Mineta seeks aviation capacity, rail safety improvements
Kicking off a multistate campaign to promote Bush administration transportation policies Monday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta toured the GE aircraft engine plant in Durham, N.C., where he pointed to the need to make changes to the Aviation Trust Fund so the government can help invest in additional airport runways, upgrades and navigational aids to meet growing demand for passenger and cargo service.
The fund is taking in less money because travelers are paying less for tickets on low-cost airlines and the fee is based on a percentage of the ticket price.
Later, Mineta stopped in Columbia, S.C., an hour from Graniteville, site of the deadly rail accident in January that killed nine people when hazardous fumes leaked from a tank car. Mineta announced a rail safety initiative that includes steps to reduce human errors that contribute to accidents, including accelerating research into the role fatigue plays in accidents so that railroads can better set crew schedule. Preliminary results from the investigation in Graniteville indicate that a rail crew failed to properly reset a switch on the track.
The plan also addresses the safety of hazmat shipments, deploys technologies to detect track defects and directs inspectors to focus on safety trouble spots before accidents occur. As part of that reinvigorated inspection effort, the Federal Railroad Administration is investing in special high-tech rail cars that automatically inspect tracks integrity as they roll along the rails, the Department of Transportation said.
The railroad industry has agreed to provide local emergency responders a ranked listing of the top 25 hazardous materials transported through their community to help communities plan for safely containing a toxic spill or release, the DOT said. By July, Mineta said, the FRA will launch a new pilot program providing emergency responders with real-time information via a secure Web site about the hazardous materials involved in train accidents.
Additionally, to help alleviate risk in so-called 'dark territory' –or railroad lines without signal systems — the department is investigating new devices to detect if switches are in the correct position, and low-cost circuits to detect broken rails. FRA is also beginning field-tests on new technology that automatically controls train movements and speed, including bringing a train to a stop.
'While the railroad industry's overall safety record has improved over the last decade, very serious accidents continue to occur. Growth in both freight and vehicle traffic has created new opportunities and new challenges in the form of more trains on our tracks than ever before. But safety must remain the core principle that guides operations on our nation's rail system,' Mineta said.