Remarks of the Honorable Norman Y. Mineta at the Conference on Rail Passenger Safety
Los Angeles, CA
I’d like to thank David Solow from Metrolink for being here with us.
And, I appreciate the leadership provided by Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman. Joe works very hard to ensure that safety improvements are made throughout the Nation’s passenger and freight rail network.
At the United States Department of Transportation, safety is our highest priority. No matter if it’s reducing highway deaths, preventing airline accidents, or protecting train passengers…safety is our passion, our purpose, and our top product.
Unfortunately, no matter how much we do to make things like commuter trains safer, we know that tragedy can strike anywhere and anytime. Nowhere was this painful reality made clearer than here in Glendale, where the unthinkable happened on Metrolink Trains 100 and 901. Today we’re standing at the site of that tragic commuter rail crash. On the evening of January 25, 2005, 11 people did not go home to their wives, husbands, children, and friends. Like many in Southern California, I will never forget that day.
It’s clear that the man charged with causing this accident set out to put commuters in harm’s way, and I am confident that he will see justice. But, we at the Department of Transportation must also act to protect the 414 million people who ride commuter trains each year from similar, needless crashes.
That’s why immediately after Glendale we brought together Metrolink and other railroad officials to begin identifying ways to prevent future crashes and improve the safety of commuter trains.
We provided 250 thousand dollars for Metrolink to study the corridors where these passenger trains operate to find ways to keep cars and trucks from getting on the tracks.
We’re also supporting Metrolink’s efforts to improve safety at grade crossings along its routes.
Today, they’re considering improvements like expanding existing crossing gates from two to four…installing raised concrete medians to discourage drivers from weaving around lowered gates...or even completely closing some crossings.
Glendale also taught us that we must find ways to make trains safer for the passengers in case of another incident.
Today, we’re aggressively developing new safety systems, and testing them to make sure that they work.
This is no easy feat. You can’t just punch numbers into a computer, or run a few programs and promise people that they will be safer.
That’s why I was in Pueblo, Colorado, this morning to watch the Department crash two trains together. On a special test track, our researchers slammed a passenger train into a locomotive to re-create the powerful forces at play during a real-life train collision.
This was the landmark test in a series designed to test the Crash-Energy Management system, which will make passenger train travel safer.
This new system will more than double the speed at which all passengers can survive a train crash, from just 15 miles per hour to at least 36 miles per hour.
Crash-Energy Management basically turns once-rigid train cars into giant shock absorbers that help protect a train’s crew and passengers.
The system includes new crush zones that absorb the force of the crash… and keep the passenger seating area protected from the crumpling metal. It also includes stronger end frames, which act as advanced bumpers to better distribute the extreme forces from the crash throughout the entire car, so passengers feel less of the impact.
Crash-Energy Management also includes couplers, which join two cars together, that were built to retract and absorb energy. And, most importantly, they help keep the train upright on the tracks during a crash.
We’ve also developed new interior safety features including stronger tables with crushable edges that soften the blow to a passenger’s body during a crash.
Another important interior feature is the new passenger seat, which is strategically padded and designed to bend in ways that keep passengers in the safest position in order to survive a crash.
The trains were loaded with full-sized test dummies wired to record the effects of the crash on passengers. And, 28 cameras captured the entire crash on film.
Today’s test was the first to combine all of these new technology and safety elements. And, we expect to learn a great deal once the technical evaluation is complete.
In previous tests, without the use of this improved equipment, we observed crushing of more than 20 feet into the passenger seating area…which would severely compromise the safety of passengers in a real accident.
While it will be a few weeks before we get the exact results from this morning’s test, we expect the new safety systems will protect more of the passenger areas, limiting damage to only the first three feet.
By smashing a few trains in the desert, we hope to find new ways to keep millions of commuters safe every day.
And while research is critical to our safety efforts, it’s useless if it’s not applied. We have to find ways to get this safety technology on the trains that people ride.
So we have helped develop standards for train cars that are equipped with Crash-Energy Management systems. In fact, Metrolink is the first commuter operator in the country to buy new passenger rail cars that incorporate this technology.
In addition, this fall we intend to propose new standards to improve emergency communication systems on passenger trains. This will help ensure that passengers receive clear instructions in case of an emergency to allow for safer and quicker evacuations.
The Department is also working on new federal safety regulations that promote faster and more efficient evacuation of passengers…and make rescues easier by requiring more exits and better windows.
Commuter rail travel is safer than ever before, but our efforts are based on the recognition that we can always do more.
The bitter memory of the Glendale incident serves as a constant reminder that our work is never finished. But it should also be taken as a call to action for everyone to do their part to make trains safer.
The memory of Glendale will not be lost on any of us, but as time heals our pain, it should not blunt our resolve. We will make trains safer and we will do what we can to prevent another tragedy.
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