need some time to finish that up, but that is a very adequate answer. If you haven't seen it before in those kinds of accidents, that's an answer in itself, actually. Thank you.
Mr. CHIPKEVICH. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. I appreciate it very much.
Any further questions for the panel before we release them?
Mr. LARSEN. Mr. Lindsey, this has to do with data collection. Mr. Oberstar couldn't be here right now, but I know he has initiated a review of how FRA collects safety data, and he has heard reports of FRA inspectors sort of just calling ahead and then arriving, letting folks know that they will be collecting safety data.
I think the question Mr. Oberstar is trying to get at is: what does FRA have in terms of some objective way to collect safety data so that we can compare apples to apples? I think what Mr. Oberstar is getting at is calling ahead and saying, ''We're going to be there and start looking around,'' doesn't provide a very objective way to collect good data to make later decisions on.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do you have some thoughts along those lines?
Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, sir. I think we have a variety of ways of keeping our data objective.
I'd say at the outset that there are circumstances under which we really have to let the railroad know that we are going to be there, particularly with reference to track. Being out on the track is a very dangerous thing, and you have to be sure that when you have people on the ground on the track or in a light vehicle, that they're not going to be there simultaneously with a train, and that can only be done when we are working together with the railroad to assure that we have ''track and time'' and that it is safe to be out there.
I think very often that we are able, nevertheless, for the notice to be short enough that it is not possible for them to go out ahead of us and fix up whatever the difficulties on that line of road may be. It simply takes too long for them to repair it, too long for them to get ''track and time'' and materials and all the things that would be required for them to hide from us what the condition of the track would be.
We also cross check in a great many ways. Many people in rail labor who are working on the railroads in various ways regularly give us information about issues that they see out on the rail line, so that our inspectors are very regularly informed by the workers on the railroads of the conditions that they see.
We also cross check the railroad's own records of its inspections, its maintenance work, injuries, accidents, and so forth against the physical conditions that we see and against other pieces of railroad paper. We hope that we are cross checking in enough ways that we are assured that the data are good, and, to the degree that there are problems, we think that they are very much at the margins.
For example, to the degree that there are accidents that go unreported, we think they are very much in the fender bender category at the margin of $6,600 of damage. Or to the degree that injuries go unreportedwhich is more often where the problem appears to bethere can be a debate over what level of medical care was rendered to an injured employee, and therefore whether or not it is a reportable injury.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And we do struggle a lot with injuries at the margin of reportability to assure that those injuries are accurately reported, and we work steadily trying to improve our methods of assuring that that's the case.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Lindsey, in looking over your testimony last night, I got a sense from the general tone of what you wrote to us, and even what you reported today, that once a railroad meets the basic minimum FRA standards, how far above that they go beyond the call of duty for rail safety is pretty much an indicator of how healthy the railroad is, the bottom line. Would that be safe to say?
Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. So I guess what we're saying then is that real track safety depends on the economic health of the railroad, itself, and how things are going?
Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, sir, it certainly does. We've seen before, during periods when the railroad industry was in poor economic condition, that it was very hard for the railroads to maintain their physical plant.
This is a capital-intensive industry in a big way, and if railroads have difficulty raising adequate amounts of capital, they are going to have difficulty remaining safe.
Mr. QUINN. You know, you just connected the dots for me. Thank you. One thing I've learned since Bob and I have held a couple of these meetings on our own and with others here in the business of railroads, we've learned how capital intensive it is, if we didn't know that before. But now we have a direct line with safety being connected with that, as well, not just the cost of capital improvements. That's very important. Thank you.
If there are no other questions, I'd like to thank all three of you for your testimony and your answers to our questions. We have a couple of things we've asked for that you get back to the committee. And sorry for the interruption.
I'd like to ask the second panel to come forward, please.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our second panel includes: Mr. Charles Dettmann, the executive vice president, safety and operations, from the Association of American Railroads; Mr. Richard Inclima, the director of education safety at the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees; and Mr. Dan Pickett, international president, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
It is good to see all three of you here this morning.
Mr. Pickett, we're going to begin with you at that side of the table, if you don't mind. I'd like to remind all three of you gentlemen that we have your written testimony in full. We would like to ask you to try to keep your summary of it to about five minutes or so. When all three of you have finished, we'll begin any questions that we have then.
