Transportation Safety

Train safety technology hasn't quite reached the station
Fatalities add up as cost and complexity delay full implementation of 'positive train control' system

Rescue crews and investigators inspect the site of a May 2015 Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia . (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

After years of delays, a railroad safety system that federal regulators say could have prevented some 300 deaths since 1969 is finally close to full implementation — but large gaps remain, with commuter railroads using the system on fewer than half of the tracks required by December 2020.

Overall, the news for supporters of the so-called positive train control system is promising — 92 percent of the 58,000 track miles required to implement the safety system have it installed, according the Federal Railroad Administration, which is overseeing compliance with the law. 

Transportation and data service providers battle for bandwidth
FCC chairman says it’s time to take ’fresh look’ at how frequencies are used

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has talked about taking a “fresh look” at using radio frequencies for transportation safety purposes, but he hasn't put the change on the agency’s agenda yet. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two big industries are fighting over radio frequencies that each could use to provide game-changing services.

On one side is the transportation industry, including auto and truck makers and their suppliers. The frequencies would allow smart vehicles of the near future to talk to each other to use roadways more efficiently and avoid collisions.

Boeing chief at Senate 737 Max hearing: ‘We made mistakes’
Senators question whether Boeing held back key information and whether its culture contributed to unsafe aircraft

Nadia Milleron, whose daughter Samya Stumo was killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, holds a sign with victims of the crash Tuesday behind Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, foreground, during the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on aviation safety and the future of the Boeing 737 MAX. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As he prepares for Wednesday’s oversight hearing with the embattled Boeing CEO, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio must sort through a corporate culture that he believes compromised safety and find out what, if any, legislative remedies there are to be had.

The crash of two Boeing 737 Max aircraft over the past year — Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March — took the lives of 346 people and profoundly wounded the reputation and bottom line for the Chicago-based aircraft maker. The aircraft has been grounded in the U.S. since March.

Probe faults Boeing over 737 Max details given to FAA before certification
Multinational review follows two crashes that killed 346 people

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes are seen parked on Boeing property along the Duwamish River near Boeing Field in August in Seattle, Washington. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Boeing did not adequately brief regulators about the flight control system blamed for two crashes of its 737 Max aircraft that killed a total of 346 people, according to a multinational task force that reviewed the plane’s certification process.

In a report released Friday, the Joint Authorities Technical Review, a panel chartered by the Federal Aviation Administration that included aviation regulators from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe and other countries as well as representatives from the FAA and NASA, found that increasingly complex aircraft systems have certification requirements that the FAA has yet to match.

Road ahead: House health care week again, as Senate tackles contentious nominations
House Democrats also voting on Equality Act, which will mark passage of half of their top 10 bills

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is lead sponsor of the Equality Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s health care week, part two, in the House as the chamber will vote on a package of seven bills designed to strengthen the 2010 law and lower prescription drug prices — after passing a measure last week that Democrats said would protect people with pre-existing conditions.

But the health care package won’t be the only marquee legislation on the floor this week. Democrats will be halfway through advancing their top 10 bills out of the House after a vote on HR 5, the Equality Act.

Hearing into 737 Max crashes will focus on FAA oversight
A Senate subcommittee will question the FAA‘s certification process for the 737 Max 8 and 9 began Wednesday

A Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner takes off from Renton Municipal Airport near the company’s factory, on March 22, 2019 in Renton, Washington. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The first of what will likely be many congressional hearings into two catastrophic overseas crashes of Boeing’s new 737 Max jets began Wednesday with senators focusing on how federal safety regulators delegate work to the manufacturers they oversee and how they react after accidents happen.

The Senate’s aviation and space subcommittee, led by Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, will question the Federal Aviation Administration’s certification process for the 737 Max 8 and 9, and the March 13 decision to ground the planes, which came after other airlines and nations had already done so.

FAA: New data led to grounding of 737 Max jets
All Max 8 and 9 models in the air right now ‘will be grounded’ today as soon as they land, Trump told reporters

The Boeing 737-8 is pictured on a mural on the side of the Boeing Renton Factory on March 11, 2019 in Renton, Washington. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Updated 5:40 p.m. | The Federal Aviation Administration ordered all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 airliners grounded on Wednesday after enhanced satellite data showed similarities between Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight and an October crash of a Lion Air jet in Indonesia.

President Donald Trump announced the decision, which came after the European Union, Great Britain, China and some airlines had already grounded the planes and members of Congress were calling on the FAA to follow suit.

FAA Passage Likely, But Timing Unclear in Senate as Deadline Looms
The current Federal Aviation Administration authorization ends on Sunday

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told CQ that weekend work is possible if Senate can't get to FAA bill by Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Even after lawmakers in both chambers took a major step toward a long-term Federal Aviation Administration authorization over the weekend, the path to enactment before a Sunday deadline remains uncertain as several other important votes jockey for floor time in the Senate.

The House is scheduled to vote this week on the five-year bill, which members of the House and Senate from both parties agreed to early Saturday morning, but the Senate schedule is less certain.

Missouri Lawmakers Want Congressional Action After Duck Boat Tragedy
Comes after 17 people died, including nine from the same family

Rep. Billy Long said, “We’ve got to do whatever we can to prevent anything similar to this happening” of the duck boat sinking in his district. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Billy Long wants congressional action after a duck boat sinking in his district killed 17 people.

“We’ve got to do whatever we can to prevent anything similar to this happening, if at all possible,” the Missouri Republican said.

Thune Adding TSA, NTSB Bills to FAA Authorization
‘This may be our one shot at actually moving a major piece of legislation’

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune is including additional transportation-related bills in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, he said in a Wednesday interview.

In an effort to broaden the appeal of a four-year FAA authorization bill, he was including other committee-approved bills to authorize the Transportation Security Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. The move is also an effort to clear as much of the committee’s business as possible when an opportunity for floor time arises, he said.