Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Opening Statement
Washington, DC - February 14, 2012
Railroad Accident Report - Cherry Valley, Illinois, June 19, 2009
(As Prepared for Delivery)


Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener. I would like to recognize Member Robert Sumwalt for his excellent service as the spokesperson for the NTSB's on-scene investigative activities immediately after the accident.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the June 19, 2009, train derailment in Cherry Valley, Illinois. An eastbound Canadian National Railway Company, or CN, freight train - which consisted of two locomotives and 114 cars carrying ethanol - derailed at a highway/rail grade crossing. The ethanol release and resulting fire killed one person in a car waiting at the crossing and injured seven more. It also led to the mandatory evacuation of about 600 homes and caused nearly $8 million in damages.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the family of the woman who lost her life and to those injured in this accident. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one or repair the trauma of a life-changing injury, but we do have the opportunity - and the obligation - to take every step possible to ensure that the lessons of this tragedy are well-learned and the circumstances are not repeated.

We know that Mother Nature is unpredictable, often with catastrophic consequences. But this accident highlights how missteps at multiple points, within multiple organizations, resulted in a catastrophe - starting with not recognizing the significance of the prior wash-outs of the track, failing to repost the emergency contact information at the crossing after previous signal work, not appropriately monitoring the flash flood conditions, not restricting the train speeds to reflect the high-water conditions, to having an incorrect train consist, to not knowing the location of the underground pipeline.

As you will hear this morning, there are a host of lessons to be learned from this accident. There were mistakes and miscommunications, procedures not followed, and poor decisions.

Ethanol is the most frequently transported hazmat commodity by rail; tens of millions of gallons of ethanol move on the rails each day from refineries in the Midwest to major population centers around the country. (Since 2006, there have been an estimated 1.4 million tank-car-loads of ethanol transported on the nation's railways, and according to the Association of American Railroads, between 2000 and 2009, transportation of ethanol by rail increased 400 percent.)

While rail accidents involving hazardous materials have declined, this is the 21st hazardous material rail accident that the NTSB has investigated since 2000, including this and two other open investigations. The goal for everyone should be zero.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.