TESTIMONY OF W. DAN PICKETT, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD SIGNALMEN; RICHARD INCLIMA, DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION AND SAFETY, BROTHERHOOD OF MAINTENANCE OF WAY EMPLOYES; AND CHARLES E. DETTMANN, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, SAFETY AND OPERATIONS, ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS
Mr. PICKETT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning to the members of the committee. I want to say that I do appreciate the opportunity to be here.
My name is Dan Pickett, and I am the international president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen is a rail union which represents employees that install and maintain railroad signaling systems and highway grade crossings throughout the entire nation. BRS was founded a hundred years ago in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which is the home State of two of the members of this subcommittee, Mr. Platts and Mr. Borski.
Throughout our century of services, BRS has dedicated itself to making the railroad workplace safer, not just for rail workers but for the public, at large. Rail safety is an important issue for rail employees because they are at great risk. Working around heavy equipment moving at a great speed is a very dangerous job.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Railroads are also dangerous to the general public, especially at highway grade crossings and our hazardous materials that are being transported. The danger requires vigorous oversight and a continuing effort to improve safety performance.
For example, in a recent complaint to the FRA, the Brotherhood reported in excess of a hundred locations where wires and/or cables were lying on top of the ground just in the State of West Virginia. The wires and cables are for track circuits or switch machines. This is a very dangerous situation and is a direct violation of FRA rules.
Progress has been made, but much more needs to be done. According to the FRA figures, rail safety has failed to improve in recent years. Much of the improvement before 1997 can be attributed to the Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act of 1992. Unfortunately, Congress has not passed a rail safety bill since 1992.
BRS believes the Nation needs a rail safety law that addresses some of the following issues:
We need to enhance the coverage of the Hours of Service Act. On many of the railroads, workers employed by outside contractors perform the very same work as railroad employees. Although both groups are subject to the same hazards and have the same potential impact on public safety, the hours of service applies only to rail workers. The act should be extended to cover contractor forces, hired directors, and persons employed by two or more railroads.
The Hours of Service Act also has loopholes that allow safety-sensitive workers to remain on duty beyond the time they can be expected to be alert and properly rested. It simply makes no sense to allow safety-sensitive employee to work an additional four hours at a highway rail crossing when the safety of both the motoring public and railroad workers could be adversely affected by a fatigued employee's actions. On the other hand, rail workers who drive trucks can be subject to a very confusing mix of railroad and highway hours of service limits.
The Hours of Service Act should be amended to provide a 12-hour day for signal workers.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC BRS recommends that each carrier be required to submit to the Secretary of Transportation a fatigue management plan.
The BRS advocates statutory amendments to extend the prohibition against employee harassment over safety and to punish interference with railroad safety investigations through harassment.
The Department of Transportation should develop legislation to penalize drivers who maneuver around grade crossing gates.
Railroads should be required to establish toll-free telephone numbers to report safety problems at highway rail grade crossings.
And, to assure accountability, a certification program for personnel with safety-sensitive responsibilities should be established.
We need to require uniform drug and alcohol testing procedures. The current regulations prohibit covered employees from using or possessing alcohol or controlled substances.
BRS does not agree with some aspects of the FRA's administration of drug and alcohol testing, and we recently proposed some changes. We do believe, however, the program has been an overall success. Unfortunately for the integrity of the FRA program, the agency regulation does not prohibit railroads from more stringent testing. At least one railroad has interpreted this to mean an unlimited control testing without regard to the personal rights and dignity of rail workers.
Over the three Mondays in July of 2000, the Kansas City Southern tested virtually every active member of its signal forces for drugs and alcohol without any cause whatsoever. Sixty employees were tested for drugs and tested for alcohol. Five other employees were tested only for drugs. This was a reprehensible affront to the legal rights and the dignity of employees tested. It had undermined the integrity of the purpose of the FRA's drug and alcohol testing. Even under an ''end justifies the means'' mentality, it was a total waste. Every single one of the 125 tests was negative.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC BRS considers itself a partner in administering part 219 of the drug-and alcohol-free workplace because it creates a safe workplace for our members.
