NTSB calls on Amtrak to record and review crewmember actions

Posted on July 9, 2015

In a letter to Amtrak, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that it should install crash- and fire-protected inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders in the operating cabs of all of its trains and review the recordings to ensure that crew actions are in accordance with procedures.

Additionally, the NTSB asked Amtrak to report twice a year on its progress in the installation of the recorders.

“The information that recorders can provide to ensure that crews are consistently operating trains safely is just too valuable to ignore,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “And, recordings can provide critical information in understanding crew actions prior to accidents, which can help prevent tragedies like the recent derailment in Philadelphia.”

The NTSB first made recommendations on audio recorders in operating cabs to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) following a 1996 train collision in Silver Spring, Maryland. The NTSB then called for image recorders after a 2005 accident in Mississippi.

Then, after a commuter train collided with a freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., in 2008, killing 25 people, the NTSB enhanced the recommendations to include “crash- and fire-protected inward- and outward- facing audio and image recorders capable of providing recordings (for at least 12 hours) to verify that crewmembers actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety as well as train operating conditions.”

Also, in a letter to the FRA, the NTSB reiterated those recommendations. In that letter, the NTSB cited 12 rail accidents in which it had recommended the use of audio and/or image recorders in operating cabs after finding that, in almost all cases, such information could have significantly aided the investigations of those events.

The FRA letter also referenced two recent train accident investigations that were aided by inward-facing audio and image recorders. In a 2013 accident in Walnut Creek, Calif., involving a Bay Area Rapid Transit train that struck roadway workers, the video/audio recorder helped verify the accident sequence. And in an ongoing investigation of a commuter train that struck a truck earlier this year in Oxnard, Calif., the information from the recorder has been critical in corroborating the engineer’s description of events.

Following the May 12 derailment of train 188 in Philadelphia, Amtrak announced that it would install inward-facing video recorders in the operating cabs in some of its trains. The NTSB has asked Amtrak to install recorders in all of its trains, ensure that they capture audio, are crash- and fire-protected, and are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure crewmembers are operating trains safely.

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