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Speeches

Board Meeting Opening Statement Special Investigation Report on Rail Roadway Worker Protection
Christopher A. Hart
Washington, DC
9/24/2014

​Good morning. Welcome to the Board room of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Acting Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board Members: Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.

I would also like to welcome members of the Fatality Analysis of Maintenance-of-Way Employees and Signalmen Committee (FAMES). FAMES is a collaborative rail industry safety effort among railroads, labor unions, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a Special Investigation Report on Railroad and Rail Transit Roadway Worker Protection. (The roadway is the strip of land on which the track is constructed, also called the wayside).
 
This Report is a study of fatal accidents involving roadway workers. On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer our condolences to the families and friends of the workers who lost their lives in these accidents and wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured.
 
We cannot change what happened, but in finding commonalities among these accidents, we hope to help prevent similar accidents in the future.
We have come a long way since a time when railroad work was the second most hazardous occupation in the country, surpassed only by coal mining. In 1889, the first year for which the Interstate Commerce Commission compiled accident statistics, 1,972 railroaders lost their lives on the job - one out of every 375 employees.
 
Today, even the most hazardous occupations are comparatively safer. In 2013, there were a total of 4,405 fatal occupational injuries nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a little more than three per 100,000 workers across all occupations. Even in the most hazardous occupation, the fatality rate is about one out of 780, and railroad work is no longer even among the most hazardous occupations.
 
But it takes vigilance to keep a safety record strong and to continue making further improvements.
 
Back in the 19th century, workers in the running trades – meaning the engineers, firemen, conductors, and brakemen – were particularly at risk. Those occupations were so dangerous that a letter to Locomotive Engineers' Monthly Journal compared the life of the engineer to "a constant cavalry or artillery charge."
 
Today, the industry has become far safer, thanks to railroads, regulators and unions. Accident rates have fallen among those who operate the iron horses. It is those who maintain the way for them who are at rising risk.
 
Today's troublesome trend is among roadway workers, not in the running trades. Continued workplace safety depends on identifying and reversing such trends early, and taking action to prevent further loss of life.
 
The number of roadway workers not in transit rail who lost their lives on the job has increased every year between 2010 and 2013, when the annual total reached 11, the most since 1995. Roadway worker fatalities were up in transit rail as well, bringing total roadway worker fatalities to 15 last year.
 
The presentations you are going to hear today will describe some of the circumstances of these deaths and the safety issues that they raise. Very often, the authors of this report identify gaps in the layers of protection developed to prevent just such tragic losses.
 
You will also hear some statistical information on the regulatory and work environment in which these accidents occurred, which may help to establish the efficacy of the present inspection regime.
 
The roadway workers who repair and maintain our rail infrastructure help to ensure the safety of rail transportation. Today, we will explore ways to enhance their safety.
In turn, they will continue to contribute to the safety of their counterparts in the running trades and to the safety of the general public – including me and probably most of you – who ride the rails.
 
Now I will turn to Deputy Managing Director Steve Klejst.
 
Deputy Managing Director Klejst.