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Transit and aviation team up for safety

Transit and aviation team up for safety

When you head out the door in the morning, you probably don’t consider the number of organizations that work together to operate, maintain, and oversee the transportation systems you use to travel to work, school, and other destinations. However, you do expect to arrive safely and on-time.

Through financial and technical assistance, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) helps keep our transportation systems moving safely and efficiently. Within DOT, we’re always looking for ways to share that knowledge across industries and organizations—and we are making new safety connections between planes and trains.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are collaborating on using the Safety Management System (SMS) on all of FTA future projects. SMS is the basis of the FTA Safety Program and builds on existing transit safety practices by using data to proactively identify, avoid, and mitigate risks to safety.

SMS has proven effective in other industries, but it is a relatively new concept for transit. The FTA realized early in the SMS adoption process that in order to be successful, we would leverage the abundance of SMS success stories, best practices, and lessons learned from other industries—like aviation.

The aviation industry’s success in using SMS to improve safety provided further incentive for the FTA to adopt the approach. Now, as the FTA leads the transit industry’s adoption of SMS, our aviation colleagues’ experiences provide a model for bringing the benefits of SMS—including improved safety performance, greater consistency in identifying hazards and evaluating safety risk, and a strengthened safety culture—to transit agencies.

Over the past several months, the FTA has been conducting an SMS implementation pilot program with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), and at the end of September launched a bus pilot program with the Maryland Transit Administration working with Charles, Montgomery and Frederick County’s bus agencies, representing small, large and rural transit providers.

Through these pilot programs, the FTA provides technical assistance to transit agencies on developing and operating an SMS, while transit agencies provide opportunities for the FTA to test the effectiveness of SMS implementation tools in diverse transit operating environments.

In June 2016, the FTA initiated the first in a series of meetings between the CTA and United Airlines as part of the SMS implementation pilot program. United Airlines, which along with United Express operate more than 4,500 flights a day to 339 airports across five continents, provided CTA with briefings and demonstrations on how to develop and operate an effective SMS.

The meetings with United Airlines have helped CTA make progress in becoming an industry leader in SMS. As a result of this collaboration, the FTA is developing and testing guidance documents to provide technical assistance to different transit agencies. In addition, the FTA is developing regulations and creating outreach and training materials on how to successfully implement SMS, based on the work being done at CTA and at the three small to mid-sized bus agencies.

The SMS pilot program for transit is a great example of how innovative solutions applied by one industry can be adapted to fit the needs of another for the same result: safe transportation for the American public. While public transportation remains the safest form of ground transportation, the FTA’s SMS pilot program is helping make transit even safer.

I’m grateful for the support and partnership our FAA colleagues and United Airlines have given to this endeavor and to their ongoing commitment to safety. Working together, our DOT agencies will continue to act as a team to improve the safety of the transportation industry as a whole.

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