Editor’s Note: Following is an edited response to my editorial of Aug. 10, 2018, on a New Jersey Transit board meeting. See below for further clarification.
Timely accident investigations are critical to the future of safe transportation operations, for a number of reasons. First, they must begin expeditiously. As the clock runs, evidence can deteriorate or become corrupted. Witness memories of events fade, sometimes to the detriment of actual fact-finding. Second, the search for cause factors and efforts to remediate are delayed, leaving people and property at risk of more accidents and incidents caused by the same risk factors. Third, as time passes, other accidents and incidents demand investigation, putting a strain on investigatory resources.
Major train derailments and collisions can be spectacular. Their economic and environmental consequences are considerable, and they kill and injure people. In response, over the past 40 years, pressed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Congress (by statute in 2008) the railroads have been implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) systems to reduce the potential for these crashes.
Railway Age editor William C. Vantuono wondered recently what exactly Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is trying to accomplish by truncating long-distance routes, replacing fresh dining-car meals with MREs*, and replacing station agents with nobody.
Watching Washington, October 2018: From operating plans to marketing to pricing, change is relentless in railroading. Where railroaders once every five years looked with suspicion at all aspects of their system, and made substantial changes after 10, scientific advances, new processes and innovative applications propelled by unremitting competition have put the transformation process on steroids.
Perhaps former Congressman John Mica had a point, after all, to claim that Amtrak operates like a relic of the Soviet Kremlin? That, and knowing we have the best politicians money can buy, tells a clear story: Beyond the history of outrageous corporate failures due to illegal manipulation of their financial data, like Enron, is there any other example of a company operating in such an egregious manner as Amtrak that defies Congress, lies to states, and spits in the face of the public interest, all the while scooping up even more taxpayer funding?
News item: Ian Jefferies, 42, currently Senior vice President for Government Affairs at the Association of American Railroads (AAR), will succeed Ed Hamberger as President and CEO on Jan. 1, 2019. Most notably, Jefferies will serve as the railroad industry’s chief congressional lobbyist and spokesperson.
Underlying the ancient aphorism “be careful what you wish for … because you might get it” is the law of unintended consequences.
Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono, writing about the most recent congressional hearing on Positive Train Control, as well as attempts by some Members of Congress to arm-twist the Federal Railroad Administration on granting exemptions, opined, “I’ve said it before many times, but it’s always worth repeating: Politics should not be involved in safety. Why engage in politics at this stage of the game? What is the agenda here? Who or what is behind this?”
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Railroad Subcommittee has scheduled yet another pointless, time-consuming “status review” hearing on PTC. The people actually doing the implementation work—railroads, suppliers, consultants, FRA—get to spend another day getting peppered with pointless questions from clueless politicians who obviously don’t bother reading reports or doing basic research, and delight in wasting valuable people’s valuable time to prop up their huge egos and give the appearance of actually doing something useful.