Blumenthal Statement On NTSB Report Detailing Deaths of 15 Railroad And Transit Workers In 2013

Hartford, CT) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, today released the following statement after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report detailing the deaths of 15 railroad and transit workers in 2013, including Metro-North worker Robert Luden’s death in West Haven, CT, in May. The NTSB is tasked with investigating transportation fatalities and making safety recommendations to the federal agencies that oversee the country’s rail and transit systems and other stakeholders. Today’s report unveils new safety recommendations these agencies are urged to adopt. Although the report does not have any new recommendations stemming specifically from Robert Luden’s death, his case is mentioned to emphasize the tremendous dangers that railroad workers face on the job each day. Today’s report is in addition to previously-released recommendations that could prevent circumstances like those that led to the Luden fatality. The NTSB is also expected to provide a comprehensive report in the coming weeks on all major Metro-North incidents that have occurred since May 2013.  

“This report is a stern, strong call to action. Preventing more tragic deaths like Robert Luden’s is a national imperative. We must assure that none of these deaths was in vain. Every one of them was senseless and preventable. Last year, 15 employees working on our nation’s railroad and transit systems lost their lives on the job,” Blumenthal said. “That’s horrific, and each one is unacceptable. I commend the NTSB for investigating the fatalities and for releasing today’s recommendations to federal agencies on measures they can take to prevent deaths like those from happening again. These reforms are common sense, including regulations requiring railroad and transit agencies to improve procedures to ensure their workers are armed with all the information they need to be prepared for day-to-day hazards. But the NTSB has made a host of other safety recommendations in recent years – especially to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – and far too many of those have never been acted on. These life-saving recommendations include one made after the 2013 death of Robert Luden in West Haven that would mandate the use of redundant signal protection to protect employees working on track. And there are others that would improve safety for both workers and passengers, including recommendations for enhanced inspection practices, inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders in rail cabs, and life-saving technology like Positive Train Control.

“We can’t allow the NTSB’s recommendations to be met by regulatory inaction.  They must be implemented swiftly and without delay to improve safety, performance, and reliability on a system that hundreds of thousands of people throughout Connecticut and the region rely on daily. So today, as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee, I wrote the FRA demanding a timeframe within 30 days that outlines the agency’s plan for implementation of all outstanding recommendations. I will continue working with my colleagues to advance my rail safety bill and ensure Congressional action where necessary on these reforms, and I continue to eagerly await the NTSB’s long-overdue final report on the many tragic Metro-North incidents over the past year. The completion of that investigation is another piece of the puzzle necessary to ensure the safety of our rail systems.”

Text of Blumenthal’s letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo is below:

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Dear Administrator Szabo:

Earlier today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report concerning the deaths of 15 rail and transit workers who died in 2013.  The report contains a number of critical, life-saving recommendations issued to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as well as to other key federal agencies tasked with overseeing our nation’s railroad and transit systems.  The recommendations are designed to ensure that railroad and transit workers are better prepared for day-to-day job hazards, such as those that killed far too many roadway workers last year.  The recommendations are also designed to close gaps between regulatory agencies, improve training, increase union participation in accident investigations, and broaden the involvement of stakeholders in establishing best practices and safety protocols.

As chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee, I am concerned about how your agency will implement the recommendations issued to the FRA today.  The NTSB has issued a host of other vital safety recommendations to the FRA in recent years, including many recommendations spurred by disasters involving Metro-North Railroad, like mandates for rules governing redundant signal protection, inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders, improved inspection practices, enhanced training, and, of course, renewed calls for Positive Train Control.  Overall, according to the most recent figures, the FRA currently has 55 open NTSB recommendations and 24 of those recommendations – or 44 percent – have been deemed unacceptable.  This does not include new recommendations issued this week.  We can’t allow the NTSB’s recommendations to be met with further inaction.  Accordingly, please provide within 30 days a timeframe that outlines your agency’s plan for implementation of all outstanding NTSB recommendations.   

I appreciate your attention to this matter and your prompt response to my inquiry. 

Sincerely,   

Richard Blumenthal   

United States Senate