FTA takes SMS to trains from planes, but there should be more for all US travelers

fta faa sms collaboration
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FTA & FAA Collaborates Using SMS

SMS Should Apply to All Modes of Transportation

FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers posted on the DoT’s blog, Fastlane, an interesting description of how that multi-modal organization can and should work. From a historical perspective, in 1966, FAA Administrator Halaby suggested to President Johnson that there should be a unified Department so that a single executive could integrate the policies of the modes of Transportation. Congress reminded future Secretaries of this integrated approach (PL 89-670):

 “…necessary in the public interest and to assure the coordinated, effective administration of the transportation programs of the Federal Government; to facilitate the development and improvement of coordinated transportation service…to encourage cooperation of Federal, State, and local governments, carriers, labor, and other interested parties…”

Administrator Flowers refreshed that raison d’être for the institution of the DoT in her post:

“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.”

Further, through her guidance and as a laboratory for other transit authorities to emulate, Ms. Flowers brought Chicago’s largest airline, United and its transit system, the Chicago Transit Authority, together to transmit the practical knowledge and enthusiasm of UA for SMS to its local public transportation organization.

fta faa sms collaboration

Through that collaboration, the FTA is developing and testing guidance documents to provide technical assistance to different transit agencies.

Administrator Halaby is surely smiling in his grave in Fairfax, VA; as is Administrator Huerta, who in his FAA Office, is equally pleased.

fta faa sms collaboration

SMS is intended to help set priorities for organizations, private and public, in deciding what safety risks require attention, how best to minimize those potential problems and prioritize the resources used to resolve the most important frailties in the relevant processes. The regimen of SMS is extremely disciplined and relies heavily on hard data in identifying what issues merit the organization’s focus in comparison to other concerns which may not pose as significant hazards.

The lessons of the FAA and SMS should migrate beyond the FTA. Secretary Foxx has suggested to the automobile industry that it adopt this effort to enhance safety. The NTSB, an original advocate for this methodology, might sharpen the value of its Most Wanted List by employing the quantitative metrics of SMS.

Perhaps the new Secretary of Transportation should consider using SMS to help direct the priorities of her/his team among the many modes within the DoT. They would learn that safety is not just a matter of occasional analysis but must be a doctrine present in their work day-by-day. Safety culture, even for executives distant from where the “rubber meets the road,” is needed to achieve the minimal level of risks that all American travelers should have.


Transit and Aviation Team-Up for Safety
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