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So, this is no reflection on you, Mr. Lang. If he wants a bill, he better come down here and ask for it and stand up and testify for it. That is my thinking on it as of this minute.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Springer.
STATEMENT OF A. SCHEFFER LANG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL
RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; ACCOMPANIED BY LEROY C. CORCORAN, CHIEF COUNSEL Mr. Lang. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Allow me to preface my remarks by saying it is my understanding that the Secretary had a longstanding commitment to appear before another congressional committee this morning and thus he could not be available.
Mr. SPRINGER. You tell the Secretary that we will be glad to find the time that is necessary for him to testify.
Mr. Lang. I shall do so.
Mr. Chairman, I am A. Scheffer Lang, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
I am here representing the Department of Transportation to testify in support of H.R. 16980, the proposed “Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1968.”
I have with me Mr. Leroy C. Corcoran, my Chief Counsel.
As you know, safety is one of the major responsibilities of the Department of Transportation. Public Law 89–670 which created the new Department also transferred responsibility for the administration of the various railroad safety statutes from the Interstate Commerce Commission to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Upon being appointed Administrator of the newly created Federal Railroad Administration, I asked the Bureau of Railroad Safety to give me the most complete picture they could of the progress being made in rail safety. I was not happy with what I found:
In the last 7 years the monthly average of train accidents has increased steadily from 341 in 1961 to 608 in 1967. Even when we adjust these figures to account for the effect of inflation on the cost of accidents and thus the number reported to us, this still amounts to an increase in the train accident rate of approximately 66 percent. Unfortunately, this rising trend continues unabated. We believe that the enactment of the proposed legislation would give us both the mandate and the means to reverse it.
The laws which we now administer are limited in scope, designed many years ago to meet specific hazards. The Safety Appliance Acts (45 U.S.C. 1-16) provide for the use of power brakes on locomotives and trains so that brakemen will not be required to use hand brakes to control speed. They also require that cars be equipped with automatic couplers, and secure handholds, steps, and ladders.
The Ash Pan Act (45 U.S.C. 17-21) now largely obsolete with the virtual disappearance of the coal-fueled steam locomotive, provides that any locomotive requiring it must be equipped with an ash pan which can be dumped without the need for an employee to go under the locomotive.
The Locomotive Inspection Act (45 U.S.C. 22–34) requires that locomotives be safe to operate and not a danger to life or limb.
The Accident Reports Act (45 U.S.C. 38-43) provides for the investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration of all serious railroad accidents. It also provides for monthly reports of rail accidents by the carriers to the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Signal Inspection Act (49 U.S.C. 26) provides for regulation by the Federal Railroad Administration of the installation and maintenance of block signal systems, interlockings, automatic train control, cab signals, or other similar appliances.
None of these existing statutes gives the Federal Railroad Administration jurisdiction, however, over such matters as the construction and maintenance of railroad track, or bridges, the design and maintenance of the running gear of freight and passenger cars, or over the qualifications of railroad employees or operating rules and practices.
Historically, these existing railroad safety statutes have had a rather piecemeal growth. In years following the Civil War the railroads grew rapidly. Unfortunately, so did accidents to railroad employees. Airbrakes were not in general use, and trains had to be stopped by means of hand-operated brakes located for the most part on the tops of the trains. In those days, cars were also coupled manually by means of the old link and pin coupler, and many employees were maimed or killed between cars doing this coupling work.
The first Safety Appliance Law was enacted in 1893 and became fully effective in 1900. The act was amended in 1903 to extend its coverage, and was amended again in 1910 to require additional safety appliances such as ladders and sill steps. The act was last amended in 1958 by the Power Brake Law, which adopted and made mandatory the rules, standards, and instructions of the Association of American Railroads as the rules of the Interstate Commerce Commission.
The Ash Pan Act was enacted in 1908. The Locomotive Inspection Act was enacted in 1911 and later amended. The Accident Reports Act was originally enacted in 1910 and the Signal Inspection Act in 1920.