KCS, however, did not treat their signal employees as partners in safety last July. This was a deliberate slap in the face of every employee they tested.
I, therefore, urge the subcommittee to report legislation establishing the FRA program as the only drug and alcohol program for covered employees.
We feel there is much we can accomplish to make the Nation's railroads safer for communities across the country and for the employees on the railroad. Experience has taught us that the Congress must provide the leadership to make the safety a reality. I hope we can work together and see that improved safety practices become a reality.
I do appreciate the opportunity to testify today and would be pleased to answer any of your questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much, Mr. Pickett. We'll save our questions until the other two gentlemen have given their statement.
Mr. INCLIMA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee. My name is Rick Inclima. I have 16 years experience as a track foreman in Amtrak's northeast corridor, and am currently the director of education and safety for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes.
BMWE represents approximately 50,000 rail workers who build, construct, inspect, and maintain the railroad tracks, bridges, and related infrastructure on the majority of the railroads in both the United States and Canada. Mr. Chairman, it is my privilege and honor to appear before you today on behalf of BMWE, and I thank you for holding this hearing and allowing us to testify.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I will try to briefly summarize my written testimony for you this morning.
The tragedy in Iowa involving the Amtrak passenger train two weeks ago underscores the importance of track safety and the need to take proactive steps to prevent the repeat of that tragic accident. We join you, Mr. Chairman, in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of those passengers killed and injured in Nodaway, Iowa, and assure you that BMWE will do everything in our power to assure such a tragedy does not occur again.
First, Mr. Chairman, I would like to discuss the issue of manpower in the maintenance of way craft. Over the past several decades, there has been a precipitous drop in the number of maintenance of way workers nationwide. While some of this manpower decline can be attributed to technological advances in track maintenance equipment and work processes, we strongly believe the industry has cut their track maintenance forces too deep and there are not enough track maintenance personnel to stay ahead of declining track conditions.
This belief was confirmed by FRA in its manpower audit of CSX Railroad published in 1999. As a result of that audit, FRA concluded that that railroad was short approximately 600 to 700 track maintenance workers across the CSX system. It is BMWE's belief that the same conclusions would be derived from audits conducted on virtually every other Class I carrier, and the manpower shortages in maintenance of way are a nationwide safety problem.
Let me share with you, Mr. Chairman, some preliminary data I have compiled from BMWE's membership records.
In 1985, BMWE had an average of 56,000 members employed in the maintenance of way craft and receiving pay from the railroad industry. In the year 2000, the average employment numbers in the maintenance of way craft decreased to 33,000 nationwide. These numbers represent approximately a 40 percent decrease in maintenance of way membership and staffing levels on our Nation's railroads over the past 15 years, alone. Clearly, this type of decline in track maintenance personnel has a direct and substantial effect on track safety and the overall condition of the Nation's railroad infrastructure.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We believe we are beginning to see the adverse effects of deferred track maintenance and are concerned that, until we reverse this dangerous trend and put more maintenance personnel out on the right of way, things will continue to deteriorate.
Let's look at several Class I railroads once again utilizing BMWE membership records. These records relate between 1999 and the year 2000.
At CSX Railroad there was a 1.9 percent decline in maintenance of way staffing. On Burlington Northern Railroad, between 1999 and 2000 there was a 5.5 percent decline in one year. On the Norfolk Southern Railroad there was a 10.3 percent one-year decline.
Other indicators of declining trends in track safety can be culled from Federal Railroad Administration data. In 1999, total train accidents numbered 2,768, and in the year 2000 train accidents rose to 2,891, an increase of 123 reportable train accidents over the previous year. Even when normalized per number of accidents per million train mile, the overall railroad accident rate increased to 3.77 percent in 1998, 3.89 percent in 1999, and 4.01 percent in the year 2000. This is the first consecutive three-year increase in train accident rates in over a decade.
We can also look to FRA data for an indication regarding trends in track-caused derailments. In comparing FRA accident data from 1998 to 1999, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad experienced an overall 10.5 percentage change increase in train accidents and a 28.3 percentage change increase in accidents attributed to track-related causes. Comparing the same period, 1998 to 1999, Norfolk Southern Railroad experienced an overall 59.7 percentage change increase in overall train accidents, and an astonishing 67.6 percentage change increase in accidents attributed to track-related causes.
