It takes, I think, a certain amount of desperation to play the lottery. I mean I know that I only played it in the winter months; the months of no sun, no warmth, no light, when seasonally affected light disorder might as well have been four seasons affected light disorder.
But I think I should play the lotto again, and right now, and all the games I can-- pick 5, pick 6, Powerball, MegaMillions. And not because I'm desperate, not because the 1 in 20 billion chance I have of winning is 1 more chance than I think I have of getting out of winter here and to the Spring in the South of France, to the Cote d'Azur where the Mediterranean is always blue and I never am; where shallow and superficial may be shallow and superficial, but that's deep enough for me.
No, I think I should play because I've got the hot hand. Either that or I'm clairvoyant. Or I have an inside source. Or none of that. It's just a random event. But I need to find out. Because.......
Because two days ago I pointed out how quickly FRA can move when it wants to, like when it comes to minimum crew size; how it is prepared to disregard the decision of the RSAC-- the decison that "no decision, no consensus" is-- a decision that says either there is no compelling evidence one way or another or regardless of how compelling the evidence may be, somebody or sombodies have a vested interest in opposing action based on the evidence.
I contrasted that rapid response to the eight years during which FRA has failed to advance, much less finish, the rule-making process for the medical standards for determining fitness of those in safety-critical jobs.
And today, FRA distributes press release 03-1, "FRA to issue proposed rule on minimum train crew size." I sure can call 'em, can't eye? I mean can't I?
FRA administrator Szabo states "We believe that safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple person crew-- safety dictates that you never allow a single point of failure. Ensuring that trains are adequately staffed for the type of service operated is a critically important to ensure safety redundancy."
Single points of failure? Redundancy? Ummm.... what about train dispatchers issuing movement authorities in TWC or DTC territory? Does that mean we should expect to see a NPRM requiring two dispatchers on each desk so that no single dispatcher alone can issue a lap order?
Yeah, yeah I know, I shouldn't trivialize this effort by FRA to correct a serious vulnerability. Such negative vibes obviously will go around/come around to ruin my lucky streak and I'll have nobody to blame but myself when I don't hit the jackpot and don't fly first class to Nice, not arriving in time for lunch at the Hotel Negresco's beach side restaurant.
But have you ever seen what can happen if a dispatcher does lap authorities? Have you ever dreamt that you, all by yourself, issued a lap order and it's now too late to do anything about it except to wait for the phone call from the fire department or the police?
OK, it's better to be lucky than good, so I'm not going to be the one who's going to ask how many crew members were assigned to the BNSF train that derailed in North Dakota this past winter, lighting up the pale winter day and the dark winter night with fires from the crude oil that poured out of the ruptured DOT 111 and DOT 111A tank cars. Nope, I've got mega-millions on my mind.
Nor will I be the one to ask how many crew members were assigned to that train in Pickens County Alabama that derailed about 20 tank cars of Bakken fields crude, which ignited and exploded last November. Got to get me a spot in the Powerball draw.
No way I'm going to even wonder how many crew members were assigned to that CSX train carrying crude in Philadelphia, that derailed and shut down an expressway. I've got 6 numbers I need to think about.
I will not even contemplate the numbers of crew members assigned to all those trains carrying all those flammable materials in DOT 111 and 111A tank cars that derailed, with tank cars rupturing, and the contents igniting over the last 30 years. No way. I want only good vibes to go with my really good chances of winning one of these big pots of everybody elses' money.
And you know what else? I'm not even going to consider all the crew members who will be operating all those trains on tracks exempt from PTC requirements because of the de minimis number of hazardous materials transported on such lines, at the de minimis speeds. Roll them bones, brother. Got to buy something I can ride in. Take my girl dating at the drive-in.
I will point out that the incident that precipitated FRA's convening of an emergency meeting of the RSAC to consider this matter involved a train staffed by a one person crew; a train left standing on a mainline, on a grade, where a fire was reported on the locomotive, and the fire department was called to the scene, and where, apparently, no one arranged to have an employee of the railroad, single or in pairs, inspect the train and locomotive before or after the emergency personnel departed the scene.
I will not point out that there is NO single point of failure in this incident. The employee operating the train did not decide to park it on a main line, on a grade, where no derail was applied to protect against unintended movement. That was somebody else's decision.
As far as I can determine, the employee operating the train did not decide not to arrange for himself to be disturbed from his rest and brought back to the train to ensure nothing had been done to the train by others that might allow the brakes to release. Somebody else did, or did not do that. The evidence has yet to be made public.
I will not point out that so far, the only evidence revealed to the public of a failure by this single person crew is the rather unfortunate comments of the owner of the MM&A railroad who apparently is more clairvoyant than I could ever hope to be because he knew, in his mind's eye.
I won't say those things because everybody knows how prone to failure single person crews are. Look at passenger service in the New York City area. There must be over 2000 passenger trains daily operating with only a single person in the locomotive cab, and the failure rate of those single person engine crews is.......is what? Intolerable? Unacceptable? Greater than the failure rate of multiple-person crews? Who knows and why care?
I will tell you why: when attacking items that are not the root causes, we are playing the odds. We're counting on intention, presumption, assumption, and sentiment rather than evidence, data, and analysis to guide a program aimed at systematically reducing risk. The mathematics of safe train operations don't allow for presumption or sentiment.
Nobody asked me, but that's never stopped me before, so here's my advice to all those actually running actual railroads; who are conversant with and responsible for safe train operations:
1. Get a hold of the documents, recommendations, draft guidelines of the Physician's Task Force of the Medical Standards Working Group.
2 Make such medical guidelines that reduce the risk of a failure by a person in a safety-critical function your policy.
3. Screen all candidates for safety-critical jobs for the known major causes of sudden undesired incapacitation.
4. When employees in safety-critical positions register for duty, which registering for duty is now done electronically through computer terminal, have the computer register program reference the medical records of the employees. When an employee previously identified as having a condition that may produce sudden incapacitation registers, require the employee to acknowledge his/her condition, verify his/her ongoing treatment, and validate his/her fitness for the safety-critical work on that day.
5. Failure of an employee to complete such validation will be automatically transmitted to the railroad's operations control center, so that movement authority for that employee's train may be withdrawn.
I don't believe in luck, or clairvoyance.
Better to be lucky than good