U.S. safety investigators, frustrated by engineers who can’t recall their actions prior to several recent rail accidents, are seeking crash-proof video recorders on all trains used on transit systems.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday urged the Federal Transit Administration and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to install camera and sound-recording devices that capture images inside as well as outside.
The accident investigation agency has looked at recent rail crashes in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in which engineers either fell asleep, died or said afterward that they couldn’t remember what happened. They include the Sept. 29 crash of a New Jersey Transit Corp. train that slammed into a barrier in a station in Hoboken, killing one person.
The recommendation letter marks the latest attempt by the NTSB to expand the use of video recorders -- often seen as controversial by unions and others -- to assist their investigations. The issue is on the agency’s Most Wanted List of safety enhancements.
“These devices, which are becoming cheaper and more reliable, are critical tools in our investigations,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in an emailed release. “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.”
The most recent accident cited in the NTSB’s recommendation was a Feb. 21 collision of two Septa trains in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. The operator of the train that struck the other train told investigators he could not remember his actions just before the accident. Four people were injured.
After a 2008 train collision in Chatsworth, California, that killed 25 people, the state ordered inward-facing cameras on rail vehicles. Recordings from a 2013 wreck in Walnut Creek in which a Bay Area Rapid Transit train killed two track workers "were invaluable," the NTSB said.
The NTSB investigates the causes of transportation accidents and issues recommendations for safety enhancements, but has no regulatory authority.
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