FRA safety specialist wins DOT honor

December 2, 2010

A Federal Railroad Administration safety specialist has been honored with an Excellence Award by the U.S. Department of Transportation for what Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called “his role in uncovering the widespread failure of a Class I railroad to maintain their fleet of equipment up to the federal standards.”

Honored was FRA Motive Power & Equipment Specialist Timothy McQuaid, assigned to the agency’s Region 4 office in Chicago. The railroad was CN, and the violations McQuaid documented occurred within Region 4, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Because of McQuaid’s efforts,” said LaHood, “the railroad committed to upgrading their inspection and oversight processes, improving safety on our nation’s freight corridors.”
According to the FRA, McQuaid “demonstrated superior initiative, leadership, and tenacious attention to duty in finding widespread failure of a Class 1 railroad to conduct proper mechanical inspections on their equipment and locomotives. 

“Over the course of the past year, Mr. McQuaid reviewed hundreds of reports from his inspectors, studied the reports on mechanically caused accidents on the railroad, and conducted countless inspections across the region to determine, first hand, the widespread failure by the railroad to maintain their fleet of equipment up to federal standards,” said agency is honoring McQuaid.

“During 2009,” said the FRA, “Mr. McQuaid noticed an increase in the mechanically caused derailments on a Class 1 railroad. He deployed his inspectors to the key terminals, inspecting for the mechanical defects identified as the causes for the derailments.

“Inspecting after the railroad’s carmen had performed their mechanical inspection, Mr. McQuaid’s inspectors discovered a consistent failure on the railroad’s part to correctly identify and repair these defects. He personally conducted scores of inspections and interviews with employees to ascertain the level of managerial culpability. Following this preliminary phase of his fact finding mission, he thoroughly documented his findings and presented it to the railroad and to the regional FRA leadership. 

“The railroad was not convinced of his findings, and dismissed the findings as ‘minor,'” said the FRA. 

“In the face of these obstacles, Mr. McQuaid briefed his supervisor, recommended a series of mechanical audits to identify the breadth and scope of the non-compliance, and led a multi-state, multi-regional audit,” said the FRA. “After several audits spanning months and meetings with railroad officials, the railroad began to conduct their own internal audit to determine the seriousness of the offense.  

“During a joint FRA-railroad senior management meeting, the railroad acknowledged the seriousness of their shortcomings, identified the need for improved training standards, focus on safety rather than performance, and began tracking all mechanical inspections performed by their personnel,” said the FRA. “In addition, the railroad has committed to upgrading their inspection and oversight processes.”

Concluded the FRA, “Mr. McQuaid’s thorough inspection and meticulous documentation of the audits and the findings were reviewed at the highest levels of FRA, and was the key factor in strengthening federal oversight of the railroad’s mechanical inspection process and implementation.”