Posts Tagged ‘National Transportation Safety Board’

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding 45%

May 24, 2017

The Trump administration wants to slash Amtrak funding by 45 percent in fiscal year 2018.

The detailed budget proposed released this week proposed giving Amtrak $744 million.

In the current fiscal year, Amtrak received $1.4 billion. The cuts for next year include ending $289 for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes.

The budget document described long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today, communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network.”

The document said Amtrak’s long-distance trains represent the greatest amount of Amtrak’s operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record.

The Trump administration would instead appropriate $1.5 billion for the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

[The Northeast Corridor] “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document said.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding for the development of New York’s Penn Station by 64 percent from $14 million to $5 million.

The Amtrak funding cuts make up the lion’s share of the 37 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation, would receive $16.2-billion in FY 2018, a decline of 12.7 percent over what it received in FY 2017.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s budget would drop by 37 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion while Federal Transit Administration will decline by 5 percent from its FY 2017 appropriation of $11.8 billion.

The FTA would receive $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. The FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program for new starts would be cut by 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2.

Funding would be continued only for programs that FTA is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

Funding for the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be eliminated.

The budget document said projects that are attempting to receive TIGER funding could still earn grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by DOT’s Build America Bureau.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs would remain in place, but receive no additional funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board would receive $106 million, which is no change from FY 2017.

The Surface Transportation Board would receive a $5 million boost to $37 million in order to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

The Trump administration budget proposal is likely to undergo numerous changes as Congress considers federal funding priorities for FY 2018.

Sumwalt Named as NTSB Vice Chairman

April 7, 2017

The Trump administration has named Robert L. Sumwalt as vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

President Donald Trump said he plans to nominate Sumwalt for another five-year term on the board.

Sunwalt will replace as vice chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, whose duties in that position  ended this week.

Dinh-Varr had served as acting chairman since March 16 and remains a board member.

The NTSB has five members, all of whom are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to serve five-year terms.

The NTSB also said that it was 50 years ago this week that it conducted its first investigation, a probe of a plane crash at Lexington, Kentucky, on April 3, 1967.

The board has since issued more than 2,400 safety recommendations for railroads, more than 200 recommendations in intermodal transportation, and several thousand additional recommendations for other modes of transportation.

NTSB Acting Chairman Named

March 20, 2017

Bella Dinh-Zarr has been named as acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board after the term of incumbent Chairman Christopher Hart expired last week.

Hart remains a member of the five-member board and had served as chairman since March 2015.

He had served as acting chairman for nearly a year before being nominated by the Obama administration to be the permanent chairman.

Dinh-Zarr has served as vice chairman since March 2015. Before joining the NTSB, she served as director of the U.S. Office of the FIA Foundation, an international philanthropy organization that promotes safe and sustainable transportation.
NTSB members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. By law, a board member is designated by the president to be the chairman while another is designated to be the vice chairman for two-year terms.

Pilot Error Blamed for 2015 Akron Crash

October 23, 2016

Pilot error was blamed for the crash in Akron last year of a private jet that killed nine people, but a National Transportation Safety Board report also singled out a poor safety culture at the company that owned the plane and lax FAA inspectors.

NTSBThe crash of the Hawker 125-700 jet while on final approach to Akron Fulton International Airport occurred on Nov. 10, 2015, in the Ellet neighborhood in low-visibility conditions.

The plane struck an apartment building and one person on the ground was injured.

The plane, leased by Augusto Lewkowicz of Execuflight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was on a flight from Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport.

The seven passengers were employees of Pebb Enterprises of Boca Raton, Florida, and they had been looking at locations for shopping centers. All of them resided in Florida.

At the time of the crash, the plane was being flown by first officer Renato Marchese, 50. The captain was Oscar Chavez, 40.

The NTSB concluded that the crash resulted from the flight crew’s “mismanagement of the approach and multiple deviations from company standard operating procedures which placed the airplane in an unsafe situation.”

Before the crash, Marchese had slowed the speed of the jet because, the NTSB said, it was likely that Chavez had expressed concerns about another aircraft in the region.

The plane should have been traveling at about 165 mph, or 144 knots, on its approach but instead was flying at 125 mph, or 109 knots. The wing flaps should have been in a different position than they were.

