WASHINGTON — ARE the rails safe?
A string of 17 train accidents during the first two months of this year is raising hard questions about safety on the nation's railroads. Federal authorities are now moving to address such concerns. This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a set of urgent recommendations, calling on federal safety inspectors to immediately review all commuter rail cars to make sure passengers can escape in the event of a crash.
The recommendation follows the Feb. 16 collision in Silver Spring, Md., that killed 11 people. Several victims were reported unable to escape from a burning Maryland Rail Commuter train.
The board also urged the Maryland Mass Transit Administration to modify its commuter cars to provide removable windows or kick panels on doors, easily used quick-release mechanisms for doors and improved signs. While the investigation of the Maryland accident is incomplete, NTSB chairman Jim Hall expressed concern that problems uncovered so far may exist on other commuter lines.
The Federal Railroad Administration has also ordered railroads nationwide to test emergency exits and improve their labeling.