TOPIC: 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…)

Will cooler heads prevail in state helmet law dispute?

The National Transportation Safety Board is urging Michigan not to repeal a state law that requires motorcycle drivers to wear helmets. The State Senate had previously passed such laws only to have them vetoed by Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. New GOP Governor Rick Snyder is more receptive to getting rid of the safety measure.

This naive, safety-first blogger mistakenly presumed that all states required cyclists (including bicyclists) to wear helmets. But only 20 states have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Illinois is one of three states, along with Iowa and New Hampshire, to have no motorcycle helmet-use law on the books whatsoever.

At California utility, $35 million to leave his troubles behind him

San Bruno, CA – Sept. 2010

Federal prosecutors are apparently poring over documents related to last September’s natural gas transmission line explosion, laying the groundwork for possible criminal prosecution of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., according to John Upton of the Bay Citizen and Garance Burke of AP. Officially, however, the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco is only ‘looking into’ the events that led to the 2010 explosion that killed eight and leveled 38 homes in a San Bruno subdivision. (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…)

In the pipeline: safety changes for underground gas lines

San Bruno aftermath

A wholesale revision of federal regulations related to utilities and their natural gas pipelines could emerge from the on-going investigation into the catastrophic transmission line rupture and massive explosion that killed eight and turned a quiet suburban subdivision outside of San Francisco into a smoldering crater. (more…)

Gas explosions: solutions in the pipeline?

San Bruno aftermath

They’re still nailing down exactly what caused a massive explosion to transform a quiet subdivision south of San Francisco into a fatal inferno in September of last year, but evidence of shoddy record-keeping by the utility Californians love to hate has prompted a new set of urgent orders from federal regulators. (more…)

After gas explosion, some simple solutions too late

In the wake of the natural gas pipeline explosion that killed seven people and leveled 37 homes, California’s two U.S. Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein hope to increase the federal government’s role in policing pipeline maintenance, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The bill would double the number of federal inspectors overseeing the nation’s interstate pipelines to 200, require robotic inspections inside pipes, and mandate the replacement of manual shut-off valves with automatic ones. (more…)

Pipeline explosion: Coming soon to your neighborhood?

Pipelines may be central to many modern conveniences, but the explosion earlier this month of a half-century old natural gas pipeline south of San Francisco has awakened public unease that the pipelines may be ticking time bombs that have been out of sight and, until now, out of mind.

Under pressure from state regulators, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the utilities that locals love to hate, is compiling a list of the 100 riskiest pipeline segments in its service area, which covers about a third of the state. (more…)

Who will take the heat for infrastructure neglect in San Bruno?

Federal and state investigators are sifting through the rubble left behind by last week’s horrific gas main explosion in San Bruno, Calif., a suburb just south of San Francisco. The National Transportation Safety Board said it does not yet know what compromised the half-century old pipe — corrosion, a bad weld, a past construction project that came into contact with the line, or something else, report Nanette Asimov, John Wildermuth and Demian Bulwa of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The explosion killed four and obliterated dozens of homes in a sudden inferno (more…)

Regulate That Runaway Train

USA Today’s Alan Levin reports on a three-day hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board into the safety of metro public transit systems (a hearing brought about by last June’s subway crash in Washington):

Peter Goelz, the NTSB’s former managing director, said systems such as Washington’s Metro have no incentive to improve safety. “What’s going to happen to them?” Goelz said. “It’s not like an airline and you can ground them.”

Unlike heavy rail, airlines and highway transportation, safety on the nation’s 40 subway and light-rail systems is overseen by state agencies, not the federal government. More than 4 billion passengers a year travel on these systems, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The Tri-State Oversight Commission, which oversees safety in Washington’s subway system, has six employees, five of whom have other duties and work part time on the issue.

Last fall, the Obama administration proposed tightening the rules to give the Federal Transit Administration greater control. States could continue to oversee transit safety but would have to follow new federal regulations. States could opt out of oversight and turn that responsibility over to the federal government. Legislation that would require the changes was introduced in the Senate on Monday.

This nicely illustrates how public transit safety is a secondary concern. The use of public transit has never really been part of a national transportation plan that is mostly focused on planes and cars. So it does make sense that regulation is de-centralized. By that logic, new federal regulations would suggest an acknowledgment of public transit’s national importance.