As a result, the jet stalled and crashed two miles from the airport. The plane’s left wing tilted toward the ground, clipped utility wires, hit the ground and struck the apartment building.

The crew also had miscalculated the weight of passengers, luggage and fuel, and failed to go through a required checklist as they approached the airport.

NTSB investigators also found the pilots were fatigued at the time of the flight, but no evidence was found of drug or alcohol use by either pilot.

Nor did investigators find any structural defects that would have affected the jet’s performance.

Some of those killed in the crash might have survived had it not been for a fire that broke out after impact.

The NTSB said Chavez had been fired from a previous job for failing to show up for recurrent training. Marchese had been fired from a previous job for “significant performance deficiencies.”

The NTSB said that ExecuFlight did not do a follow-up evaluation on the reasons why the two pilots were terminated from their previous employers.

The safety board also faulted ExecuFlight  for have a casual attitude that set a poor example to pilots and for operational safety. The company lacked a safety management system designed to establish and reinforce a positive safety culture, the NTSB said.

A former Execuflight employee said that the company’s owner ordered him to lie to investigators in the wake of the crash. The former employee told NTSB investigators that ExecuFlight destroyed or altered flight records after the crash.

Two days after the NTSB report was released, ExecuFlight released a statement disputing the NTSB’s report.

Execuflight said it conducted complete background checks on the two pilots who were flying the plane and that both had successfully completed a training program.

“We’re regretful for the crash, but we don’t feel responsibility,” ExecuFlight CEO Leskowicz told WOIO-TV in Cleveland. “We didn’t do anything in that crash as a company to set it up for that.”

Leskowicz said his company did everything it was supposed to do in all legal areas of aviation, from hiring to training. He contended that Chavez had left his previous position voluntarily.

“Sometimes pilots require additional training,” he said. “That was not the case for these people. So it caught us all by surprise.”

Leskowicz blamed other factors for the crash including weather conditions and mistakes made by air traffic controllers in Akron. Specifically, he said the latter included miscommunication during a shift change.

Cracked Tank Shell Eyed as Leading Cause of W.Va. Rail Tank Car Clorine Leak Last August

October 21, 2016

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary finding that a cracked tank shell was the leading cause of a chlorine-gas tank car leak at a West Virginia chemical facility in August.

NTSBThe NTSB said the DOT-105-type tank car experienced a sudden tank shell crack shortly after being filled with liquefied compressed chlorine at a Axiall Corporation railcar loading facility in New Martinsville.

The 90 tons of chlorine began leaking two hours after the crack developed, forming a cloud that drifted from the railcar facility located on the Ohio River.

Five Axiall employees and three contractors were treated for exposure to the toxic gas and plants and trees in the cloud’s path were damaged.

The NTSB report said the car in question was built in 1981 by ACF Industries and had a water capacity of 17,380 gallons.

The type of ACF-manufactured under frame on the car had been identified by the Federal Railroad Administration as being linked to developing cracks and shell buckling.

A five-year inspection conducted on the car in January 2016 by Rescar, a railcar maintenance and leasing company, found numerous corrosion pits in the bottom section of the tank shell.

Repair work done on the car at that time included interior cleaning, ultrasonic thickness testing, removing internal corrosion, welds buildup, and post-weld stress-relief heat treatments.

Following the leak, investigators determined that the car had experienced buckling in the tank shell between the end of the stub sill reinforcing tab and other adjacent weld spots.

Other areas of repair to the tank car shell measured below the minimum allowed thickness of 0.748 inch.

‘Accident’ or ‘Crash?’ Both Might Be Accurate Terms But Don’t Quite Mean the Same Thing

April 20, 2016

As a professional writer, I pay close attention to the words I use to convey information and express thoughts.

Hence, I took an interest in a recent discussion on a railfan chat list in the wake of an incident in which an Amtrak train struck a backhoe 15 miles south of Philadelphia.

Two Amtrak maintenance-of-way workers were killed and 30 passengers aboard the train suffered minor injuries.

The online discussion focused, in part, on the use of the word “accident” to describe what happened.

On TransportationA poster in the thread asserted that because events such as the one in which the train struck the backhoe are preventable many in the railroad and regulatory fields now call them collisions or crashes rather than accidents.