CSX Railroad had an overall 36.4 percentage change increase in train accidents, and a 27.2 percentage change increase in accidents attributed to track-related causes.
Union Pacific Railroad also experienced a 9.2 percentage change increase in accidents attributed to track-related causes.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the fix of this escalating infrastructure problem is within our reach. We believe we need to simply increase maintenance of way staffing levels to facilitate proactive track maintenance and repair, improve employee training, develop more thorough track inspection and defect repair procedures, and improve conditions under which track inspections are conducted. These are the steps necessary to reverse the dangerous trend of deteriorating track conditions, escalating train accidents, and track-related railroad accident causes.
Modification of track inspection processes and procedures is also necessary to improve track safety. The amount of territory a track inspector is responsible to inspect on a weekly basis is overwhelmingly too large. FRA has confirmed this in their audit report entitled, ''CSX Track Audit 2000.'' Inspectors are required by Federal law to inspect track at certain frequencies; however, Federal law does not place any meaningful limits on the length of an inspector's territory or the speed over which that territory may be inspected. This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by manpower shortages which place a heavier burden on the track inspector.
In years past, track inspectors often had local maintenance crews available to repair deficiencies as they were found and reported by the inspector. Today, however, the cutbacks in manpower have left many inspectors with no maintenance crews to facilitate repair of identified track defects. In these situations, the track inspector is required to stop his inspection to effectuate the repair himself. This practice severely limits the time inspectors have to dedicate to the performance of actual track inspection, and he or she often has no other recourse except to make up that time by finishing the inspection of the territory at a speed which is not conducive to quality inspection.
Thus, we believe the industry must restore the ranks of local track maintenance forces to facilitate timely repair of track defects and provide greater attention to problem areas before they become defects which can adversely affect railroad safety and the safe passage of trains.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Another area we believe needs attention is the Federal Railroad Administration and its ability to provide regulatory oversight, inspection, and enforcement of Federal rail safety laws. Traffic density on our Nation's railroads have grown over the last decade. FRA is currently under-staffed, and, despite its best efforts, is hard-pressed to conduct enough compliance inspections to reasonably assure safety compliance.
Simply stated, Mr. Chairman, increased carloads and traffic density on our Nation's railroads necessitates a corresponding expansion of FRA operations. Due to sheer traffic volume and broadened agency responsibility, it is our opinion that FRA is simply unable to conduct the number of inspections and oversight reviews necessary to reasonably assure rail safety and regulatory compliance. Therefore, we respectfully request the subcommittee and the Congress to review staffing levels at FRA and provide increases where necessary for the agency to fulfill its critical mission.
Mr. Chairman, we would be remiss if we did not raise one final issue with regard to infrastructure investment and railroad competition with other modes of transportation. It must be recognized that the railroad industry is at a severe competitive disadvantage when it comes to infrastructure investment. It is the opinion of BMWE that such a competitive disadvantage affects the industry's ability to make the requisite level of capital investment necessary to support the railroad infrastructure and improve safety.
Railroads are the only major form of transportation that is not heavily subsidized by Government infrastructure investments. We believe our Nation should fully explore the pros and cons of providing Government-supported subsidies for railroad infrastructure investment as a means of enhancing railroad safety, improving railroad passenger service, restoring competition to the transportation marketplace, reducing airport congestion, and relieving gridlock on our Nation's highways.
Of course, Mr. Chairman, the highly-skilled and uniquely-qualified men and women of the BMWE are the people who should perform this specialized infrastructure rehabilitation, as we have with distinction since 1886.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the railroad infrastructure is a valuable asset to this great Nation of ours and it should be treated as such for the good of our country and its transportation needs.
This concludes my oral testimony, Mr. Chairman. On behalf of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, I take this opportunity to thank you and the entire subcommittee for providing us this opportunity to appear before you today.
I, as well, will be happy to answer any questions you or the members of the subcommittee may have.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Inclima. We will get to the questions in just a couple of minutes.
Mr. Dettmann, please?
