Improvements in technology for all modes of transportation and a priority on rail safety topped the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 2016 “Most Wanted” list. In particular, the NTSB emphasized the necessity for implementing automatic-braking technology for rail transportation known as Positive Train Control (PTC), as well as phasing out old rail tank cars that carry flammable liquids such as crude oil and ethanol.

Congress approved measures to mandate implementation of PTC in 2008, and the system was supposed to be in place by the end of 2015. The issue gained the national spotlight in May 2015, when a Philadelphia Amtrak train took a curve too fast and derailed, resulting in eight deaths and more than 200 injuries. However, Congress delayed the deadline late last year, citing budget restraints. In a statement, NTSB board member Robert L. Sumwalt said:

Every day that PTC is not in place we run the risk of another Amtrak crash. Is it going to take another five year or another three years for it to be implemented? If that’s the case, that’s unacceptable.

The importance of phasing out old rail tank cars is underscored by a rail disaster that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Canada, in 2013, when a runaway tanker truck derailed and burst into flames, killing 47 people and burning down more than 30 buildings in the town. NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart told The Washington Post:

We’ve been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area. But an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time. Instead of happening out in the middle of a wheat field, it could happen in the middle of a big city.

Also on the rail safety wish list is improved rail transit safety oversight. This issue was brought to the forefront in January 2015, when one person died and dozens were injured when cars on Washington, D.C.’s Metro line went dark and filled with smoke. The catastrophe that occurred just outside Washington’s L’enfant Plaza Metro Station exposed a number of safety issues including insufficient oversight by local rail transit systems.

The complete list of NTSB Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements for 2016 is as follows:

  • Reduce fatigue-related accidents – this includes both commercial and individual transportation, and encompasses all modes of travel.
  • Improve rail transit safety oversight.
  • Promote availability of collision avoidance technology in highway vehicles – this also includes commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses, as well as passenger vehicles.
  • Strengthen occupant protection – this priority would address all occupant restraint systems in passenger and commercial vehicles.
  • Disconnect from deadly distractions – removing unnecessary distractions is the first step in safely operating any vehicle.
  • Prevent loss of control in flight in general aviation – through the use of education, technologies, flight currency, self-assessment and vigilant situational awareness in the cockpit.
  • Promote the completion of rail safety initiatives – including Positive Train Control (PTC) and improved tank car design.
  • End substance impairment in transportation – includes both alcohol and drugs.
  • Require medical fitness for duty – this would create a comprehensive medical certification system for all safety-critical personnel across all modes of transportation.
  • Expand use of recorders to enhance transportation safety – ensure all categories of aircraft, trains, ferries, buses and other public transportation are equipped with critical technology to help investigators learn what happened in a crash and prevent future accidents.

Sources: NTSB, The Washington Post

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