That’s because the word “accident” suggests that no one was at fault.

If the two construction workers had been killed after being struck by a meteor, that would be an accident because no rules were violated and, hence, no one was at fault. It would have been the proverbial act of God.

The poster was correct that the incident involving the backhoe was preventable. A piece of construction equipment doesn’t just happen to find its way onto a railroad track over which trains are operating at better than 100 miles per hour.

Someone made a mistake. A rule was violated and it is often said that every rule in every rule book of every railroad is written in blood.

But does that meant that if a rules violation leads to injury or death that it is not an accident, but a collision, a crash, or even an incident?

I would describe it as an accident because the event was unintentional.

The operator of the backhoe did not go to work intending to be struck and killed by a train.

The engineer of the train did not go to work intending to strike a piece of construction equipment and kill someone.

The passengers didn’t board the train intending to suffer personal injury.

It will be several months before the National Transportation Safety Board issues a final report that will specify which rule or rules were violated by whom and how.

Once the NTSB report is released, there may be some discussion about the adequacy of the rules and/or how they are practiced. Some might call for a revision of the rules in the name of safer practices.

In the meantime, the Federal Railroad Administration has ordered Amtrak to review its safety practices and retrain its workers.

All of this is oriented toward creating and maintaining an environment in which there are zero injuries and fatalities.

That is unlikely to occur so long as that environment involves humans because people are subject to such things as forgetfulness, lack of knowledge of the rules and procedures, lack of skill in following the rules and procedures, and engaging in poor judgment.

The business of assessing fault has consequences that transcend what caused the incident and what rule(s) were violated by whom.

Jobs might be lost, careers destroyed and thousands, if not millions, of dollars must be paid to repair damaged equipment and property, not to mention paying the medical costs for making the injured whole again.

Someone has to pay for those costs and the determination of who is fault goes a long way toward identifying who those people and companies will be.

In that context, whether the event is framed as an “accident” or a “crash” could be important in how that determination is ultimately made.

Such frames guide how people, including judges and juries in a court of law, think about what occurred and make decisions as to who owes what and how much to whom.

On the surface, the words used to describe an event might seem to be a trivial matter.

Arguably, “accident,” “crash” and “collision” all accurately describe the same thing.

Yet there can be subtle differences in how the meanings of those words are perceived and that might make a significant difference in sorting out the aftermath.

Beverly Scott Appointed to Seat on NTSB

August 3, 2015

President Barack Obama has named Beverly Scott to the National Transportation Board.

Scott previous served as the general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. She resigned that position in April 2015 following severe weather-related service disruptions.

She began her service at the agency in December 2012 and previously served as chief executive officer and general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.

W.Va. Wreck Cleanup to Continue This Weekend

February 20, 2015

The cleanup of the site of a CSX crude oil train derailment in West Virginia is expected to continue through the weekend.

The derailment occurred on the former Chesapeake & Ohio mainline, which is also used by Amtrak’s Cardinal.

Amtrak has ceased operating the Chicago-New York Cardinal over its entire route through Feb. 25.

The Cardinal has been operating only between Chicago and Indianapolis with bus service offered between Indianapolis and Cincinnati

Train No. 51 did not depart from New York on Wednesday morning, although Amtrak did provide alternative transportation to those traveling as far west as Charlottesville, Va.

The same arrangement was expected to take place on Thursday and Sunday.

The derailment of the 109-car train on Monday near Mount Carbon, W.Va.,  sent 27 loaded crude oil tank cars off the tracks and resulted in a series of explosions that continued for more than 10 hours.

Railroad derailment specialty contractors have been dispatched to the scene and have been removing the burned out cars.

Nineteen of the derailed cars caught fire. CSX officials confirmed that all of the cars were model CPC 1232 cars.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials have been in contact with the Federal Railroad Administration and CSX. CSX and the FRA are providing NTSB investigators with detailed damage reports and photographs of the derailed tank cars.

The investigators will compare the data with tank-car design specifications and similar derailments, including ones that occurred in Casselton, N.D., in December 2013 and Lynchburg, Va., in April 2014.

After the derailment, some of the tank cars released an unknown amount of crude, some of which likely seeped into the Kanawha River, NTSB officials said. A one-half-mile evacuation zone was established around the derailment site.