Mr. DETTMANN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With this being the first of what will undoubtedly be many appearances by the Association of American Railroads before your subcommittee, AAR members would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you and Congressman Clement as the new leaders of the Subcommittee on Railroads.
AAR welcomes this opportunity to present the railroads' perspective on railroad safety, in general, and track safety, in particular. Twenty years have passed since the enactment of the Staggers Rail Act, which partially deregulated the railroad industry and helped to restore its financial health.
The Staggers Act enabled the railroads to make major investments, including $60 billion on track and related items. The railroads' investments have been critical to the dynamic and dramatic improvements the industry has made in railroad safety.
FRA data show that train accidents per million train miles have dropped 65 percent since 1980, and 15 percent since 1990.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The railroads are particularly pleased at the improvement in employee safety. FRA data again show that fatalities and injuries per 100 full-time employees have declined 70 percent since 1980 and 56 percent since 1990. In addition, the number of employee fatalities in the year 2000, 24, was the lowest in history.
This hearing, of course, is focused on track safety, and I am pleased to state that the railroads' record in this area parallels the continuous improvement in overall safety. Track-caused accidents per million train miles have dropped 71 percent since 1980, 13 percent since 1990.
Many factors have led to the reduction in track-caused accidents. Most importantly have been many technological improvements. Quality control improvements and new manufacturing processes have led to rail that is harder and tougher, with fewer defects attributable to impurities than in the past. In addition, there has been much greater use of continuous welded rail throughout our network.
A very important tool for detecting internal rail defects are detector vehicles which use ultrasonic testing and sometimes magnetic induction. Ultrasonic inspection uses acoustic energy to evaluate the internal condition of the rail. Magnetic induction detects defects by variation in magnetic fields.
The latest detection system on these vehicles, however, have digital processing systems which automate, to a greater extent than ever before, the processing of inspection data and the identification of defects.
Recognizing the importance of detecting rail defects, the railroads often conduct inspections, both visual and with detector vehicles, much more frequently than currently required by FRA regulations.
Research is also underway on innovative methods for improving track safety. Much of this research is conducted by AAR's research subsidiary, Transportation Technology Center, Incorporated, which operates DOT's Transportation Technology Center at Pueblo, Colorado.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The railroads are spending almost 65 percent of our 9.5 million 2001 research budget on track and vehicle track interaction system research. Additional research on cutting-edge technology for our industry is being conducted by MIT, Texas A&M, the University of Illinois, along with our partners at FRA's research and development department.
With respect to safety regulation, AAR is a strong supporter of FRA's policy of using its Rail Safety Advisory Committee, or RSAC, to develop new regulatory standards through a collaborative process involving rail labor, rail management, and other interested parties. The outcome of the RSAC process is a more-effective set of regulations than would be achieved through traditional rule-making.
RSAC has been active in establishing track standards. The addition of recommending new track standards issued in 1998, RSAC recommended approval of important innovation in track inspection, the gauge restraint measurement system, or GRMS.
FRA statistics indicate that the largest cause of track-caused derailments is the widening of gauge between the rails due to defective cross-ties and fasteners. GRMS applies lateral and vertical loads to track, measures track deflection, and projects the extent of deflection when severe forces are applied.
While proud of our safety record, the railroads are continuously striving to improve. The 24 employee fatalities in the year 2000, while the lowest number in history, are 24 too many. The railroads recognize that rail community, labor, management, and FRA must work together to achieve the safest possible rail system.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to discuss railroad safety record and track issues, in particular. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
All three of you gentlemen, we appreciate your time here this morning. We've got more than enough time to get your statements in and have some questions.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Inclima, I asked the question earlier to the panelyou were in the roomabout this plug issuethat's the slang for it. It is your people who install these and work on them every day.
Mr. INCLIMA. That's correct.
Mr. QUINN. Give a novice just a one-minute summary of how that is done and what is included when you talk about that happening.
Mr. INCLIMA. Okay. Basically, Mr. Chairman, it is a common occurrence. If a defect is found where a plug has to be put in, that usually occurs in continuous welded rail where you don't have joined rail where you can take one in, take one out.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. INCLIMA. Essentially, what would occur is the crew would go to an area where the railroad has stacked or stored rail plugs, and they will pick a piece of rail that matches the rail section that they are going to replace. They go out to the area. They'll make the cuts. They'll drop the plug in, drill the holes, and apply bars, and usually they'll go back and weld that plug into the track later.
