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should take a stronger leadership role. Would you please elaborate on this recommendation?
Mr. KING. Remembering that there are 217,000 crossings, Mr. Chairman, it may be difficult to pursue. Some people may say impossible.
We know, Mr. Chairman, it is not impossible. There are about 2,500 what we call booby-trap crossings in this country. A boobytrap crossing occurs when there is a time and speed equation on that set of tracks which means if you stop, look and listen, on the best day God ever created, and you proceed across that track, and there is a train at a given point at its speed, it will hit you. You will not see it, you won't hear it when you start. We have accidents like that.
We have asked for that to be looked at. Those should be the kinds of places you look at right away. We could be talking about larger vehicles, school buses, so forth. These crossings should be identified and protected.
When we say protected, Mr. Chairman, we must recognize that the design of these road crossings were based on horse-and-buggy premises. We might in today's market have to look at closing some of those crossings. It's a question of using a little bit of imagination and analysis, and putting it all together to make it work.
We are not at all persuaded that that has been done to date, sir. Senator PRESSLER. I thank you very much. I might commend you on your work. We are all depending heavily on you in a very serious fashion because the work that your Board does is of importance to all Americans. Thank you very much.
Mr. KING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The following information was subsequently received for the record:]
QUESTIONS OF THE COMMITTEE AND THE ANSWERS THERETO
Question 1. You have stated your concern over the increase in rail accidents. Would you please provide the Committee with a breakdown, for the record, of the accidents which you investigated over the last five years and the attendant recommendations?
Answer. Below is a statistical chart showing the number of major and field railroad investigations conducted by the Safety Board. Also listed is a statistical breakdown of railroad recommendations from 1976-1979, which shows the number of recommendations made which evolved from a railroad accident investigation. The Committee staff was previously furnished with a printout of all railroad recommendations made by the Safety Board.
1976. 1977 1978. 1979.
STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN OF RAILROAD RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE YEARS 1976 TO 1980
Question 2. The General Accounting Office wrote a report which criticized the Federal Railroad Administration's response to NTSB recommendations. In your testimony, you state that FRA's response has improved in the last two years. To what do you attribute this improvement? When you say "response," do you mean just that? Or, are your referring to specific actions actually taken in response to the Board's recommendations?
Answer. Over the years the Safety Board has made a number of Safety Recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In 1978 and 1979 the Board adopted 50 safety recommendations which were forwarded to FRA. Thirtyfour percent of the recommendations were accepted by the FRA. In terms of "response" time defined as correspondence acknowledging the Board's recommendations there has been definite improvement. In terms of specific action response defined as a plan to achieve a particular safety recommendation the response by FRA has been mixed. While the acceptance rate by FRA over the last two years was 34 percent, the Safety Board feels that a number of vital areas are not being addressed in a timely manner. A number of sensitive safety concerns which the Safety Board believes safety impacts can be made and in which accelerated FRA action has not been forthcoming include:
Installation of shelf couplers on all DOT 105 tank cars by December 25, 1980, which transport chlorine gas and Class A and B poisons.
Improved locomotive cab crashworthiness to reduce the tragic loss of life of railroad employees.
Improved railroad employee training and adequate Federal review to insure uniform application of rules and regulations by railroad properties.
Issuance of Federal regulations with adequate civil and criminal penalties to assist in the elimination of the use of alcohol and drugs when persons are operating train movements.
Improved track safety and inspection program with meaningful goals and objectives defined coupled with an effective evaluation criteria.
Question 3. Several legislative proposals have been suggested to insure effective enforcement. The FRA has proposed an expansion of its emergency order authority to include unsafe practices and operations. Rail labor has proposed legislation which would provide for a private right action to force FRA to act where it has not. How do you respond to these proposals? Are there other such proposals which you might recommend?
Answer. The Safety Board has no formal position on either proposal. However, we would offer the following general comments. First, if the FRA plans to expand its emergency order authority it appears to be critical that FRA have an overall safety program with defined goals and objectives. Within this safety program a definition of "unsafe practices and operations" must be made. Application of "emergency orders" must be accomplished in a uniform manner and understood by all parties concerned.
