July 5, 2010
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Experts Examine, Review Safety Programs
Both public transportation providers and the vendors that serve them understand the primary importance of safety and security to their operations. So far in 2010, APTA has prominently featured educational sessions on related topics during the Bus & Paratransit Conference in Cleveland and the Rail Conference in Vancouver, BC. Here are brief synopses of some of these presentations, which address the issue from numerous perspectives.
Fighting Distracted Driving
For example, distracted driving—a problem facing both bus and rail systems—was the main focus of “Achieving Safety Excellence for the Transit Industry,” a session at the bus conference that considered ways for transit operators and vendors to work together toward a goal of improved service.
Robert Bartels, vice president, product management, for DriveCam in San Diego, explained that his firm’s video surveillance equipment plays an important part in post-accident reviews as it “allows us to see the root cause—to see the risky actions of the drivers …. The idea, of course, is for safer drivers to go back on the road. We’re striving to prevent collisions, to capture those risky behaviors early on.”
Bartels also listed three types of distracted driving—visual (eyes off the road), physical (hands off the wheel), and cognitive (mind off driving)—and noted that a vehicle going 60 miles per hour will travel one and a half blocks in the 5 seconds an operator may spend texting or talking on a cell phone. “Texting with a hand-held device involves all three [types]. That’s why it’s so dangerous,” he added.
Brenda Himrich, rail and bus safety manager with Metro Transit in Minneapolis/St. Paul, said her agency uses the “three Es: engineering, education, and enforcement” to deal with distracted drivers. Late in 2009, Metro Transit increased the consequences of a cell phone violation to 20 days off without pay for a first offense. Drivers can still carry their phones, but only if the phones are turned off and stowed.
Ensuring Safety in Rail Corridors
Another safety concern—keeping pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists out of harm’s way in a rail corridor—was the subject of a rail conference session titled “Pedestrian and Motorist Safety in a Railroad’s Path.” As Dan Cleghorn, P.Eng, senior product manager of HDR/iTrans in Toronto, noted: “Pedestrians don’t have many collisions with trains, but the ones they do have are severe.”
Cleghorn offered ways to increase awareness of the safety situation for both light rail operators and the pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists who travel near rail tracks. “We have to provide special, intensive, and location-specific training to the operators,” he said, “and provide active, appropriate information to the public on how to drive, walk, or cycle near, and where necessary, within the light rail alignment.”
Allison L. Clavelle, a transportation planner with HDR/iTrans, gave examples of different warning technologies at rail tracks: plain or illuminated signs; pavement markings in addition to signs; crossing signs, signals, or gates to keep pedestrians away from the tracks when a train is arriving; or a barrier between the two tracks.
Controlling Effects of a Pandemic
A third area of concern, “Pandemic Risk Management,” was the topic of a session at the bus conference. Capt. Lynn A. Slepski, Ph.D., RN, senior public health advisor in the Office of Intelligence Security and Emergency Response in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, reported that last year’s threatened H1N1 flu pandemic was much milder than expected, then listed what steps to take for the future.
“Had we truly been infected by a disease with high mortality, our best planning still would have fallen short. We truly ducked the bullet,” Slepski said. “We’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work right now. We figured out that any plan musts be flexible, which means adaptable.”
Curtis White, chief executive officer and director of research and development for AEGIS Environments, noted that microbes—which he called “the littlest of pests, the biggest of problems”—are everywhere, present on surfaces and in the air. “The economic consequences are enormous,” he stressed. “The reality is there is no magic bullet, no simple solution—so we must take a holistic approach and develop a plan to integrate how to take care of our facility and systems.”
Stephan R. Luther, safety and training officer for the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) in Grand Rapids, MI, noted that his agency had guidance on dealing with a pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control, county governments, and the World Health Organization. “The problem was, how do we then take that and give it to our employees in a way they can understand and act on it?” he said.
The basic educational presentation for Rapid employees, he said, included five components: wash hands frequently with soap and water; use cough and sneeze etiquette; develop healthy habits; stay home if sick; and get vaccinated.
Coping with Emergency Situations
Emergency preparedness must be both a system-wide and a region-wide effort if it is to succeed, panelists emphasized at “Emergency Preparedness and Management … An ‘All Hazards’ Approach,” a bus conference session also webcast to transit professionals at remote locations. For example, Sgt. David Forst of the Transit Police Department of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), described the regional strategy that brings his agency together with partners to design system security and evacuation plans. In this process, he said, GCRTA drivers serve as first-line responders. Other intelligence sharing comes from Federal Transit Administration and Transportation Security Administration e-mail groups and state and local efforts.
“It’s always best to meet other responders before you meet them at an incident,” said John Plante, senior manager, system safety and environmental affairs, with the Chicago Transit Authority. Crafting a multi-hazard, multi-agency response in advance of an actual threat allows the participants to coordinate, plan, and interact before the situation becomes dire, he explained.
Randy Clarke, director of safety initiatives for Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), described how the authority mandates station-specific evacuation plans and how to maintain operations in the midst of an emergency. He noted that MBTA has purchased and placed 512 evacuation chairs throughout the system, to be used to transport special needs customers from an emergency site.
Implementing Positive Train Control
The federal government has mandated that passenger rail operations have fully operational Positive Train Control (PTC) by 2015. A wide range of infrastructure, operating characteristics, and equipment in the field means that every plan will be different, but some challenges are common—such as time constraints and costs.
Commuter rail operators shared their approaches and challenges to PTC implementation at a rail conference session titled “Positive Train Control Plans.”
Moderator Peter Sklannik, senior manager, rail planning and special projects, at Parsons Brinckerhoff in Newark, NJ, suggested that Congress “give us a second look, as many properties are just trying to stay in business.”
Howard Permut, president of New York’s MTA Metro-North Railroad, said the estimated cost to install PTC is $350 million. MTA Long Island Rail Road also has noted that high capital costs and funding shortfalls are big challenges, and a joint team representing both railroads is working with consultants to complete the design by the first quarter of 2011.
However, Permut noted the shortage of adequate time, which necessitates “almost immediate decisions on design and implementation with inadequate time for proper review, consideration of alternatives, and testing.”
Thomas Lichterman, director of operations with the North County Transit District (NCTD) in Oceanside, CA, described the “tremendous capital needs” facing his agency’s PTC implementation and that the “solution must be coordinated with the four tenant railroads [Metrolink, Amtrak, BNSF, and Pacific Sun] to ensure interoperability.”
Gary Jarboe, director of maintenance with the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, operator of Metrolink commuter rail in Los Angeles, said FRA has approved Metrolink’s PTC program, which is about “90 percent funded” and will be ready for testing by December 2012, noting the [federal] mandate is for 2015.”
Gerald Hanas, chair of the APTA Commuter Rail Committee and Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee and general manager of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, Chesterton, IN, stressed that all operators face the challenges of technology, timing, and costs, but that “one mandate across the U.S. takes no consideration that we’re all different. What will help is extension of time to explore cost-efficient alternatives and spread funding needs,” he added.
Kathy Golden, Susan R. Paisner, and Susan Berlin contributed to this story.
Photo by Sam Adamo
Speaking about distracted driving at the 2010 Bus & Paratransit Conference are, from left: Brenda Himrich; Dave Simoneau, operations director for SouthWest Transit in Eden Prairie, MN; Robert Bartels; Dave Jacobson, chief executive officer of SouthWest Transit; and Sue A. Stewart, transit safety officer, King County DOT/Metro Transit in Seattle.