Metra adopts confidential close-call disclosure plan
Metra, railroad and federal leaders expect to prevent close calls with a new confidential reporting system administrated by NASA.
A joint agreement between Metra, labor unions and the Federal Railroad Administration signed Thursday starts a practice of confidential reporting of close calls, such as speeding, trains missing signals or nearly hitting rail workers.
Until now, telling someone about safety violations is up to the discretion of crew members. Typically, disclosure of rule-breaking results in disciplinary action for the person reporting it or their co-workers.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will analyze the new data looking for trends that can be shared to improve safety. The Long Island Commuter Railroad recently signed on to the practice, dubbed the Confidential Close Call Reporting System, as did Union Pacific Railroad on a trial basis at its Nebraska yard.
The move resulted in a 31 percent decrease in cars involved in minor derailments at one railroad.
"Metra's a very safe system and we want to make it safer," CEO Don Orseno said.
"We're very reactive," FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety Robert Lauby said. Instead of "responding to the crisis of the day ... we want to get to the next level of safety."
Metra was investigated by the FRA in 2014 for three risky situations on the Rock Island and Metra Electric lines that involved speeding and blowing a stop signal.
There's no way to tell how many hazards have occurred because many go unreported, Orseno said. "A train may be going 10 mph over the limit, we won't know that," he said. "If you were told by your boss to report every mistake you make, you probably wouldn't tell every mistake."
By pinpointing dangerous patterns, railroads can step up training or change rules.
NASA will "scrub" the information to prevent individuals from being identified. Their findings will be reviewed by FRA, Metra and labor officials who will develop corrective plans.
From a worker's perspective, getting the word out about missteps and behavior that can lead to mistakes is priceless, union executives said.
"It's not like it happens every day, but it allows everyone to take a more proactive approach and takes the threat of discipline out of the equation," said Barry Abbot, general chairman for transportation of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union.
NASA already uses the anonymous reporting system for aviation close calls.