Posts Tagged: National Transportation Safety Board

Coverup by Pacific Gas & Electric in San Bruno explosion?

A whistleblower told federal investigators last month that utility officials likely threw out what may prove crucial records as the National Transportation Safety Board continues its inquest into a deadly explosion of a natural gas pipeline near San Francisco, Jaxon Van Derbeken of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The explosion killed eight people in October and turned 38 suburban homes into charred cinders. (more…)

San Bruno, CA pipeline blast: Where there’s no inspector, there’s fire

San Bruno, CA explosion

A series of unrelated errors, some made over half a century ago, aligned in a cascading series of failures that caused the deadly explosion last September of a major natural gas transmission line near San Francisco, reports Eric Nadler of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The story is based on newly-released documents from a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the catastrophe.

On Sept. 9 a Pacific Gas & Electric Co., natural gas transmission line, some 30 inches in diameter, buried beneath a San Bruno Calif., subdivision failed. The ensuing fireball and inferno killed eight people and consumed 38 homes.  Operators at a San Francisco control room saw pressure spiking in several pipelines (more…)

Getting What You Pay For: Government Wants More Oversight Of Mass Transit Systems

The idea is simple — since the federal government invests taxpayers’ money in transit systems around the country, it wants to exercise more oversight, particularly on safety issues.  Rachel Swarns reports in the New York Times that federal officials are concerned:  As subway and light rail systems try to cut costs, there is the danger they will skimp on safety standards as well.  The proposal, now being finalized by the Department of Transportation, will require states to prove they have “enough fully-trained staff members to enforce federal safety rules.”  The federal government is ready to invest more in safety, as it is proposing to “cover the costs of salaries and benefits for state employees overseeing standards.”

One problem this new proposal could run into is the great variety of management models used by transit systems around the country.  In the Washington, D.C. region, mass transit is run by WMATA, a regional body whose board is chosen to represent the interests of nine different municipal or county entities.  Understanding Government pointed out the challenges of managing a regional entity this way in a report published last year.  As one expert in Swarns’ article says, “this is a great idea . . . but implementation is going to be extremely difficult.”  We’ll have to wait for the full DOT proposal, but right now, it’s hard to see how this reform would introduce greater uniformity of safety enforcement. -NH

The Case of the Absent-Minded Pilots

I was in  Minneapolis the last few days and the talk of the town there all seemed to be about this Delta Airlines flight last week from San Diego to Minneapolis, where the pilots missed their destination, veered into Wisconsin, and then belatedly circled back to Minneapolis. The uproar over the pilot’s  irresponsibility sparked an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the New York Times’ Michelle Maynard and Matthew Wald report the initial findings:

The pilots told the National Transportation Safety Board that they missed their destination because they had taken out their personal laptops in the cockpit, a violation of airline policy, so the first officer, Richard I. Cole, could tutor the captain, Timothy B. Cheney, in a new scheduling system put in place by Delta Air Lines, which acquired Northwest last fall.

The interim report from the safety board ran counter to theories in aviation circles last week that the two pilots might have fallen asleep or were arguing in the cockpit.

Each pilot, in separate interviews with the safety board that totaled more than five hours, denied those theories.

That’s certainly strange behavior and will likely result in the firing of both pilots. It’s probably unfair to write that this incident says something bigger about transportation or airline safety. The NTSB is conducting a serious review. Perhaps its a slight indictment of homeland security, but as the Times points out “more than a dozen air-traffic controllers in three locations serving Denver and Minneapolis tried to get the pilots’ attention.”


The National Transportation Safety Board has identified a cause of the Washington, D.C. Metro crash that killed nine people last month, reports the Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun:

Metro’s automatic train control system relies on track circuits to maintain a safe distance between trains. The circuit detects the presence of trains by using audio frequencies transmitted between the train and the steel rails. The system is supposed to automatically transmit signals to the next train down the line. If the following train gets too close, the system sends a "zero" speed signal that forces it to stop.

Federal investigators and Metro officials said the track circuit where the crash occurred intermittently lost its ability to detect a train after a key component was replaced five days before the crash. Shortly after that repair work, the circuit fluttered and flickered, reporting the presence of a train one moment but not the next, transit officials said.

Washington Metropoliant Area Transit Authority officials claim they will have to "invent" new back-up circuits and, besides, there’s not really the funding for additional safety measures.

Understanding Government did a full report on "WMATA" (just to the right and a little above this post) and found that while it’s a pastime to complain about the Metro trains, the system is usually safe and efficient. The Post has diligently documented the D.C. Metro’s problems since the June 22nd crash. But I think commuters in D.C. and cities with public transit across the country should keep in mind that riding mass transit remains far safer than driving a car.-MB