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Speeches

Board Meeting: Railroad Accident Report: Collision of Two Union Pacific Railroad Freight Trains in Hoxie, Arkansas, August 17, 2014 - Closing Statement
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Board Room and Conference Center
12/6/2016

In closing, I would like to recognize the hard work of the NTSB staff in producing this report, and to thank my fellow Board Members for their very thoughtful participation in the process.

I would also like to recognize Mr. Rick Narvell, who is retiring at the end of this month after 24 years at the NTSB, after his service in the U.S. Navy. Rick’s work as a human performance investigator contributed to numerous important safety recommendations, such as:

  • restricting personal electronic device use for train crews,
  • requiring effective crew resource management practices and training for train crews, and
  • implementing fatigue management education and policies for railroads.

Thank you, Rick, for your service to the NTSB, and for helping to move the needle in the right direction on railroad safety.

Freight railroads form the backbone of American commerce. They have criss-crossed the nation since the 19th century. The railroads can claim a long history of safety improvements since their beginnings, when railroad careers were much more often cut short by injury or death.

But a long history of improvements is not enough. Nor is uneven progress in railroad safety.

An engineer or conductor working for a freight railroad is just as subject to fatigue as one who works for a passenger or commuter railroad. The FRA’s safety rules, and those of the railroads themselves, should reflect this fact.

Similarly, employees of railroads should be subject to fitness for duty regulations. Airplane pilots, mariners, and commercial truckers can only be certified to operate their vehicles if they demonstrate that their relevant medical conditions, including sleep disorders, do not pose safety risks. It is time to apply similar rules to our railroads.

And finally, it is time to complete the implementation of positive train control. Human operators can be fatigued, impaired, distracted, or medically unfit, and they can make errors even on their best day, when they are not fatigued, impaired, distracted, or unfit. Since human error is inevitable, this technological safety net is indispensable.  Until PTC is implemented nationwide, we risk yet more preventable derailments, collisions, serious injuries, and deaths – as illustrated by the collision we discussed today.

Our railroad infrastructure is in need of an upgrade to bring railroad safety into the 21st century. PTC is a crucial part of that upgrade.

It’s time to finish the job.

We stand adjourned.

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