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Railroad Accident Report - Collision of Two Trains near Two Harbors, Minnesota - September 30, 2010 - Chairman's Opening Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Railroad Accident Report - Collision of Two Trains near Two Harbors, Minnesota - September 30, 2010 - Chairman's Opening  Remarks

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the September 30, 2010, collision of two trains near Two Harbors, Minnesota.

The head-on collision occurred in the afternoon. One loaded Canadian National Railway freight train was traveling southbound and another CN freight train with empty railcars was traveling northbound. They collided near Two Harbors, Minnesota, injuring all five crewmembers and causing more than $8 million in property damage.

Any head-on collision is serious and calls for thorough investigation in order to understand what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. We will hear about our team's investigation into the human, the machine and the environment and the factors at play on that September afternoon. We will also hear about the "authority" that allows trains to move on a particular piece of track. Authority is a familiar term in railroading; a train must have authority to occupy a track before it can move.

There are different types of authority that govern train movements and the type depends on a range of factors, including the amount of traffic. For example, sophisticated signaling equipment is used on busy lines to help reduce train delays.

In northern Minnesota, where these two trains were traveling, there were no signals on that stretch of track, and under CN's Track Authority a dispatcher is required to instruct the train to proceed. This is done by radio. It starts with a verbal instruction, but there are a series of subsequent steps that the crew must follow, including writing down the instruction on a prescribed form, reading it back to the dispatcher, receiving acknowledgment from the dispatcher, and more.

On Sept. 30, 2010, the dispatcher attached an after-arrival condition to the track authority. That meant the permission to occupy a designated portion of single main track was not effective until after the arrival of another train.

This is not the first time this Board has seen the damaging results of after-arrival track authorities on non-signaled track. In recent years, the NTSB has investigated four other head-on collisions where an after-arrival track authority was involved. Those accidents, which claimed eight lives and caused $20 million in damages, provided a clear and powerful lesson: It is never good to have a practice, like after-arrival track authority, that lacks safety redundancy and depends on error-free human performance.

Error-free human performance is possible, but is it is unrealistic to expect it to occur 100 percent of the time. In transportation, where there is so much at risk, there must be added safeguards to protect people and property.

Let's hear in detail from our staff about what happened in Minnesota that afternoon so that we can make safety recommendations to help prevent a recurrence.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.