Mr. QUINN. How long is a plug usuallyagain, I know nothing about it. Ten yards? A hundred yards?
Mr. INCLIMA. Generally speakingand when I worked for Amtrak, I believe we hadand it has been since 1991 that I have been on the propertygenerally speaking, it is going to be about 18 foot.
Mr. QUINN. Okay.
Mr. INCLIMA. Okay? They try to stay away from the short lengths because of the interaction with the wheels, etc.
Mr. QUINN. And how often would we say that your people work on these? Is it a common occurrence? A couple a week? A couple a month?
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. INCLIMA. It is a common occurrence, again, depending on if it is jointed rail or continuous welded rail. Generally speakingand I believe this was the case in Iowaa rail detector car detected a flaw in the in-track rail. When we followwhen our crews follow the detector car, we usually stack a cart with rail and we'll change quite a few rails out, you know, over several weeks in that inspection process. So it is very common.
Mr. QUINN. Again, you answered my second question as to how long that would take. You follow right behind the inspection car?
Mr. INCLIMA. That would be one way. When we follow these detection cars, we are equipped with crews and materials and we change as many rails out as we can right behind. Other times it is not that simple and, you know, it is a broken rail that just occurs, where now, you know, you don't have the materials, you don't have the manpower, etc., and you have to spend the time to get all those things together.
Mr. QUINN. Sure. There's another broken rail that occurs, too. He's in the back of the room there.
Mr. INCLIMA. Yeah. I can't change him out, as much as I've been trying.
Mr. QUINN. I've got to tell you whatthat's what I had in mind when you said ''plug'' actually.
Only kidding, James. Only kidding.
Mr. QUINN. Sir, NTSB has said here this morning that they've taken a position there should be more of this ultrasonic testing, and I asked, for example, of the advanced inspection track, got a perfect answer to that. Do you have a position on that, for or against?
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. INCLIMA. Yes, sir. I represented the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way in that rule-making process of revising the track safety standards.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. INCLIMA. We have never been opposed to the introduction of these type of technologies. We believe they are useful as supplements to the visual track inspections. We oppose them as substitutes to visual track inspections. We believe they can enhance safety. It is just another tool to enhance safety. And we believe it is also a good tool for a railroad to utilize in allocating their capital dollars relative to where does the maintenance need to goyou know, the large-scale maintenancein a particular stretch of track.
If I might, sir?
Mr. QUINN. Sure.
Mr. INCLIMA. You know, there has been a lot of talk about the gauge restraint measurement system. That rule is not in effect currently, and it has been put on hold by the Administration's moratorium. But I also wanted to make clear that the gauge restraint measurement system is not required to be used by the freight railroads. It is an option.
Mr. QUINN. I see.
Mr. INCLIMA. If they are going to use a gauge restraint measurement system, it has to be used within the parameters laid out in Federal rules; but if they choose not to use it, they don't have to.
As the gentleman from NTSB had stated, there is no requirements for track geometry automated inspections, although many of the railroads use those, and we think that those are good maintenance practices.
Mr. QUINN. But your point is it is not a requirement right now; it is optional?
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. INCLIMA. Yes, it is optional.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much. I appreciate your answers.
Mr. INCLIMA. Thank you.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Larsen?
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I worked pretty hard to get on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and I thought it would take me a while to move up the leadership chain.
Mr. LARSEN. I didn't expect it to happen in the first meeting of the first subcommittee hearing. But, out of respect for leadership, I'm going to sit here, and Mr. Clement's seat will remain open. Although I was invited to sit there, I'll respect the lineage, if you will.
Just a couple of questions. One has to do with something that we deal with in the northwest, the conflict and cooperationI'll ask generally, and maybe perhaps each of you could comment, if you have a commentthe conflict and the cooperation between the use of freight lines for commuter service, as well as for Amtrak. As I said at the beginning, it is something very important in the northwest to bringAmtrak service is there, but to bring higher-speed service, as well as use of the freight line for commuter rail.
