NTSB Issues Urgent Safety Recommendations to Ensure Alertness Devices Work as Intended

The recommendations are for the Federal Railroad Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the American Public Transportation Association.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued urgent safety recommendations to help ensure that electronic alertness devices (known as alerters) work as intended on trains. The recommendations were directed at the Federal Railroad Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the American Public Transportation Association.

The alerter helps crew members stay vigilant in the locomotive cab by monitoring engineer activity. If it has been too long since the engineer performed an input or action, the system issues visual and audible alerts, and applies train brakes if there are still no inputs from the crew. NTSB has found that an alerter's reckoning of "idle time" can be reset to zero by inputs that do not necessarily demonstrate a crew member's continuing engagement.

"The alerter is an automated system to make sure the human is engaged and, if necessary, to take action," said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. "We found that the alerters were acting from automated events as if they had been human inputs."

This comes as a result of an ongoing investigation into the 2014 collision of two Union Pacific freight trains in Hoxie, Ark. The accident resulted in the deaths of two crew members, the derailment of 55 cars, a release of diesel fuel, a fire, and the evacuation of about 500 nearby residents.

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