by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The National Transportation Safety Board’s annual wish list for safety includes changes to federal regulations of U.S. railways and transit systems and lowering the legal alcohol limit for drivers.
The agency released its annual “Most Wanted” list on Wednesday, featuring a host of measures it recommends that Congress and federal regulators take up immediately.
Among the pressing items on the list is completing the installation of automated train technology that would prevent passenger and freight rail crashes, which was delayed by Congress this year until 2018.
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said Congress should have forced railroad companies to meet the original 2015 deadline for installing the automated train system, known as Positive Train Control. The mandate was set after a commuter rail crash in California in 2008, but railroads successfully lobbied lawmakers last year to give them more time.
Hart said Wednesday as he was unveiling the NTSB’s 2016 “Most Wanted” list that the PTC delay is regrettable.
“Every PTC-preventable accident, death, and injury on tracks and trains affected by the law will be a direct result of the missed 2015 deadline and the delayed implementation of this life-saving technology,” he said in a statement.
Other items on the NTSB’s list of recommendations include lowering the legal alcohol limit for U.S. drivers from .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .05 percent.
The agency said lowering the alcohol limit would “reduce deaths and injuries on highways,” although it acknowledged that “drugs other than alcohol can also impair drivers and operators of other types of vehicles – whether these drugs are recreational, over-the-counter, or prescription.”
The NTSB list also includes a recommendation that regulators force freight rail companies to remove thousands of older tank car models that carry crude oil shipments that have been blamed for high-profile crashes in recent years in North Dakota and Canada from the nation’s railways.
The agency said the older tank cars, which are known as DOT-111s, are too dangerous to continue transporting flammable liquids on railroad tracks that run near U.S. cities.
“The deadline for implementing such tank rules is 2025,” the NTSB said. “Until these tank cars are removed from service, people, their towns, and the environment surrounding the rail system remain at risk.”
The NTSB recommendation list also includes improvements to federal oversight of U.S. public transportation systems following the Federal Transit Administration’s take over of Washington, D.C. Metrorail oversight following a spate of issues on the transit system in the nation’s capital.
“The NTSB’s push to improve rail transit safety oversight was in part a result of the agency’s investigation of a deadly smoke event last January near Washington’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro station,” the agency said.
“The accident exposed many safety issues, some of which resulted from shortcomings in the safety oversight of WMATA,” the NTSB continued. “This year, the NTSB will continue to examine the way that the Federal Transit Administration is implementing such oversight – not only in Washington, but nationwide.”