The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reviewed the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled “Locomotive Image and Audio Recording Devices for Passenger Trains,” which was published at 84 Federal Register 35712 on July 24, 2019. The NTSB notes the FRA is (1) proposing to require the installation of inward- and outward-facing locomotive image recording devices on all lead locomotives in passenger trains and (2) addressing the use of the recordings to conduct operational tests. To the extent applicable, the NTSB is pleased that the NPRM is partially responsive to our recommendations. However, for the reasons provided in this response, we are disappointed that these long awaited proposed requirements do not include audio recordings and do not apply to freight railroads—two critical factors identified in numerous accident investigations that have prompted our existing safety recommendations.
The NTSB provides comments on the following: whether to require both passenger and freight railroads to install image recording devices and whether audio recording should be included, the extent to which the proposed requirements should apply to recording devices that are voluntarily installed, whether a specific run-time or shutoff requirement should be included for recording devices, whether additional equipment is needed to address high levels of background noise inside locomotive cabs, recorder technical and crashworthiness issues, whether the recorders should only operate when a train is in motion, the appropriateness of proposed implementation dates, and whether the final rule should include a prohibition on public disclosure of any audio or video recording.
The NTSB has determined that dozens of previous railroad accident investigations would have benefitted from inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders. In a number of those accidents, the operator died, was seriously injured, or could not recall details from moments before the accident. However, even in the accidents in which the operator was not injured, audio and image recorders could have verified what the operator saw and heard, as well as what actions the operator took during the accident sequence. Such recorded information allows the NTSB to identify critical safety improvements and issue recommendations to prevent similar accident circumstances from reoccurring. Recorders also definitively document relevant information that regulatory agencies, such as the FRA, often state they require to help justify the costs of implementing safety improvements.
This NPRM was prompted in part by NTSB Safety Recommendations R-97-9, R-07-3, R 10-1 and -2, and reiterations of these recommendations following several other investigations involving both passenger and freight railroads. The currently applicable recommendations issued to the FRA are—
Require the installation, in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments, of crash- and fire-protected inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders capable of providing recordings to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety as well as train operating conditions. The devices should have a minimum 12-hour continuous recording capability with recordings that are easily accessible for review, with appropriate limitations on public release, for the investigation of accidents or for use by management in carrying out efficiency testing and systemwide performance monitoring programs.
Require that railroads regularly review and use in-cab audio and image recordings (with appropriate limitations on public release), in conjunction with other performance data, to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety.
Safety Recommendations R-10-1 and -2 are classified “Open—Acceptable Response.”
The FRA requested comments addressing the benefits of both inward- and outward-facing image and audio recording. These types of recording devices have been extremely beneficial in many accident investigations, including the January 4, 2017, collision of two Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority trolleys in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the April 3, 2016, Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) accident in Chester, Pennsylvania. In both of those investigations, the NTSB used the inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders to corroborate the statements made by the operating crews and to gather additional visual information about track conditions and the accident sequences.
More recently, the January 31, 2018, collision between an Amtrak passenger train and a refuse truck at an active grade crossing in Crozet, Virginia, demonstrated the benefit of outward facing image and audio recording. In that accident, the locomotive’s outward-facing image and audio recorder captured the position of the refuse truck, the weather, and the visibility conditions on the train tracks. The recorder showed that the truck was not moving in the moments before the accident; it also captured the sound of the locomotive’s horn as it approached each grade crossing leading up to the accident site.
The NTSB also highlighted the benefits of inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders in its report on the Amtrak passenger train 501 derailment in DuPont, Washington, on December 18, 2017. In that accident, the locomotive was equipped with an inward-facing image recorder that provided both a visual and audio recording of the crewmember activities during the accident trip. The device was voluntarily installed, and the recorded information proved extremely useful in the NTSB investigation.
The following are important discoveries from the DuPont accident investigation that would have been impossible to determine without the inward- and outward-facing image and audio recorder data:
• It was clear that neither crewmember was using a personal electronic device in the time leading up to the accident; as a result, there was no need to expend time and resources to acquire records or attempt to extract data from crewmembers’ electronic devices.
• The brief conversations between the engineer and the conductor during the trip did not distract them from their operational duties or hamper their ability to identify wayside signs.
• The qualification program for the Point Defiance Bypass, where the accident occurred, did not effectively train and test qualifying crewmembers on the physical characteristics of a new territory.
• The engineer’s unfamiliarity with, and fixation on, the audible and visual alerts associated with the overspeed alarm reduced his vigilance of events outside the locomotive moments before the accident.
In our 2019 DuPont accident report, the NTSB concluded that “the FRA has demonstrated an unwillingness to implement the recommendations and regulation that would require inward facing video and audio devices that are critical to accident investigations and improving safety on our nation’s railroads.” We further concluded that “inward-facing recorders with both image and audio capabilities can increase the understanding of the circumstances of an accident, and, ultimately, provide greater precision in safety recommendations and subsequent safety improvements.” Consequently, we issued the following recommendation to the Secretary of Transportation on June 21, 2019:
Require the Federal Railroad Administration to issue regulations for inward-facing recorders that include image and audio recordings as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board in R-10-1 and R-10-2.
Safety Recommendation R-19-7 is classified “Open—Await Response.”