NTSB Recommendation on Video and Audio In-Cab Recording

NTSB asks photo & audio crew monitoring

WASHINGTON -- The National Transportation Safety Board on Feb. 23 officially recommended to the Federal Railroad Administration that it "require installation, in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab-car operating compartments, of crash- and fire-protected inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders."

The audio and image recorders, recommended the NTSB, should be "capable of providing recordings to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety as well as train operating conditions.

"The devices," said the NTSB, should have a minimum 12-hour continuous recording capability with recordings that are easily accessible for review, with appropriate limitations on public release, for the investigation of accidents or for use by management in carrying out efficiency testing and systemwide performance monitoring programs."

Moreover, the NTSB recommended that the FRA "require that railroads regularly review and use in-cab audio and image recordings (with appropriate limitations on public release), in conjunction with other performance data, to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety."

The NTSB has no regulatory authority and may only make recommendations. The FRA, however, has authority to impose and enforce such regulations.

The Los Angeles Times reported in late January that the NTSB would be formally making such a recommendation to the FRA.

The NTSB recommendation follows an NTSB determination that a Sept. 12, 2008, crash in Chatsworth, Calif., between a Metrolink commuter train and Union Pacific freight train -- which killed 25 and injured more than 100 -- was caused by the failure of the Metrolink engineer "to observe and appropriately respond" to a red signal "because he was engaged in prohibited use of a wireless device, specifically text messaging."

The agency said the Metrolink engineer sent 21 text messages, received 20, and made four calls from his cell phone while he was at the controls of the commuter train that day -- all in violation of the General Code of Operating Rules and his employer's operating rules.

The NTSB also concluded that the conductor of the freight train had sent or received 41 text messages while on duty -- 35 of them while the train was moving -- and was also in violation of operating rules.

"The nature of rail operations makes enforcement of certain operating rules extremely difficult, if not impossible," said the NTSB. "No reasonable method exists for management, by personal observation, to determine whether the engineer (or other crew member) boards the train with a personal wireless device in his or her possession, and once the train leaves the station, no mechanism is currently in place to determine whether the device is in use."

While the NTSB acknowledged that the FRA, in the wake of the Chatsworth accident, had issued Emergency Order 26, requiring immediate termination of employment as discipline for unauthorized use of wireless devices on moving trains, the agency said, "making the violation more serious or the penalty more severe does not address the difficulty in identifying violators."

Thus, said the NTSB, "because of the privacy afforded by a locomotive cab or train operating compartment, routine efficiency testing and performance monitoring practices are inadequate to determine whether or to what extent engineers or other crewmembers may not be complying with safety rules such as those regarding use of wireless devices or allowing access by unauthorized persons."

Additionally, the NTSB said that "an employee who is aware that his or her activities in the train control compartment are subject to review by management will be much less likely to engage in conduct -- such as using a wireless device or allowing unauthorized persons in the locomotive cab -- that could lead to an accident.

"Regular review of in-cab audio and image recordings would give managers insight into other potential safety issues or unsafe operating practices that may not be revealed by any other means and of which the crews themselves may be unaware," the NTSB said in its recommendation to the FRA.

"The NTSB therefore concludes that a train crew performance monitoring program that includes the use of in-cab audio and image recordings would serve as a significant deterrent to the types of noncompliance with safety rules engaged in [by crew members involved in the Chatsworth crash] and would provide railroads with a more comprehensive means to evaluate the adequacy of their safety programs."

Before taking any regulatory action, the FRA would seek public comment.

To read the NTSB's complete recommendation, click on the following link:


February 25, 2010