Trust, Public-Private Partnerships, and Transportation Safety: Applicability of the Aviation Model for Rail Transportation

January 2017
Topics: Aviation Administration, Aviation Safety, Transportation
Dr. Laurence F. Audenaerd, The MITRE Corporation
Dr. Patricia A. Massimini, The MITRE Corporation
Gregory L. Orrell, The MITRE Corporation
Download PDF (207.02 KB)

Rail transportation has maintained a strong commitment to continuously improving safety by rooting out causal factors of rail accidents. New data can help this process. Data on track, locomotive and train location and performance, signal and switch status, Positive Train Control (PTC) settings, and corridor scheduling is now readily available and can be used to identify risky operations. However, to take advantage of this new data, rail transportation needs to continue maturing its framework for analyzing and sharing it.

A similar focus on safety began decades ago in the aviation industry. Aviation safety has evolved greatly in the intervening years with lessons learned in partnership models, analytical methods, and safety education. Safety culture in aviation has moved to a proactive approach that considers a mix of aircraft-derived data, data from government agencies, and voluntarily submitted safety reports from airline employees. Given the many operational similarities between air and rail, rail transportation could easily adopt best practices from aviation to further enhance the safety processes that are already in place.

The aviation system’s success is based upon a public-private partnership between the government and industry, and involves regular engagement and data-sharing activities. This partnership relies on a culture of trust and non-punitive self-reporting. This structure encourages collaboration and openness between operators and the government so that operators will self-report knowing that punishment is reserved only for criminal behavior and willful disregard for safety.

This public-private partnership model, coupled with data analytics and changes in organizational behavior, has been shown to improve safety and reduce aviation fatalities. This same approach could work for rail. 

Aviation and rail share certain key factors, such as a small number of major industry participants, few component manufacturers, and the shared use of facilities. These similarities and MITRE’s experience with public-private partnerships and safety data analysis gives it the ability to contribute to the transformation of rail safety.

Safety Management Systems

The foundation of aviation safety is the Safety Management System (SMS). SMS is a formal organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and ensuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. It is comprised of four key components—safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion. An organization using SMS applies processes and management tools to examine data gathered from everyday operations, isolate trends that may be precursors to incidents, take steps to mitigate the risks, and verify the effectiveness of the program.

MITRE has played a key role in the FAA’s SMS by helping shape safety policy, conducting analyses, and promoting safety. In preparation for a 2018 deadline requiring all airlines to develop their own SMS, MITRE has collaborated with and trained airline staff on SMS deployment. To help both the FAA and industry maintain a high-level of safety, MITRE has been developing SMS best practices for several decades and shares them by participating in multiple safety programs.

Collaboration vs. Compliance

The FAA established a compliance philosophy based on cooperation and trust between itself and industry.  This philosophy encourages an open and transparent exchange of information and data, recognizing that most operators successfully comply with the rules and voluntarily use SMS to identify and mitigate hazards. The FAA will continue to have zero tolerance for intentional reckless behavior, inappropriate risk-taking, or deviation from regulatory standards. 

One collaborative program MITRE participates in is the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), a team of government and industry participants that recommends voluntary safety enhancements and then tracks their effectiveness through data analytics. CAST has worked to reduce the fatality rate in U.S. commercial aviation by 83 percent over its first 10 years (1998 – 2008). CAST’s goal is to transition to prognostic safety analysis and to help reduce the U.S. commercial fatality risk by an additional 50 percent from 2010 to 2025.

Data Driven Methodology

Aviation safety today is evolving to a proactive approach that considers a mix of data generated by flight operators, the government, and submitted by airline employees. Data are collected through voluntary reporting programs such as the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), Flight Operational Quality Assurance program (FOQA), and Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP). These programs provide insight into millions of air traffic movements enabling trends and potential systemic safety issues to be identified through careful analyses. 

Aviation’s data-driven methodology is epitomized by the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program, supported by MITRE, which securely captures and connects data from the participating 47 air carriers, 37 corporate/ business operators, two manufacturers, and two maintenance, repair, and overhaul organizations. ASIAS monitors for known risk, evaluates effectiveness of safety enhancements, and detects emerging risk concerns.

The MITRE Corporation has a long history of helping a variety of organizations develop a safety culture and apply best practices in transportation safety and data analysis. MITRE is now leveraging these best practices to improve safety in surface transportation.  

Download PDF (207.02 KB)


Publication Search