Commentary, Issues

RailPAC writes Boxer regarding Passenger Rail Safety

Fax to 202 224 0454
22 February, 2010


Dear Senator Boxer:

First of all may I commend you for your concern about passenger rail safety following the Chatsworth collision last year, and also for spending so much time at the Los Angeles USDOT conference last Friday.  We appreciate your interest in passenger rail.

We exchanged views on the subject of two engineers in the cab of mainline passenger trains.  You asked me to provide information about railroad accidents in which there were two engineers in the cab.  Freight train operators have a two person crew, a trained and qualified engineer and conductor, who are responsible for the safe operation of the train.  Here follows a brief list of some of the accidents that have happened in recent years, taken from NTSB records, in which both members of the train crew failed to take action to prevent an accident.

RA600108 2003 Clarendon TX, collision between two freight trains.  Engineer using cell phone, conductor failed to take action to stop train.
RA600111 2002 Placentia CA, collision between Metrolink passenger train and BNSF freight train.  Two person BNSF crew passed warning signal and could not brake in time to avoid collision.  2 Passengers killed, 22 injured.
RA600097 2002 collision between two freight trains, Momence IL, failure to comply with signals.
RA600044 1998 Collision of two freight trains, Butler, IN.  Train crew failed to obey signals.
RA600046 1997, collision between two freight trains, Delia Ks, failure of train crew to stop at signal.

Transportation safety experts over the years have agreed that a single operator, whether of a passenger train, streetcar, bus, truck or even automobile has the capability to operate the vehicle safely.  Experts have also agreed that there is a danger that a second person can just as easily cause a distraction as he or she can enhance safety by being a second pair of eyes.  The above cited accidents indicate that a second person in the cab is no guarantor of safety, while tens of thousands of trains and transportation vehicles are safely operated everyday throughout the world with one person in control.

RailPAC’s position is this.  Adding a second engineer to Metrolink trains is the thin end of the wedge, and will result in calls for the practice to become universal on passenger vehicles.  If it is safer to have two operators, why should passengers on other trains, streetcars or even buses be any less safe than those on Metrolink?  But there is no free lunch, and if you double the cost of providing engineers on passenger trains you will so burden these operations that there will be reductions in service or complete eliminations of routes.  Reduced train service drives passengers back to their automobiles, an inherently less safe means of transportation, and reduces jobs in the industry.

The answer should be the incremental implementation of proven safety devices which enhance the operator’s ability to do his or her job safely.  In addition, overall transportation safety is augmented by increasing the number of people that choose passenger rail over the automobile, and this can be achieved with the growth of integrated networks of passenger transit, making rail an attractive and viable choice for more journeys.  This in turn creates good paying long term career jobs in the passenger transportation industry, a concept that we know you endorse.

Thank you again for your support for passenger rail and your work for the people of California.

Yours faithfully,

Paul J. Dyson
President, RailPAC

Previous Post Next Post