I have just a general question, perhaps, for each of you. What do you think needs to be done to track and signal infrastructure so that commuter service can be used effectively on existing line? Do you think that's a good idea to use existing line? And would new technologies allow for safe sharing of these lines, as well? Do you have some general comments on that? Mr. Dettmann to start, perhaps?
Mr. DETTMANN. Well, Congressman, the issue that I think is facing us is capacity. The freight railroads want to be good citizens in the communities they serve. Our business is freight. That's where we make our net income and that's where we take care of our stockholders and, Mr. Chairman, that's where the capital comes from to re-invest. Of our revenues, 22 percent go back into capital, where the normal manufacturing business is 4 percent, so that shows where we are.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, the piece that you are speaking to is, can we share our capacity with commuters, and the answer, at least in our opinion, is at the local level on a cooperative basis is where that decision needs to be made.
We have many places where the sounderyou know, south of Seattle, in the L.A. basin, here in the Washington areathat there have been many close, cooperative efforts that have been hammered out such that we can share the resource.
Your point about technology, we have heard from NTSB about positive train control. This has been out there and been discussed in nine years that I have been in Washington dealing with this. We, at the AAR, have put in $20 million, the Federal Government has put in $40 million. We have hired one of the best contractors, Lockheed Martin, who is our prime contractor on this first test bed in Illinois to see if positive train control really does work.
We don't know if it will work or not when it comes to capacity or to safety improvements, and these are the issues that are surrounding where we go as we bring technology in to address the capacity issue which, frankly, is at the heart of where we are going.
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you.
Mr. INCLIMA. Yes, sir. Just as a general statement, the BMWE certainly supports the expansion of passenger service as a part of a balanced U.S. transportation policy. We believe that it would require substantial investment in infrastructure, including track and signal enhancements. And, as Mr. Dettmann had alluded, the emerging PTC technologies may also bring some relief to the capacity problem.
I'd also like to say, just as a matter of history, some of the capacity problem is the industry's own making. During the lean times, a lot of trackage was shed as redundant, or parallel lines wereyou know, when you had two lines that went east-to-west, it was simply economically more feasible to abandon one or to spin it off rather than maintain both. And I don't fault the industry for that. Those times required that type of action. But I believe today's success in traffic increases, I'd bet the railroads would love to have the ability to take some of that trackage back now. But PTC, track enhancements, and signal enhancements may provide some of that capacity increase necessary for passenger service.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LARSEN. Mr. Pickett?
Mr. PICKETT. Yes. Our view of it is in some areas it is already working. I mean, what we have found is that the railroads in some of the local areas have, when the commuters are running, the freight is not, and they designate certain times. Florida has a very good system that works very well for them, and CSX operates most of their trains of the night through that area, and then the commuters run in the morning and in the evening on that same rail.
The same thing happens in some of your areas in Washington Statethat Amtrak operates certain times and the freight stays off of the lines during that time.
The down side is sometimes when the freight is running behind they override the commuter lines, and therefore throws them late in some of their operations.
In some of the better areas that I've found that operate is that, where they use the technology to try to designate certain times for it, I mean, it's no different than any otherthe airline industry or anyone else of having to clear certain times for certain trains or for certain planes to operate.
So I think it can be done and I think it should be something that we continue to explore, because I think the commuter lines, especially in the west, have proven to be very beneficial in that area.
Mr. LARSEN. Just one more question. I see the red light flashing, and I know that means it is time to stop, but if I may
Mr. QUINN. Go ahead.
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you.
For Mr. Dettmann, has the economic slow-down in this country changed decisions in capital investment for railroads? Have you found that? And, second, can you give me a flavor of how decisions are made between maintenance and preservation versus new capital?
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DETTMANN. First question, normally your capital decision-making we would start in this summer for the capital decisions for the year 2002. You haveyou know, we're talking $800 million to $1.1 billion for the major railroads. Then it would be allocated back as to, one, the strength of the track structure. Without a track structure, we have no business. And then you're looking at equipment when it comes to capital. We're also looking at significant technologies and automation being brought into the business for long-term impact.
