Thank you for the opportunity to help you celebrate the safety achievements of the railroad industry during the past year, and to also recognize a special railroad employee who has demonstrated outstanding safety accomplishments. I note that this is the 95th year since the Harriman Awards were established and the 22nd year for the Harold F. Hammond Award. Recognizing your efforts to improve safety is important.
A safety culture that promotes actions to protect employees goes hand-in-hand with a safety culture that protects the American public.
Safety improvements don’t occur without hard work. I congratulate you for pushing accident and fatality rates downward.
In 2007, train accident rates were down by over 10 percent from 2006. This represents a decrease in train accidents for 3 years in row, a good trend, after several years of increasing train accident numbers just a decade ago.
Although there was an increase from 16 to 17 employee fatalities last year over the previous year, there has been a general downward trend over the past quarter of a century.
- In 1980, there were 97 employee fatalities.
- In 1990, there were 40 employee fatalities.
- In 2007, there were 17 employee fatalities.
Congratulations on reducing the number of employee fatalities so significantly. However, I know that you will agree with me, that while the number of employee fatalities have been reduced so dramatically during this period, our goal should be zero.
The number of grade crossing collisions have decreased from over 10,000 in 1980 to 2,700 last year. Down almost 7 percent last year from the year before. Likewise, the number of grade crossing fatalities have decreased by half, from 833 fatalities in 1980 to 339 fatalities last year.
Although most grade crossing collisions are caused by motorist error, reducing the number of at grade crossings, the addition of active warning systems, and public education programs, have all played important roles in reducing accidents. Continued emphasis is needed in all three programs. I note, that in addition to looking out for the safety of their fellow employees, many previous recipients of the Harold F. Hammond Award have been volunteers in public grade crossing safety education programs.
New technology, such as intelligent transportation systems, can also play an important role in saving lives at grade crossings. Smart vehicles can warn drivers when trains are approaching, and direct the drivers to take appropriate action. I encourage your industry to work closely with the highway industry in the development of useful, intelligent transportation safety systems.
Technology can also be used to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, and to protect wayside workers. The use of positive train control systems has been on our List of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements since 1990.
Every year we see serious accidents that could have been prevented had positive train control systems been installed. I know, that several industry leaders in this room today have committed to moving forward on the development and installation of PTC. They have recognized that the time to move forward on this technology is now. You are to be congratulated.
It is time for the entire industry to commit to the development and implementation of positive train control systems. The safety redundancies provided by PTC can, and will, prevent serious accidents.
I am also encouraged by the progress being made on the development and use of Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) Braking. ECP brakes will provide opportunities to improve the management of in-train forces and to reduce train handling derailments.
ECP brakes will allow shorter stopping distances, which can help to prevent collisions, reduce the opportunities for runaway trains, and have the potential to reduce the severity of accidents that do occur.
I am excited about the potential safety benefits of ECP braking and look forward to the future transition of ECP braking from unit test trains to system-wide implementation.
As many of you know, I strongly believe that the development and implementation of new technology is important to improving safety across all modes of transportation, including the railroad industry.
While technology has great potential for improving safety, I also recognize that there are great opportunities to improve safety through human interaction and cooperation.
For example, the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) working groups, consisting of industry leaders, labor representatives, and government employees, have been working together to address safety issues related to continuous welded rail, passenger safety and medical standards.
By working together to address safety issues, your organizations can ultimately improve railroad safety. To those of you who participate in RSAC, or on any safety committee, your actions can make a difference.
Finally, as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to see first hand, how the men and women in this industry care about safety. I have spoken with industry leaders, and ridden on the front of trains with crewmembers. When we talked about safety, everyone was enthusiastic. Improving safety is an issue that we can all embrace.
We live in exciting times. There are many new technologies on the horizon that can be used to improve safety. It is up to you, to develop and implement these new technologies. Making railroads safer for employees will also make railroads safer for the American public.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
And, congratulations, in advance, to those of you who will be receiving awards today.
Speeches & Testimony