The rail labor proposal for a private right action may further improve safety if it can be assured that private right action will not be abused and such action is taken only when safety conditions are clearly adverse to the safety of the public. The use of private right action for overtime claim disputes or minor infringements could diminish the FRA's capacity to execute priority safety programs.
The Safety Board believes that the development and implementation of a system safety plan which sets out FRA's goals and objectives with criteria by which success of the safety programs will be measured would assist the Subcommittee in future authorizations for rail safety activities.
Question 4. The Board has indicated its concern over delay in the installation of shelf couplers in all 105 tank cars, which carry chlorine gas. What is the basis for your recommendations? Are you aware that FRA, AAR, and shipper groups are studying this issue?
Answer. The Safety Board submits that further study of shelf couplers for DOT 105 tank cars is unnecessary. FRA, AAR and shipper groups have studied shelf couplers for at least 8 years and the benefits of these couplers is established. The Safety Board recommends immediate action to install top and bottom shelf couplers on all DOT 105 tank cars.
Question 5. Apart from the routing of hazardous materials and the retrofitting of tank cars, are there other recommendations which you would make in the area of hazardous materials? As you are aware, this area is of utmost concern to the committee.
Answer. The Safety Board also has had an interest in the placement of tank cars within a train. It has been suggested that in most major train derailments that hazardous materials tank cars located toward the rear of a train better withstood derailment dynamic forces, whereas, hazardous materials tank cars in the front or middle of the train tended to be involved in the dynamics of a derailment and thus lost product or were destroyed.
The examination of specialty products and Class A poisons which are shipped in DOT Specification 111 tank cars should be reviewed and a determination made by DOT if the toxicity hazard may require an upgraded tank car with increased safety protection.
To our knowledge tank cars are not taken to the FRA Test Center at Pueblo, Colorado and tested for crashworthiness. Given the recent history of tank car releases of extremely poisonous and volatile hazardous materials the Safety Board believes that this test facility should be used to test new hazardous materials tank car designs to resist breaching in the derailment environment.
Question 6. NTSB has just concluded a study which found that the state rail safety programs were ineffective. Would you please recap your recommendations, pointing out any legislative changes which could be made? In this regard do you respond to the proposal made to grant states enforcement authority to issue orders and fines? To what extent would such authority improve the state programs? Answer. The Safety Board has made two recommendations to the FRA on the state rail safety program; neither recommendation concluded that the state rail safety programs were ineffective. As a result of states' testimony at the national hearing in 1978 the Board first recommended that FRA "Evaluate and revise the State Participation Program to allow greater State flexibility; base evaluation of the program on the States' ability to adequately monitor railroad and hazardous materials safety."
The second recommendation was made as a result of an evaluation report of FRA's hazardous materials and track safety program. This report indicated that the (State) program appears to be a potentially cost-effective activity if properly developed and implemented. The recommendation stated: "Determine through an independent study why some states have been unable or unwilling to join in the existing State Participation Program and implement a productive program as contemplated by the FRSA of 1970 in which States are true partners."
Senator PRESSLER. I will now call on Mr. William Dempsey, president, Association of American Railroads. He will be accompanied by Dr. William Harris, vice president, research and test department, Mr. A. W. Johnston, vice president of maintenance and operations department. I would like to ask you to summarize your testimony, your main statement, down to about five minutes. Then we will have some questions.
WILLIAM DEMPSEY, PRESIDENT ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS, WASHINGTON, D.C.; ACCOMPANIED BY A. W. JOHNSTON, VICE PRESIDENT, MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS DEPARTMENT; AND MR. TAYLOR
Mr. DEMPSEY. Thank you. Dr. Harris was unable to be with us this morning. Instead Mr. Taylor is with me along with Mr. Johnston, as you note.
I am glad to be able to be here to present the views of the industry on this very important matter of railroad assistance.
Senator PRESSLER. We will put your whole statement in the record. If you could summarize.
Mr. DEMPSEY. Yes, Senator.
The first point I would like to make is that the railroad safety record is good both with respect to general freight operations and transportation of hazardous materials. The preliminary figures we have for 1979 indicate that last year the fatalities in railroad accidents were the lowest since recordkeeping began back in the last century. This year, 1979, was not unique. This record low carries on a downward trend in fatalities in all categories for the last 14 years. It is true, on the other hand, as has been noted, that train accidents have been going up. We hope 1979 will show a downward trend there, but the fact of the matter is over a period of years we have seen an increase in train accidents and that is disheartening.
