“Audio and image recorders would have greatly helped in learning what happened by documenting and preserving data describing the actions and conditions leading to an accident."
The ability of rail crash investigators in Washington DC to reliably asses the root cause of accidents on the tracks could receive a welcome boost if plans to equip all trains with inward- and outward-facing cameras are realised, according to US experts.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the independent federal agency responsible for investigating all significant transport accidents, has made recommendations that all transit trains should be fitted with cameras that film continually for a minimum of 12 hours to help scrutinise incidents.
It is hoped that the collected footage, which will be used to verify crew actions and train operating conditions, will then be made easily accessible to review to enable transport companies to improve operational safety. The NTSB has long advocated the broader use of recorders as a means to improve rail security; the issue is currently top of the agency’s list of transport safety recommendations.
NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, said the increasingly ‘cheaper and more reliable’ devices could have been the difference in many past cases. “In 47 of the 64 rail transit accidents the NTSB investigated between 1976 and 2015, audio and image recorders would have greatly helped in learning what happened by documenting and preserving data describing the actions and conditions leading to an accident,” said Sumwalt.
One incident the safety board said could have benefitted from the enhanced security was an accident that occurred in Pennsylvania in February this year, when a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train collided with the rear of another that was stationary near 69th Street station.
Still under investigation, the case has been especially difficult to solve owing to the fact the driver doesn’t remember his actions immediately prior to the collision – a situation the NTSB said wouldn't affect the case had the train been fitted with forward-facing cameras or audio/image recorders.
The NTSB has investigated numerous railroad and rail transit accidents where inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders could have provided an unequivocal record of a train operator’s actions. Such recorders are believed to be critical to improving operational safety, accident investigations, and management oversight, particularly in accidents where the train operator is killed or suffers memory loss.
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