Watchlist 2016 –
On-board voice and video recorders 

With no requirement for on-board voice and video recorders on locomotives, key information to advance railway safety may not always be available for accident investigations and proactive safety management.

 Update – What has been done

  • In November 2016, Board Member Faye Ackermans discussed key rail safety issues identified on the Watchlist at the National Railway Day Conference in Ottawa.
  • In November 2016, Transport Canada issued its Transportation 2030 strategic plan with a section on transportation safety, in which they commit to speeding up their review of the Railway Safety Act originally scheduled for 2018, including issues related to Locomotive Voice and Video Recorders.
  • Senior TSB officials participated in various meetings with stakeholders such as the Railway Association of Canada and the Canadian Association of Railway Suppliers to initiate discussions around pressing safety issues.
  • Canadian Pacific (CP) launched an awareness campaign on locomotive voice and video recorders, urging Canadian government to enhance rail safety.
  • TSB executives are meeting with Transport Canada on a regular basis to discuss the next steps in addressing the issue of on-board voice and video recorders.
  • In January 2017 a TSB Senior Human Factors Investigator delivered a presentation to the Transportation Research Board, a division of the US National Research Council, on this Watchlist issue.

Why this matters

Objective data is invaluable in helping investigators understand the sequence of events leading to an accident and in identifying operational issues and human factors, including crew performance. Having locomotive voice and video recorders (LVVR) would allow the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) to confirm the nature of crew communications and the dynamics of crew actions and interactions. If permitted, LVVR recordings could also provide railways with a means to identify and address operational and human factors issues within a proactive safety management system.

The aviation industry has used voice recording technology for at least three decades. In the marine mode, the use of voyage data recorders, which include voice recordings, has been mandated by the International Maritime Organization since 2002. Recent advances in recording technology have made it feasible to collect on-board voice and video data in locomotives.

A number of railway accident investigations in North America have led to findings, recommendations, and other safety communications that have identified human factors as an underlying safety issue. Many of these investigations would have benefitted from a recording of crew communications and crew interactions that occurred immediately prior to the accident.

The TSB has issued two recommendations on this issue,Footnote 1 which has been on the TSB Watchlist since 2012.

Similarly, in the United States, accident investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have called for the installation of voice, video, and forward-facing video recorders on locomotives.

Many Canadian railway companies have already voluntarily installed forward-facing video recorders on their locomotives, and some are moving toward broader use of voice and video recorders in locomotive cabs. A 2012 study by the Advisory Council on Railway Safety’s Locomotive Voice Recorder Working Group recommended that on-board recorders be implemented on a voluntary basis. However, progress on this issue has been very limited since the study was completed.

In May 2015, the TSB launched a safety study on LVVR, and invited Transport Canada, industry and union participation. The final report from the study, released in September 2016, identified some best practices, identified and documented implementation issues, and collected the necessary background information to support the development of an action plan to move forward with implementation of LVVR technology.

While there is general agreement among the railway industry and stakeholders on the fundamental value of LVVR data, there are differences of opinion on the appropriate use of the recorders. Expanded use of this information within a proactive safety management framework must therefore ensure that the rights and obligations of all parties are appropriately balanced. These disagreements must be resolved and legislation must be adopted to ensure the implementation of LVVR technology without any further delays.

 Action required

This issue will remain on the Watchlist until

  • voice and video recorders are installed on all lead locomotives operating on main track.
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