Railroad technology has come a long way since the enactment of those early statutes. Today they are inadequate to do the complete job. In his letter of April 29, 1968, transmitting the draft of this bill to the Congress, Secretary Boyd, in addressing himself to the existing rail safety statutes, pointed out that:
Only a few of the most obvious of safety problems are addressed and each statute is limited to particular hazards. In contrast, the more modern (transportation) safety statutes established desired safety results, leaving the exact manner of achievement to administrative regulation which can more easily accommodate technological progress.
The declared purpose of H.R. 16980 is "To authorize the Secretary of Transportation to establish safety standards, rules, and regulations for railroad equipment, trackage, facilities, and operations.” The most important features of the legislation lie in the following sections:
Section 3 of the bill would empower the Secretary to promulgate necessary safety regulations and would direct the Secretary to prescribe as interim regulations the requirements of the statutes described above which would be repealed by section 13.
Section 4 of the bill reserves to the States the regulation of certain aspects of railroad safety.
Section 6 of the bill would impose civil and criminal penalties for violations of the act or regulations issued under it.
Section 7 would authorize the Secretary to obtain injunctive relief to enforce standards, rules, and regulations issued under the act.
Section 12 would enable the Secretary to contract with State agencies for assistance in carrying out the objectives of the act.
Section 13 would repeal those statutes referred to above which are to be replaced with the broader authority conferred by this act.
THE CURRENT RAIL SAFETY PICTURE The statistics compiled on railroad accidents are extensive and date back many years. They are a chronicle of safety in the industry. As with all statistics, these can be used and misused, interpreted and misinterpreted, and even form the basis for opposite conclusions. I will try here not to get too deeply into this statistical haze.
The most striking statistic confronting us today is the 76-percent increase in the rate of railroad train accidents over the 1961 to 1967 time span, as is shown in attachment A to this statement.
Our reporting requirements define train accidents as those which cause at least $750 damage to track and/or equipment, whether or not a reportable injury is involved. Since repair costs are up, some accidents come within the reportable category today which would not have in 1961. Even with an allowance for these increased costs, however, we find the train accident rate has increased 66 percent during that period.
Perhaps our greatest concern here is that while we are recording this worsening safety story, we have only limited tools to do anything about it. Approximately 95 percent of the accidents that occur on the Nation's railroads are caused by factors not subject to any control by the Federal agency responsible for promoting railroad safety. To us this is a key factor in the month-by-month increase in train accidents.
Train derailments furnish an example of the problem we face. Attachment A-2 to this testimony shows that in 1966 there was a total of 4,447 derailments reported. Of these, 2,938 were caused by defects in equipment or track, which are among those causes outside our present authority or control.
Under the statutes I have already described, we have full authority over all parts of the locomotive, but our authority over freight and passenger cars is restricted to certain safety appliances and brakes. We have no authority over track standards, maintenance, or inspection.
Attachment B lists the number of train accidents by major cause for the years 1961 through 1966. Among the groups of causes listed, only those dealing with locomotives, brakes, couplers, and signals come under the scope of our present authority; and by and large, these groups have shown the smallest increases.
Railroad employees traditionally have been interested in railroad safety, and for good reason. Employees who move locomotives and cars are exposed to hazards that are peculiar to this industry. Shop employees and office workers face hazards, too, but the major dangers in railroading stem from the movement of trains.
Attachment C shows the trends in casualty rates among the several classifications of railroad employees. Of the various ways in which
these casualty rates can be stated, the casualty rate per million manhours worked is the significant index of employee exposure.
If you will look in attachment C, at the classification, “Transportation, Train and Engine Service," VI(b), you will see that this casualty rate is high and there is no recognizable trend toward improvement. Maintenance of way employees and other transportation employees also show a safety experience which is not improving.
Despite these less than encouraging trends, the record does suggest that we have achieved results through establishing standards and conducting inspections in areas where we are authorized to do so, and by investigating accidents to determine cause.
I have already noted that few accidents are caused by locomotive defects. We must attribute this in part at least to the inspection of locomotives by the field staff of our Bureau of Railroad Safety. Attachment D provides a 6-year record of our efforts in this regard.
