The National Transportation Safety Board on Jan. 16 released its "2014 Most Wanted List," the top 10 advocacy and awareness priorities for the agency for 2014, which for the first time includes improving operational safety in rail mass transit.
Millions of Americans rely on commuter rail, subways and light rail for their daily commute. The NTSB in just the past year has opened investigations into accidents involving MTA Metro-North Railroad, Chicago Transit Authority and the Bay Area Rapid Transit. And there are still open safety recommendations to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority stemming from its fatal crash in 2009.
In numerous accident investigation reports on mass transit, the Board has repeatedly identified the need for safety improvements, particularly with regard to safety culture and operational practices, in systems providing light, heavy and commuter rail.
"The traveling public relies on a safe and efficient transportation system. Yet, every year, we see over 35,000 fatalities," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "That's why we have the Most Wanted List: Steps we can take today, so that more people make it home tonight."
Helicopter operations has been added to the 2014 Most Wanted List. Between January 2003 and May 2013, 1,470 helicopter accidents have occurred, with 477 fatalities and 274 serious injuries. The U.S. civil helicopter industry continues to see overwhelming growth and demand for emergency medical services, law enforcement support, electronic news gathering, offshore oil and gas support, as well as a variety of other applications.
Occupant protection is also new for 2014. While preventing accidents is always the goal, saving lives and reducing injuries in the event of an accident is also critical. Increasing the use of available occupant protection systems and improving crashworthiness to preserve survivable space can mean the difference between life and death.
Also new to the list this year is passenger vessel safety. Between 2000 and 2010, the NTSB has investigated several accidents involving passenger vessels. For decades, NTSB accident investigations involving passenger vessels revealed in numerous cases that the cause of an accident was not the failure of the vessel but the lack of good safety practices that led to the loss of life and injuries.
Also on the list:
- Distraction: Accident investigations and safety studies conducted by the NTSB in all modes of transportation underscore the dangers of using portable electronic devices while operating a car, train, plane or marine vessel. In addition to banning the use of these devices while driving, education and company policies help to reinforce laws and regulations by explaining the dangers of distraction and what companies expect from their employees.
- Fire Safety: The NTSB has issued numerous recommendations where fire was caused by power sources, as well as recommendations on survivability in the event of a fire, and improving fire detection and suppression systems.
- General Aviation: Identify and communicate hazardous weather. A frequent cause or contributing factor to general aviation accidents is a failure to recognize or take appropriate steps to avoid hazardous weather. The NTSB investigated a total of 1,466 general aviation accidents in 2011, resulting in 444 deaths.
- Pipeline Safety: Two and a half million miles of pipeline crisscross the nation powering thousands of homes and delivering important resources, such as oil and gasoline, to consumers. The NTSB is currently investigating a pipeline explosion in Birmingham, Ala. and a rupture and fire in Sissonville, W.Va. that destroyed three homes.
- Positive Train Control: The NTSB has long been calling for PTC, which works by monitoring the location and movement of trains, then slowing or stopping a train that is not being operated in accordance with signal systems or operating rules. Just since 2004, the NTSB has completed investigations of 25 train accidents that killed 65, injured over 1,100 and caused millions of dollars in damagesâ€”all of which could have been prevented or mitigated by PTC.
- Substance-Impaired Driving: In 2012 more than 10,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. involved an alcohol-impaired driver, according to NHTSA. Drugs also affect driving ability.