“This accident is another reminder of the need to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart. “That is why this issue is included on our Most Wanted List. If we identify any new safety concerns as a result of this derailment, the board will act expeditiously to issue new safety recommendations.”

The train was traveling from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va. The cause of the derailment remains unknown.

An estimated 1,000 residents were forced out of their homes but had returned by late Tuesday.

Multiple agencies worked to restore power ahead of brutally cold record-breaking temperatures.

“Our primary mission has been to utilize the resources available to take care of restoring utility services to the affected communities efficiently,” West Virginia Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato said.

Officials at the scene were continuing to deploy environmental protective monitoring measures on land, air and in the nearby Kanawha River as well as a creek near the tracks, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.

A unified command center, operated by a collaboration of local, state and federal agencies was established on Wednesday.

“The top priorities for response personnel remain the safety of the community and responders, and mitigating the impact to the environment,” said Coast Guard Captain Lee Boone, Federal on Scene Coordinator for the West Virginia derailment.

Workers have established several access roads into the derailment site and are removing equipment where possible.

Once all fires have been extinguished, crews will transfer oil from the damaged cars to other tanks for removal from the site.

Rail Deaths up 3% in 2013, NTSB Reports

February 12, 2015

Deaths on the nation’s railroads rose by 6 percent in 2013 as fatalities on all modes of transportation declined by 3 percent.

Preliminary figures recently released by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that rail deaths increased from 840 in 2012 to 891 in 2013. The majority of these fatalities were trespassers struck by trains.

Fatalities in all modes of transportation totaled 34,678 in 2013, compared with 35,796 in 2012.

The U.S. Department of Transportation provided the statistics to the NTSB.



NTSB Cites Jumper Wire Use in 2012 Derailment

November 29, 2013

The use of a jumper wire that resulted in a false proceed signal is being blamed as the likely cause of the derailment of an Amtrak train last year near Niles, Mich.

The National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the use of the jumper wire violated Amtrak procedures for overriding signal and train control safety. The NTSB also cited inadequate oversight by Amtrak management to ensure that proper jumper wire safeguards were used.

The accident occurred on Oct. 21, 2012, when Wolverine Service No. 350 en route to Detroit (Pontiac) diverged from the mainline at 61 mph at CP 190 and into the Niles Yard.

The train derailed about 291 feet after leaving the main track and traveled 1,148 additional feet before coming to a stop. The two locomotives, one on each end, and four passenger cars all derailed but remained upright.

The NTSB report said that a track maintenance crew had been operating a tamping machine at the site and after completing its work had contacted the Amtrak train director to seek permission to move the tamper into Niles Yard.

The train director was unable to align switch No. 2 into the yard and sought to contact a signal supervisor about the problem. However, no signal maintainers were available so a signal supervisor traveled to the site.

After arriving at CP 190, the supervisor attempted to correct the problem at the power-operated switch but was unsuccessful. He then entered the signal bungalow and removed two cartridge fuses, opened two terminal nuts on the terminal board, and applied local battery power using two jumper wires.

When the battery power was applied, the local control panel indication lights showed that the switch was aligned and locked normal, but he did not verify the physical position of the switch before applying the jumper wire.

The train director contacted the supervisor and informed him that the switch was now indicating normal on the dispatcher’s display and asked if it was safe for No. 350 to proceed eastward. The supervisor answered in the affirmative.

When the supervisor observed No. 350 approaching entering the yard tracks, he realized what had occurred, removed the jumper wires and reinstalled the cartridge fuses.

He did not notify anyone hat he had used jumper wires just before the derailment and he did not leave the signal bungalow to aid the passengers and crew on the derailed train.

On Oct. 26, 2012, Amtrak issued a safety notice and conducted a system wide safety stand down for signal maintenance personnel. Amtrak managers discussed the circumstances of the Niles derailment and reviewed proper jumper wire procedures at safety meetings throughout the system.

Amtrak also issued a safety bulletin that stated in part that that jumper wires should only be used as a last resort to restore train operations. The procedure requires the train director or operator to be notified in all cases in which any signal system is inoperative and how protection is provided until repairs are made and the jumper wires removed.