Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Zero tolerance for cellphones

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Zero tolerance for cellphones

The BBC has filed the following report on the February 2016 head-on collision of two commuter trains in Bavaria, Germany:

A German train [dispatcher] has been arrested over the February rail crash that killed 11 people in Bavaria, as prosecutors suspect he was distracted by a computer game at the time. According to prosecutors he was playing the computer game on his mobile phone and made a signaling error, then dialed the wrong emergency number. He has admitted that version of events, German media report.

German train crash 624 01Two commuter trains collided on a single-track stretch near Bad Aibling. Eighty-five passengers suffered injuries, some of them life-threatening. The man could be charged with involuntary manslaughter and could face five years in jail. The trains crashed head-on while both were travelling at about 60 mph east of Bad Aibling, a spa town about 37 mile) southeast of Munich.

Investigators quoted by German media said the timings of the computer game and the crash pointed to “the accused having been distracted from his management of rail traffic at the junction.” The stretch of line had an automatic signaling system designed to halt any train that passed a stop signal (cab signaling known as PZB, Punktfoermige Zugbeeinflussung, or “intermittent train control.” But reports in German media suggested that the system had been switched off to let the eastbound train, which was running late, go past. The investigation ruled out technical faults with the trains or signaling system as being behind the crash. All those killed in the crash were men between 24 and 59.

This is not the first fatal accident attributable to human error caused by use of a cellphone, but it seems to me that it’s a matter of some urgency that we take steps to at least try and make it the last such accident. Or for those of you familiar with the railroad environment:

How many f***ing people do we have to kill before we stop this bulls**t?

All railroads should immediately classify cellphones as a hazard, akin to the use or possession of intoxicants while on duty or on railroad property. Call it rule G-SM, or CDMA if you happen to be in Verizon territory:

The use or possession of cellphones, electronic tablets, PDAs or any portable device capable of two-way communication, or of transmitting messages other than a railroad-issued portable radio transmitting over the frequencies assigned for railroad use ,or capable of displaying pictures, photographs, or other graphics by means of a cellular wireless, wi-fi, bluetooth, or NFC (near field communication) connection, is prohibited while employees are on duty or on railroad property.

What does this mean? No cellphones issued to maintenance-of-way supervisors, trainmasters, road foremen, superintendents, chief mechanics, vice presidents, presidents, chairman. None. Nobody gets one. Pagers. Give them pagers.

As industry regulator, FRA will require its employees to comply with the operating rules of a railroad when on that railroad’s property: No use of cellphones by FRA personnel when on the railroad property. Ever.

FRA will immediately disable all applications it has designed, purchased and/or disseminated intended for use by those with cellphones, or other personal digital devices. All agencies reporting to the Secretary of Transportation will immediately cease participating in Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and any other “social media” outlet.

NTSB will make these changes part of its wish list and help make the wish come true by ending its participation in social media platforms. Likewise, NTSB investigators will be prohibited from the use and possession of a cellphone while on railroad property.

Bags and hammers, brothers and sisters. We need bags and hammers to put an end to this. Cellphone goes in bag. Hammer hits bag repeatedly. Bag returned to employee at the end of his/her service period.

It’s the very least we can do, or for those of you familiar with the railroad environment:

Quit f***ing around. Fire the first moron you see with a cellphone. Never allow him or her back. You’ll save a life.

David Schanoes

David Schanoes is Principal of Ten90 Solutions LLC, a consulting firm he established upon retiring from MTA Metro-North Railroad in 2008. David began his railroad career in 1972 with the Chicago & North Western, as a brakeman in Chicago. He came to New York 1977, working for Conrail’s New Jersey Division. David joined Metro-North in 1985. He has spent his entire career in the operating division, working his way up from brakeman to conductor, block operator, dispatcher, supervisor of train operations, trainmaster, superintendent, and deputy chief of field operations. “Better railroading is ten percent planning plus ninety percent execution,” he says. “It’s simple math. Yet, we also know, or should know, that technology is no substitute for supervision, and supervision that doesn’t utilize technology isn’t going to do the job. That's not so simple.”

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