It is significant, however, that in the 1961–67 period there has been a steady year-to-year increase in the number of locomotives found defective by our inspectors. While 9.6 percent of the locomotives inspected in 1961 had defects, 12.3 percent of those inspected in 1967 had defects. The percentage of freight cars which our inspection of safety appliances has found defective has similarly shown an increase from 5.1 percent in 1961 to 7.2 percent in 1967.
The intensified efforts of the Bureau of Railroad Safety to secure compliance with the present rail safety statutes now include approaches other than on-the-spot inspections. We are holding conferences with both operating officers and top executives of the railroads in an attempt to correct conditions that have deteriorated into a pattern of noncompliance.
We also secure compliance through the imposition of statutory penalties in court proceedings, but we do not like to think of ourselves as a mere safety policeman on the Nation's railroads. We play that role when we have to, but our thrust today is toward a more positive approach.
THE NEED FOR BROADENED AUTHORITY
It is clear that the present laws are inadequate to deal with many of the technical and operating problems of today. While the Department has responsibility over such things as power brakes, automatic couplers, locomotives, and signal devices, the areas over which it has no authority go to the very heart of the safe operation of a railroad:
Track and rail inspection practices, freight car design, inspection and maintenance practices—especially as these relate to wheels and other running gear-operating rules and practices, including the use of train radios, and, perhaps most important of all, the design of passenger cars.
The accident profile in these specific areas is not one to be proud of, especially when one looks at the hard facts of some of the more recent accidents. The National Transportation Safety Board, for example, in its report on the collision of a Boston & Maine commuter train and a tank truck on December 28, 1966, at Everett, Mass., found that the cause of most of the 13 deaths 6* * * was not the impact of the collision, but the lack of emergency exits in the car, in addition to the
inward-opening center rear door that became jammed in a closed position by persons attempting to escape.”
The Board also investigated a head-on-collision of two New York Central freight trains in New York City on May 22, 1967, where six men lost their lives. There the Board found a wide variety of inadequacies in rules, operating practices, personnel training, and the use of communications devices..
The statistics cited earlier, moreover, show a continuing increase in the number of railroad accidents and show further that most of these accidents are attributable to causes beyond the reach of present laws. The Everett and New York City tragedies speak for themselves in this regard.
It is significant that the Congress has already legislated broad Federal authority for safety on the airways and the airfields, safety on the highways, and safety on the seas.
In air transportation, the Congress has given the Department authority over the entire aircraft and all the appliances on it that pertain to air safety. It can establish rules and regulations regarding inspection and overhaul of aircraft, the personnel who operate and maintain them, and any practices and procedures necessary to the safety of air commerce.
The scope of the Department's authority is just as broad over motor carriers. Among other things, it includes the establishment of reasonable qualifications for employees and requirements for safety of operations and equipment.
CURRENT STATE REGULATORY PROGRAMS The Federal role in railroad safety matters, while limited, has always been the dominant one compared to the activities of the States. The scope of State rules, regulations, and laws dealing with rail safety varies widely, and significantly some States have never exercised any meaningful control over rail safety, even in local matters.
Few State regulatory agencies have had the manpower or funds, moreover, to conduct major rail safety programs. A check of those States most active in the field of railroad safety to determine the number of personnel working on rail safety matters showed that New York had 34; California, 27; New Jersey, 14; Ohio, seven; Tennessee, six; and Michigan, six. Of these personnel, the majority are involved in grade-crossing safety and most of the remainder have some responsibility in the grade-crossing field.
Because of the heavy State involvement in the grade-crossing sa fety problems, we have already drawn on State regulatory commissions for assistance in the Department's own program to reduce grade-crossing hazards and accidents. We find that the States are also active in such matters as weed and vegetation control to improve sight distances at grade crossings and in the establishment of safe clearance requirements for railroad equipment. Local communities regulate train speeds and noise in somewhat the same manner that they regulate motor vehicle traffic.
Thus, as a practical matter State involvement in rail safety has been local rather than national in character. Under the legislation proposed here, they would continue to regulate in these areas of local concern, but they would be preempted from independent action in areas of national concern. The impact on State programs should be minimal.