Railroads are what they are because of a single operating principle: control. The route of the train is a fixed guideway. It is a controlled route.
Movement requires authorization-- a controlled permission.
The train can only receive such authorization because its speed will be controlled.
The performance of the employees engaged in the rail operation is controlled.
Without that control, without measuring, refining, and enforcing control, we have no railroad. We have a menace on wheels.
We have a very heavy menace on wheels picking up speed until the lack of control causes the train to physically disconnect from the railroad itself and thus give horrible, material expression and evidence to the disconnection in the organizational control.
So...is it any surprise to anyone that there are some original affinities between the organization of a railroad and certain other organizations of control.... like the military?
Well, no, it shouldn't surprise anyone. "Control freaks" we've been called. I'll accept that. I've been called much, much worse. "Arrogant bastards." Yep, that too. And worse than that. "Aggressive, abrasive, strutting, pretend field marshal." Stop right there. Nothing "pretend" about it and the military analogy only goes so far. Control and discipline in the military are about visiting death upon others. Control and discipline on the railroad are all about preventing the death of others.
Yesterday, the NTSB took the unusual step of relieving the Association of Commuter Rail Employees from its status as a party to, and a participant in the Board's investigation into the derailment on Metro-North Railroad. You can read all about it here.
Why did Mr. Bottalico do what he did? Why did he violate the confidentiality requirement to which ACRE had agreed? This isn't a question with an answer of intentionality, of deliberate disregard for that requirement.
It is a question of conflicting interests, of, once again, an organizational requirement-- and that is the interest, the obligation of the union, of any union, to defend its members to the utmost of its ability. The representative of ACRE acted in accordance with what he in fact is-- the representative of the union organized around the principle of defending its members.
It's just that simple. That decent. That human....and it requires that we recognize it as decent, human, inherent, and disqualifying from the investigating process.
Now NTSB has had great success with its inclusive policy designating parties to the investigation. For one thing, it facilitates control of the investigatory process. It disciplines the parties to the process. And NTSB enforces that discipline.
NTSB also has had great success in eliciting the cooperation and expertise of all unions, managements, independent experts in making them parties to the investigatory process.
But the process needs control, enforcement, and discipline, and NTSB needs to take the lesson of its own recent action, its own recent necessary action when it makes pronouncements about the "atmosphere," the "culture," the relations between labor and management; when it seeks to characterize those relationships as deficient in trust, as punitive (with punitive being an obstacle), as adversarial, and even being less than just.
NTSB needs to recognize the disconnect between its suggestions for effective participation, communication, and safety improvements with the reality of how any organization, including the NTSB, must control their operational processes to accomplish its fundamental task.
If you doubt that NTSB has characterized railroad operating "cultures" in this manner, please review the November 7 video of the inquiry into previous incidents on Metro-North railroad here. Pay particular attention to the period that is approximately at the 6:40 mark of the archive. Pay double attention around 7 hour mark and to the end of the session. And then tell me how wrong I am. Please.
So what's the point? The point is that while railroad management, railroad operating officers, --and all those engaged in the business and the service of providing rail transportation-- do share interests in common with its rank and file, with the unionized employees, just as important, just as critical, just as necessary to that controlled process are the conflicting interests; more critical, in fact, to safe operating practices are the conflicting interests we, as railroad operating officers have with the employees and their union representatives.
Control, discipline, enforcement, supervision do not cause accidents; do not weaken safety. Lack of control, lax discipline, erratic enforcement, and poor supervision do create the atmosphere of irresponsibility where accidents are more likely to happen.
It does not matter, it cannot matter, to the union organization whether the employee subject to discipline for a violation is a "good employee" or not. The organization must serve and protect all its members equally. It is obligated to do so.
We, as railroad operating officers, recognize, and respect, that obligation, and we cannot think that any new vocabulary, any spin, any study by any industrial psychologist, sociologist, cultural anthropologist, safey culture expert is going to dissuade the employees and their organization from meeting this primary obligation.
We can recognize that the union defends its members equally in order to establish the precedent for mitigating, diminishing, the discipline that a serious operating rule violation entails. We need to respect that too.
And we need to counter their obligation, their interests, that conflict, with our own obligations to effectively control, discipline, enforce and supervise the operating practices of the employees.
In the NTSB record of the November 7 session, there is an exchange between the chairman of NTSB and the representative from FRA about "possibly" segregating stop signal violations in Grand Central Terminal from the mandatory discipline and decertification process, and covering instead with the "close call, confidential reporting" system.
Speaking bluntly, which I do only rarely, to do that would be a mistake of immense proportions.
OK, let's review: Management criticized? Check. Labor criticized? Check. "Experts" criticized? Check. Consultants criticized? Check. NTSB criticized? Check. FRA criticized? Check. Did I miss anyone? Consulting career finished? Double check.
December 4, 2013
Doing the Math
Proper planning prevents poor performance;
Planning is 10% of performance; the other 90% is execution.
90% of this business is maintenance; the other half is supervision