Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board
Opening Statement
Washington, DC - April 24, 2012
Railroad Accident Report - Red Oak, Iowa, April 17, 2011
(As Prepared for Delivery)


Welcome back.

Now we move to the second item on our agenda, the April 17, 2011, train collision near Red Oak, Iowa.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the two BNSF employees who lost their lives in this accident. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one, but, today, it's essential that we take every step possible to ensure that the lessons of this tragedy are well-learned and the circumstances are not repeated.

The collision between the coal train and the stopped maintenance-of-way equipment train happened a little after sunrise, about four hours after the coal train's engineer and conductor started their shift at 2:31 a.m. It was the second day in a row that the engineer had been called, and reported, for duty in the middle of the night. It was the fourth successive day for the conductor.

Today, we will hear about several safety issues. Once again, this investigation draws attention to the dangers of human fatigue. It is irrefutable: Humans need sleep and we function best when we are well rested and not fighting our diurnal nature. The human body is not designed to work irregular schedules, especially during the circadian trough when our bodies are at their lowest alertness. These scheduling challenges are a constant in transportation but particularly difficult when a schedule is variable and unpredictable. Human nature - and our need for sleep - must be respected; it must be addressed.

Prevention is paramount.

Technology is critical when it comes to offsetting human error. Humans are fallible and make mistakes and operational accidents can be prevented with Positive Train Control.

We will also highlight what can, and should, be done to minimize damage through improved crashworthiness standards for modular crew cabs. This could save lives, when the worst that can happen, does happen, just as it did last year on the BNSF Railway.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.