The point I would like to underscore is that in terms of safety this trend is not nearly as significant as the decline in fatalities. You can see why that is so if you take a look at what is involved in a train accident. All that is required for an incident to be classified as an accident is that there be $2,900 in damage to railroad property; whether or not there are any injuries associated with the accident.
So that even a simple yard derailment at very low speed, which is not a serious matter generally, can result in costs that high. That is why train accidents, as they are called, accounted for only about 3.7 percent of our total fatalities in 1978. By far the largest number of train accidents are relatively insignificant. Over 60 percent involve less than $10,000 damage and only 22 on the other end of the scale involve as much as a half million dollars damage and only five in that year involved $1 million or more. Therefore the significant consideration I suggest in terms of important safety considerations is that the most serious accidents, that is, the ones that involve a serious hazard to life or limb, those kinds of train accidents remained relatively constant in recent years.
A word about hazardous materials. It's widely recognized that railroads represent by far the safest form of transportation for hazardous materials. That is why shippers choose railroads for about 70 percent of their business. The fact is that trucks which transport only 30 percent of hazardous materials are involved in 90 percent of all hazardous materials' accidents.
As to rail transportation, 1979 was a good year. We had not a single death due to hazard materials' accident, out of more than 1.1 million carloads of hazardous materials shipped. There were only 112 instances of releases from derailments. 1979 is not an unusual year. If you look at the last 10 years you will see in 5 of those 10 years there were no fatalities and in 3 of the other 5 years there were no more than one or two fatalities due to hazardous materials' accidents.
I don't mean to suggest we are satisfied. We are not. We have to pay constant attention to all aspects of railroading if these trends are to be continued and improved. We mention briefly some of the steps underway. First I think it's important to recognize that virtually all aspects of rail operations bear upon safety. Improvements in track and techniques are important in service and also in terms of improving safety. These steps are being taken.
For example, in 1979 our spending for capital improvements and maintenance reached an all-time high. That followed previous record highs in 1978, 1977 and 1976. These figures are particularly impressive, I suggest, when one considers that the investments were made in the face of continued chronically low industry earnings.
These expenditures should pay off particularly in terms of derailments, and preliminary figures for 1979 indicate that they are paying off. These show a decline in derailments of 18 percent during the first nine months of the year, a particularly heartening development.
There are a variety of programs underway, one of the most important was mentioned by Mr. Parsons, I believe, called Track Train Dynamics, now in its seventh year. Through that program, for example, there have been developed a set of guidelines for train handling which describe to the engineer the best manner of operating a train under a wide variety of conditions. We have developed a number of analytical models in this program to assess the probable behavior of new equipment. They resulted in extensive changes to equipment.
This program is an excellent example of how productive industry-government cooperative projects can be in terms of improved performance and therefore improved safety.
Another program discussed is one focused on tank car safety. I won't repeat what the others said about that program. It did result in new regulations designed to improve the performance and safety of tank cars. This should be complete by 1980 on the 112-114 cars. By that time there should be an end to the violent rupture of these types of tank cars.
A word about grade crossings. Mr. King referred to it in some detail. I won't want to repeat anything that he said. It's a very serious matter. We have, as he noted, about 1,000 people killed at grade crossings every year. There have been significant improvements. The number of fatalities has dropped about 52 percent since 1967, notwithstanding an increased exposure of about 40 percent. That has been because of a variety of programs by industry and government.
There is no single answer to grade crossing accidents. The overwhelming majority are due to error on the part of drivers. We have a number of cases in which drivers not only go right around a physical barrier that is there by virtue of protection, but actually drive into the side of moving trains. So that it's pretty clear to us that the main need here is for education. That is what we are undertaking in cooperation with the National Safety Council and state help, and of course the continued installation of grade crossing protection.
I think the next point I would like to emphasize is that there are no measures that can be taken that will make a revolutionary change in railroad safety. That is no surprise. The profit incentive to improve safety has always been there. The result is that the major problems have been dealt with, and the accidents and injuries and deaths that still occur have a wide variety of causes that are not susceptible to one-shot, simple solutions.