Safety training for rail wrecks completed by rescue squads But MARC crews still must go through the program

February 04, 1997|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Rail officials have finished training fire and rescue squads how to respond to a Maryland Rail Commuter train crash, but are late in beginning safety training for rail crews.

Training for both groups was a key recommendation of a state task force formed after a train wreck killed 11 people aboard hhTC MARC train near Silver Spring last February.

The Maryland Mass Transit Administration created the panel of state, federal and private rail company officials to recommend ways to implement safety improvements. Last summer, federal transportation investigators criticized the MTA for lax oversight of safety on MARC lines, which are run for the state by Amtrak and CSX Transportation.

The task force recommended that MARC crews receive special emergency response training from November through this month. Problems in developing a videotape for the training delayed the beginning of such sessions until later this month, MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said.

The task force issued the report in October, but it was not made public until yesterday.

Some 100 crew members will be taught how to handle fires, derailments, engine failures and collisions, the report said. The videotape will be used to teach personnel about MARC safety equipment and the evacuation of passengers.

CSX, which was operating the MARC train involved in the 1996 crash, did not provide special training for MARC engineers or conductors before the accident. In federal hearings last summer, a veteran CSX employee testified that he had never tried to open an emergency escape window.

Brown said informal training is continuous and that crews know how to open emergency exits.

The state has spent $6.5 million to improve emergency windows, doors and signs on MARC trains since the accident. When the final changes are completed this spring, the MARC system will exceed Federal Railroad Administration standards for railroad equipment, Brown said.

"We want to emphasize our commitment to operating a safe commuter rail system."

Rail officials have completed another task force recommendation schedule -- the training of local fire and rescue personnel on MARC equipment and operations. "The responder training was more crucial to get done first," said Wade Hall, Amtrak deputy general manager for commuter services.

Last February, Montgomery County firefighters had difficulty gaining access to the crash, in part because they were unfamiliar with MARC cars. Brown said about 150 people from 40 fire and rescue squads in Maryland and Washington have taken part in sessions designed to familiarize them with MARC train cars, safety equipment and rail operations.

The task force also recommended the use of practice drills for rescue squads, MARC crews and others every two years, beginning next year. The drills will enable those who must respond to a train wreck to coordinate efforts, practice their skills and evaluate their teamwork, the report said.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency will coordinate a full-scale disaster training exercise, Brown said.

The task force report "is a great step forward in the overall safety for the passengers and the railroad," Hall said.

CSX took part in the task force and in coordinating training materials, said spokeswoman Brenda A. Russell. "Safety is paramount to this company," she said.

The report also recommended that MARC produce laminated cards with safety instructions, similar to those used by commercial airlines and Amtrak, and place them behind each seat. Brown said cards are being developed. MARC has developed brochures with safety instructions.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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