The comments before about the track geometry cars, we have track geometry cars. We use them. The major railroads have two, at least, and they are working six days a week around the clock going over the railroads. There's a mentality, frankly, that if it is not in FRA track safety regulations that it doesn't happen, which is totally false. I mean, we are responsible. We are the ones who sufferour employees, our customersif we have track-caused accidents that are delaying the movement of our business, so we are the ones that are worried about that.
Our capital is being put towards where it would make the most effective use. We, I would dare say, did not see the slow-down coming. We have drawn back on those capital improvements that are more discretionary that could wait until, because we are aas we have been heard that Chairman Greenspan, one of the first things he looks at are what are the car loadings that we provide at the AAR to him on a weekly basis of the health of the economy.
So we will be moving expenses up and down, depending upon what it is, but the safety is the most critical position.
Now, how do we make decisions between capital and maintenance is ideally your maintenance is, more of a shorter term unless you are moving from the spot maintenance, which is very labor-intensive, to long-term program maintenance, where you have significant capital investment in equipment to maintain the track.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For an example, a significant part of our energy in this country comes out of the Powder River Basin. The railroads that serve that will take the track basically out of service for a week's period of time, or perhaps two weeks, and go in and completely rebuild it with modern equipment, new ballast, new ties, new rail, and it is done for a year. You don't have to go back and do spot maintenance. So we are continually making the capital versus operating trade-offs of what we have to do for a strong track structure.
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Larsen.
Mr. Dettmann, just one question on this same track geometry car you were talking aboutand we talked about it a few minutes earlier, and earlier this morning NTSB said that some of that advanced track inspection isn't mandated, and you just said that it is sort of optional but you have them and the bigger railroads have them and you're doing it anyway and it is in your best interest to do it, as you point out.
Mr. DETTMANN. Right.
Mr. QUINN. Do you think that that should be included that the FRA should change the rule to say that it is mandatory, it must be used?
Mr. DETTMANN. No, Mr. Chairman. I do not. And here's the reasonand it's not for what you think it is. The track geometry cars have been around since the mid and early 1980s, and NTSB has said that FRA needs to put them in there.
What's the next generation of track geometry car may very well be this new gauge restraint measurement system, which is, in some cases, superior to track geometry.
Regulationand, as we heard this morningregulations sometimes take four, six, eight years to change. When you fix technology in regulations a la a track geometry car, you are negating the ability to bring new technology into this industry because the regulatory process inhibits that.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That does not say that we won't use gauge restraint measurement systems, we can't use these optional pieces, but the historic way of managing safety in this industry of, if it's not done in regulation it is not there is totally false with where we have to go, and that's why I think, when you come to a more performance-based regulatory climate rather than command and control, this is what we have to have in the industry to go forward for greater safety, as we are all trying to achieve.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
Any further questions, Mr. Larsen?
Mr. LARSEN. Just one, if I may.
Mr. QUINN. Sure. Go right ahead.
Mr. LARSEN. Mr. Pickett or Mr. Inclima, do you have a response to Mr. Dettmann's answer there?
Mr. INCLIMA. Frankly, we support the inclusion of these type of things in regulation because then it is mandatory and it is going to be done. I mean, it's just an honest difference of opinion. I think we both have the same goals in mindto make the railroad as safe and profitable and economically feasible as possible.
My experience has been if they don't have to do it and I can't make them do it, you know, there's really nothing to hang my hat on, and I'm more comfortable with a regulatory scheme that, you know, says, ''This is how it should be done. This is the frequency it should be done,'' and certainly we would like to be involved in developing those regulations if that would come to be.
Mr. LARSEN. Thank you.
Mr. PICKETT. I could add that we found also in regulatory that one of the benefits of the regulatory is, if there is no regulatory proceedings to say that you have to do certain things, in the economic turndown that Mr. Dettmann talked about, that seems like that is one of the first things then to go. If there is nothing that says that you have to do it, then maybe we shouldn't be doing it at that time is what we've found with it. And that is one of the reasons we support regulatory proceedingsthat then you have to do it even in the bad times as well as the good times.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LARSEN. Thank you. And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. You're welcome. Thank you.
We have no further questions for any of you. We appreciate this panel's attention and their answers, as well as the first panel that was here, and we stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:38 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]