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Archive for the ‘organizational behavior’ Category

The investigation has just begun, but it is likely that the NTSB will find that the fatal Metro-North derailment was due to excessive speed. It is precisely the kind of accident that PTC would have prevented.

But the FRA has a different view. FRA Administrator Joe Szabo sent a blistering letter to the MTA complaining of unspecified problems in its safety culture:

The Federal Railroad Administration today called for mandatory safety retraining of Metro-North workers and the creation of a confidential reporting system that lets employees report safety concerns, according to a letter from the agency to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It directed MTA, which operates the railroad, to respond by Dec. 6. The MTA needs to show its employees “a serious, good faith commitment to the safe operation of the system and inform them of the steps that MTA will take to enhance safety in both the short- and long-term,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo wrote in the letter to MTA Chief Executive Officer Thomas Prendergast.

At best, his letter is premature. At worst, it is disingenuous for trying to deflect blame from the FRA.

Historically, the FRA was opposed to PTC technology (until Congress intervened in 2008). Since that time, the FRA has botched the PTC implementation. Rather than pointing fingers, the FRA needs to answer why the PTC implementation is taking so long, despite being a turn-key technology.

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Institutional dysfunction at the FRA and the DOT isn’t exactly a sexy topic for the mainstream press. So kudos to Stephen Smith for publishing a great article in Bloomberg that asks whether the next DOT Secretary can be a technical leader:

David Gunn, the president of Amtrak from 2002 to 2005, cited a lack of technical knowledge as the biggest problem at the Transportation Department, which he said has devolved into “an agency that just distributes money.”

“If you look at the Federal Railroad Administration and the Department of Transportation, they’ve never really had professional leadership,” argued Gunn.

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Remember that boondoggle court computer system? It’s been shitcanned by the Legislature:

The plug has been pulled on one of the biggest boondoggles in California history – the effort to build a $2 billion computer system linking the state’s 58 county courts. It never worked, and some say it was doomed from the start.

The program had run so amok, according to the state auditor, that one of the subcontracts had 102 change orders, pushing that one bill alone from $33 million to $310 million.

Faced with mounting criticism from judges and legislators, the state Judicial Council finally voted Tuesday to kill the out-of-control program. But not before spending more than $500 million trying to launch it.

The computer system was basically a Web 2.0 content management system. They spent $500 million, and have nothing to show for it.

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It’s like a bad episode of Reno-911.

A jogger clings to life after being hit by a semi — and the police crack jokes:

Officer 1 ‘That’s why you drive a car!’
Officer 2 ‘Yeah, don’t try to jog to work, you dumb fuck!’

Click through to komo-news for the video and interview with the victim.

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Loose Cannon

A recent ‘Mythbusters’ cannonball experiment nearly resulted in tragedy when an errant cannonball smashed through a suburban neighborhood. The projectile sailed through a bedroom where a couple and their child were sleeping. After exiting the bedroom, it smashed into a minivan that had been parked just 10 minutes earlier.

The cannonball blast did not come from a Hollywood set. For the past 8 years, the show has enjoyed free use of the Alameda County Sheriff Department Bomb Disposal Range.

But don’t worry… the Sheriff provides a safety expert to monitor stunts. Unaware of basic physical laws, this “expert” apparently felt a cinder-block wall provides protection against heavy ordnance. Cannons, mind you, were used in medieval times to blast through castle walls.

It is the latest in a string of embarrassing episodes for the Department, which has become — if you pardon the pun — a Loose Cannon.

The Department gained notoriety in recent years over plans to build a juvenile super-jail. The jail was seen as a big revenue source for the department, and local construction contractors. Due to popular outcry, that plan was thankfully scaled back. The Department is also notorious for having scored 9-11 grants to purchase a military gunboat. The idea of Sheriff Deputies chasing after Terrorists with NATO-issue machine guns made for a hilarious episode of 60-Minutes. Soon after that report, grant funding ceased for the program.

And when not Blowing Shit Up, the Sheriff Department has spent an inordinate amount of time going after law-abiding cyclists. Just ask Chuck Pascoe, who was charged for ‘holding a parade without a permit’ – an offense that carries a maximum 6-month prison term:

Pascoe had no idea that the ride, the annual fund-raiser for Cherry City Cyclists, a San Leandro club, would cause a fuss.

But he hadn’t reckoned with the North Valley Homeowners Association, whose members were fed up with cyclists hogging the roads. After years of quiet grumbling, the 54 residents of rural Collier Canyon Road decided to act. They signed petitions, sent an emissary to Livermore City Hall and contacted the Sheriff’s Department.

Watt found a sympathetic ear when he expressed his concerns to sheriff’s Capt. Dennis Scheuller.

After inspecting the 3-1/4-mile stretch of narrow Collier Canyon Road just outside Livermore where the Cherry City Jubilee would begin and end, Scheuller decided it was too dangerous for bikes and cars to share.

Chuck was told to get a parade permit, which was denied. The ride went on anyway, with Chuck being cited. That was in 1997, but even 10 years later the department was still going after cyclists for not getting parade permits to ride on county roads.

For now, an investigation is planned over the cannonball incident. It would be nice if it results in changes in the department, with actual adults assuming responsibility. But given past history, that seems unlikely….

 

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“Peer Review Group” has issued a report on the organizational structure of California high-speed rail. The group has reached a depressing conclusion that nobody in the State has the necessary skill set to develop a high-speed rail system, or even negotiate a PPP:

The LAO Report identifies a concern with Caltrans’ “…lack of expertise in working with private partners on PPPs,” which is exactly the problem that the project faces even now in the issue of the lack of operator/designer/builder feedback, and which will become much more serious when the time comes to develop, award and oversee (or regulate) the operating arrangement. The Authority does not have this expertise either, and the Group is deeply concerned that neither the Authority nor Caltrans will be able to acquire it in a timely way if the Department must stay within existing State agency limitations on positions, salaries, and skills.

High-speed rail is a mature turn-key technology. There are numerous 3rd world countries that have built lines, or are in the process of doing so. How is it that California, with its diverse economy and engineering talent, is having these kinds of problems?

The full report: 59472351-PeerReviewGroupCommentsonHSRLAO-sReport

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President Obama has described the failure to uncover the Underwear Bomber as a ‘Systemic Failure’, but the White House report suggests the primary cause might be something as simple as a misspelling:

Mr. Abdulmutallab possessed a U.S. visa, but this fact was not correlated with the concerns of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father about Mr. Abdulmutallab’s potential radicalization. A misspelling of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name initially resulted in the State Department believing he did not have a valid U.S. visa.

and:

A series of human errors occurred — delayed dissemination of a finished intelligence report and what appears to be incomplete/faulty database searches on Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name and identifying information.

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