Even Passengers Have a Role in Safe Commuting

By Will Cusey

NTSB Government Affairs Specialist Will Cusey heads for the L’Enfant Escalator on his way into the office.
NTSB Government Affairs Specialist Will Cusey heads for the L’Enfant Escalator on his way into the office.

Although a metro rider isn’t exactly “driving,” the NTSB wanted to discuss other forms of transportation people use to get to and from work as part of our series highlighting Drive Safely Work Week. For me, going to work every day at the National Transportation Safety Board involves a trip on the DC metro rail system. This is true for many others in the DC area who combine to take 750,000 trips each day. Around the country, light and commuter rail passengers take roughly 900 million trips each year. The simple fact is that millions of Americans rely on mass rail transit to get them to and from work every day, and they expect these rail systems to deliver them safely.

But, recently, not everyone has made it to their destinations. Over the last several years, rail mass transit systems have been involved in several deadly crashes and collisions: from here in DC to New York to Boston to California. One of these incidents in particular left a profound, lasting impression with me.

It was June 22, 2009—a day that I will never forget. It started out like any other day: I hopped on the red line at Takoma and rode the metro into work. But, later that day the unthinkable happened. This transportation system that I had taken for granted—that I assumed was safe—caused the deaths of nine people. What made it hit so close to home was the realization that this deadly collision literally hit so close to home—happening just outside the Takoma metro stop. All I could think about was how I could have been on one of those trains that day.

This event completely transformed my view of rail safety. It taught me that investing in the regular maintenance, safety checks, and equipment upgrades of our rail mass transit systems is crucial to preventing tragedies such as the 2009 red line collision. It taught me that strengthening the culture of safety within the mass transit agencies is needed to ensure a safe and reliable future for these systems. And, it taught me that the NTSB has a large role to play in spurring both the mass transit agencies and the federal and state regulatory agencies to action.

Following the 2009 collision, I saw how NTSB drove the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and other regulatory entities, to improve DC’s aging metro rail system. Now, over five years later, it is evident that progress has been made—thanks in part to the work done by NTSB.

But, more work needs to be done to ensure the safety of every rail mass transit rider. That is why NTSB has made operational safety in rail mass transit a top priority in 2014 by putting the issue on its Most Wanted List. NTSB is constantly making new recommendations, holding public forums and hearings, and communicating with transit and regulatory agencies on how to make our country’s systems safer and more secure.

But, we can’t do it alone! Changing the safety culture within these agencies isn’t easy—we need your help. So, get involved! Follow us on Twitter @NTSB, like us on Facebook, check out our YouTube channel, or sign up for news updates. Retweet and share our content with your friends. And, don’t forget to tell us about your experiences. Tell us why rail safety matters to you and your family.

At the end of the day, people should be able to ride DC’s metro, or any other rail mass transit system, with the confidence that every night they will get home to their families safe and sound. It is our mission here at NTSB to help make that happen.

Will Cusey is a Government Affairs Specialist at NTSB

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