APTA | Passenger Transport
June 22, 2009

In This Issue


Can Rail Operators Improve Safety? ‘You Bet Your Life’
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

People who work around transit rail equipment—as well as drivers and pedestrians in rail corridors—can easily fall victim to injury or death if they don’t pay attention to their surroundings. A June 16 session titled “You Bet Your Life! Human Factor Risks in Operation and Right-of-Way Incidents” addressed this issue from the distinct vantage points of technical research, public transit agency implementation, and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) educational programs.

Geomatic Technologies has developed an electronic program to evaluate track condition without requiring foot patrols. David Petterson, business development executive for the company, called examining every inch of track on a railroad line “one of the most arduous and thankless tasks in the railroad industry,” and said it can be dangerous to the person walking along the track.

In contrast, the company’s Mechanized Track Inspection (MTI) allows employees at a remote site to evaluate by observing recorded rail, track, and corridor imagery from a vehicle, which operates in place of an on-track foot patrol.

MTI consists of two components. First, a field collection system mounted on a track vehicle collects synchronized positional and high-resolution digital image data of the rail, track, and corridor environment. Then the office system allows foot patrollers to use this data to find and identify defects in the rail corridor; it also provides a seamless interface to the railroad’s asset management system.

Petterson reported that MTI generally finds a higher number of defects than conventional foot patrols and provides a detailed report on typical track defects.  He added that the program leads to improved employee safety, increased flexibility, better defect management, and improved productivity.

New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) employees Janet M. Clark, director, communication services, and Barbara Lazzaro, safety education program specialist, gave a presentation about their agency’s educational efforts. Through partnerships with Operation Lifesaver and state agencies, NJ Transit uses a variety of media to spread the word about driving and walking safely around its trains.

Its Rail Crossing Enforcement Program focuses on safe driving behavior at grade crossings, using billboards, posters, handouts, and other media to promote the message. Schools can use an offshoot of that program targeted to teen drivers that warns about becoming distracted while driving near a grade crossing.

NJ Transit’s other safety efforts include the “Safety Rules” program for children, developed in house and now available for licensing by other agencies, and pedestrian safety messages on board trains and in stations.

Lazzaro presented excerpts from a video titled Look to Live, created in partnership with Operation Lifesaver, which presents six rail safety scenarios to teen drivers.

Levern McElveen, a safety and security specialist with FTA, showed a video titled A Knock at Your Door, recounting actual incidents during which rail transit employees were injured or killed. Family members of the victims participated in the making of the video, he said, allowing FTA to “tell the story in a personal and emotional way.”

McElveen stressed that the message of the video is simple and direct, saying: “The rules are important; don’t become complacent.”

The moderator for the session was Georgetta Gregory, program and project supervisor with the Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the California Public Utilities Commission.


From left: David Petterson, Georgetta Gregory, Levern McElveen, Janet M. Clark, and Barbara Lazzaro.
Photo by Brian Oh

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