Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Deborah A.P. Hersman
Opening Statement - Investigative Hearing
Investigation of Railroad Accident
Collision of Two Union Pacific Trains
Goodwell, Oklahoma, June 24, 2012


Good morning, I am Debbie Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am joined by my fellow Board Members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.

Today's investigative hearing is on the June 24, 2012, head-on collision of two Union Pacific (UP) Intermodal Trains near Goodwell, Oklahoma. On Sunday, June 24, 2012, about 10:01 a.m. central daylight time, eastbound UP freight train ZLAAH-22 and westbound UP freight train AAMMLX-22 collided head-on while operating on straight track on UP's Pratt subdivision near Goodwell, Oklahoma. As a result of the accident, the eastbound train derailed three locomotives and 24 cars, and the westbound train derailed two locomotives and eight cars.

Both the engineer and conductor of the eastbound train and the engineer of the westbound train were fatally injured. Although the conductor of the westbound train was injured, he jumped to safety. As a result of the collision, several derailed locomotive fuel tanks were breached, igniting a diesel-fed fire involving all five locomotives. Equipment and cargo damage is estimated at $14.8 million. At the time of the accident, skies were clear, visibility was 10 miles, and the temperature was 89 degrees Fahrenheit.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the NTSB staff, we offer our deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who died in this accident. Nothing can replace the loss of your loved one, but we do have the opportunity to ensure that the lessons of this accident are well-learned, so that the circumstances are not repeated.

Two weeks ago, on February 12, 2013, the NTSB conducted a pre-hearing conference attended by the NTSB's Board of Inquiry (consisting of the NTSB Board members), the Technical Panel, and the parties to this hearing. At the conference, we delineated the issues to be discussed at this hearing, and identified and agreed upon the list of witnesses and exhibits.

The three broad issues we will discuss today are:
1. An overview of the accident, the NTSB investigation, and the Union Pacific railroad system;
2. Union Pacific's management of human error; and
3. Union Pacific's current status of positive train control implementation.

Testimony and questioning will be limited to these three issues. I'd like to emphasize we are still in the fact-finding stage of the investigation. This hearing allows us to gather additional facts, further develop the record on how and why the accident happened, and assists the NTSB in making recommendations to prevent similar accidents.

Before proceeding, I'd like to recognize the members of the Technical Panel:
James Southworth, Investigator-in-Charge
Michael Hiller, Hearing Officer
Mark Jones, Deputy Chief, Railroad Division
Ruben Payan, Electrical Engineer
Tim DePaepe, Railroad Accident Investigator
Ted Turpin, Railroad Accident Investigator
Dr. Robert Beaton, Chief, Human Performance & Survival Factors Division
John Vorderbrueggen, Chief, Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Division
Dr. Robert Molloy, Supervisory Transportation Specialist

Let me also recognize David Tochen, General Counsel; Terry Williams, Public Affairs; Nancy Mason, Administrative Support; and Rick Narvell and Deidra Esters, Audio/Visual.

I will now introduce the parties designated to participate in the investigative hearing. As prescribed in the Board's rules, we designate as parties those persons whose participation we deem necessary in the public interest and whose special knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence.

As I call the name of the party, I ask the designated spokesperson to stand, identify themselves and their affiliation with the party they represent, and introduce those other persons at their party's table.

  1. Federal Railroad Administration
    Mr. Ron Hynes
  2. Union Pacific Railroad
    Mr. Robert Grimaila
  3. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen
    Mr. William Walpert
  4. United Transportation Union
    Mr. Greg Hynes

I want to thank the parties for their assistance and cooperation with the NTSB's investigation to date. This may be the first time some of you have worked with the NTSB, and we all recognize the tragic nature of the collision and its profound effect on the families and the parties involved in this investigation.

We will begin the hearing with a presentation by the Investigator-In-Charge, Mr. James Southworth, who will provide an overview of the accident and investigation.

We will then proceed in sequence, one panel at a time for each hearing issue.

In each panel, the witnesses will be called and introduced, and each will testify under oath. The witnesses will be questioned first by the technical panel, then by the spokesperson for each party, and finally by the Board of Inquiry.

The witness testimony and the rounds of questions by the parties will be limited to five minutes each. After one round of questions, due to time constraints, a second round will be limited to pertinent questions that serve to clarify the record or to address some new matter raised.

The Safety Board does not determine liability; this investigative hearing is a fact-finding proceeding with no formal issues and no adverse parties. Therefore, cross-examination in the legal sense and questions directed to the issue of liability will not be permitted.

The transcript of the hearing, the exhibits entered into the record and any presentations, along with other records of the investigation, become part of the NTSB's public docket, and are available via the NTSB website: www.ntsb.gov. The transcript of the testimony taken during the hearing will be entered into the docket as soon as practicable.

The parties will have the opportunity to submit proposed findings of fact, conclusions, and recommendations to the Board of Inquiry after the close of the hearing. Submissions will be made part of the public docket and will receive careful consideration during the Board's analysis of the evidence and preparation of the final report. I encourage the parties to make use of this opportunity. Please note that submissions must be sent to the NTSB within 30 calendar days of today's date, and copies must be provided to each of the parties.

Thank you. At this time I will call on the hearing officer to describe the exhibits to be used during the hearing. Mr. Hiller.

(Mike Hiller to introduce the exhibits.)

Thank you, Mr. Hiller.

At this point, we will have a brief description of the accident by the Investigator-in-Charge, Mr. James Southworth.

(James Southworth gives opening presentation.)

Thank you, Mr. Southworth.

PLANNED BREAK

Now, I will call on the hearing officer to call and qualify the first witness. Mr. Hiller.