RAILROADS (RITA – U.S. DOT’S INTERNAL “THINK TANK”) / U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) announced that it is studying “close calls” in the railroad industry. Rail safety researchers at RITA will receive reports and interview on the occasion of each qualifying “close call” incident.

“Agency Information Collection; Activity Under OMB Review; Confidential Close Call Reporting System.”

July 24, 2013. Notice.

A “close call” is defined for this notice as:

“A situation in which an ongoing sequence of events was stopped from developing further, preventing the occurrence of potentially serious safety-related consequences. This might include the following: (1) Events that happen frequently, but have low safety consequences; (2) events that happen infrequently but have the potential for high consequences (e.g., a train in dark territory proceeds beyond its authority); (3) events that are below the FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] reporting threshold (e.g., an event that causes a minor injury); and (4) events that are reportable to FRA but have the potential for a far greater accident than the one reported (e.g., a slow speed collision with minor damage to the equipment and no injuries.)”

RITA, the administration within U.S. DOT that will conduct this information collection, is the “think tank” of U.S. DOT on various transportation safety and efficiency issues that have a scientific or engineering component. RITA includes, “the staff from the Office of Research, Development, and Technology, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the Transportation Safety Institute, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics”.

Personally speaking, RITA has a special place in my appreciation because my now-retired father worked for ten years at the predecessor to the Office of Research, Development and Technology within the U.S. DOT Office of the Secretary, and for another ten years at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Finally, given the news of Lac-Mégantic in the last few weeks, all things related to railroad safety have a more pressing relevance.