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Opening Remarks at National Transportation Safety Board Passenger Rail Family Assistance Conference, Washington, D.C.
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Welcome to NTSB Headquarters.  It’s wonderful to see all of you here today.   It’s also nice to see some familiar faces from the Rail Trespass Forum we recently held here.  Thank you all for coming.
Although this is the first time our Transportation Disaster Assistance Division (TDA) has convened a meeting of passenger rail companies and other interested organizations, this is not the first time they’ve brought transportation professionals together to discuss family assistance operations.  TDA holds an annual meeting with air carrier representatives to discuss challenges, planning, preparedness, and response issues and to ensure we’re all on the same page.  I was especially happy to hear that, with your help, we were convening a family assistance conference specifically focused on passenger rail.
As some of you may know, I take trains every day, as does my husband.  We take public transportation to our jobs during the week and to enjoy the sights of Washington on the weekends with our young son.  We also use rail frequently on trips to see family and friends.  In fact, as a child in Galveston, Texas, I grew up about a mile from the tracks and I loved trains and train history so much that I got a job at the Railroad Museum.  So, I have always believed in the importance of rail of all types  and I strongly feel the safety of passenger rail is vital to the health and welfare of our country.  My background is in public health and injury prevention so like you, I know that  prevention is what we all aim for first.  But, should there be an accident, it’s vital to be prepared to help the people involved.  As passenger rail companies, I know you strive to provide great service to your customers each and every day. 
This conference is intended to spark a conversation about the importance of a specific (and we hope, rare) aspect of customer service -- and that’s executing a successful family assistance operation after an accident.  When an accident happens is not the time to distance yourselves from your customers.  In fact, that is the time to increase the level of attentiveness as you address their needs and concerns during a sensitive and emotional time. You’ll hear from our dedicated and knowledgeable staff here, as well as colleagues in the industry,  in order to prepare you should tragedy strike.  A successful family assistance operation requires planning and coordination before an accident occurs.  The time to get to know your partners in response is before an accident, not during.
But if an accident does occur, it’s time for transportation companies to come together and support each other.    The safety of passenger rail is good for all of us – an accident affects public perception of all of us, in addition to the lives changed by a death or debilitating injury.  And we should remember that, despite our best intentions, an accident that occurs to someone else today may be the very same type of accident that occurs to you tomorrow.  Partnerships between passenger rail carriers, air carriers, motorcoach carriers and others make good business sense.  We can all learn from each other.
From our vantage point here at the NTSB, we know there’s a lot of information available about how to plan and carry out a response to an emergency.  Local jurisdictions work with you in their planning for natural disasters; they work with you to protect infrastructure, coordinate evacuations and to ensure the safety of your personnel and equipment.
  • In the midst of all that, there are passenger rail carriers who have also committed resources, time and money to ensure they have a plan for assisting and supporting their employees, passengers and their families in the aftermath of an accident.  We applaud you and other carriers for sharing the lessons you’ve learned through planning, real-time response to an accident, and emergency preparedness exercises.
  • Today, and moving forward, is a great opportunity for you to meet one another and work together in your planning, preparedness and response efforts. 

Thank you for taking the time to attend and I know you will find the presentations useful and interesting.  And now I would like to turn the podium over to the other speakers.  We are very happy to have representatives from AMTRAK here today to share the knowledge they’ve gained through their planning, preparedness, response and exercise experience. 

Thank you again and thank you for your efforts and dedication to helping to make passenger rail safer.