Government Issues

NTSB issues 'urgent' recommendations to protect rail workers

Posted on December 23, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued two "urgent" safety recommendations to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as part of its ongoing investigation into the deaths of two Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) track workers who were struck by a BART train near Walnut Creek, Calif., on October 19.

The recommendations urge the FTA to issue a directive to all rail transit agencies to require redundant protection for railway right-of-way workers, such as positive train control, secondary warning devices, or the use of a shunt — a safety device workers attach to rails that results in approaching trains receiving a stop signal.

The letter to FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff also urges a directive to require transit agencies to review track worker rules and procedures to eliminate any work authorization that depends solely on the track worker to provide protection from trains and moving equipment.

"Having redundant protection measures in place for track workers is not only a best practice but common sense," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "A positive safety culture is not a solo act — everyone needs to look out for each other."

At the time the two track workers were struck and fatally injured, BART had a roadway safety practice called "simple approval," which provided authorization from the BART control center for employees to enter the train roadway with no protection provided other than their own awareness of the situation. Workers were to look out for trains and "provide their own protection and not interfere with mainline/yard operations."

BART has since eliminated the practice.

The investigation into the BART accident is ongoing and no probable cause has been determined.

The letter to Administrator Rogoff references other track worker deaths that the NTSB has investigated, including three fatal events on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority since 2006, another involving fatalities on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and earlier this year a fatal accident involving a track worker for Metro-North Railroad.

"The NTSB believes that all rail transit systems are at risk for roadway worker fatalities and serious injuries," the letter said.


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