Published On: Fri, Apr 29th, 2016

Weinroth: Regional System for Coordinating Emergency Response on the Rails is Paramount

The recent case of a Tri-Rail commuter train, in distress, lost for almost 30 minutes is almost incomprehensible. But, that was what occurred when; on January 28th at 5:19AM the 911 operators received a call for help. A conductor from the derailed train, leaking fuel, had reported the accident and reported the train was on fire.

After a frantic half-hour search, the train was located and, luckily, the report of flames proved to be inaccurate. That nobody died due to the delay is nothing short of a miracle. However, if the incident is not viewed as a learning moment, a bigger catastrophe in the future cannot be discounted.

With two sets of tracks running north and south through many cities in South Florida, and the projected increase in both passenger trains as a result of All Aboard Florida and the anticipated increases in freight service due to the higher capacity of the Panama Canal, a regional system for coordinating the emergency response to mishaps on the rails is of paramount importance.

Something as simple as placing identification information on the top of rolling stock to allow for an effective search by air, should a call for help be received, would complement the implementation of global position technology, soon to be installed.

In this case, it appears a helicopter was not dispatched for over an hour to ascertain if there was a vehicle or other object on the tracks (overlooked while the search for the train continued).

Interagency communication was fragmented and once the train was located, it was another 6 minutes before the location was input into the computer system to facilitate emergency response as a result of the software’s design favoring an exact address for the accident (something not always readily available as a train rolls between stations).

The multiple failures in this accident demand a review of interagency protocols to forestall a repeat of this kind of failure. The next accident may not be quite so forgiving!

Technology cannot be counted upon to provide all of the answers. System failures and unplanned situations must be considered and the correct coordinated response fully documented and incorporated into regular training exercises to ensure a seamless emergency response network is available and can be deployed quickly to protect life and surrounding property from a disastrous result.

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