By Elaine Tran

As someone new to the transit industry and wanting to gain more insider knowledge, I gladly accepted an invitation last month, to attend a unique training opportunity at SamTrans’ North Base training facilities in South San Francisco.

I was a guest of Lou Doll, who heads SamTrans’ Transit Operations team to observe the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) program on Safety Management Systems (SMS).

This is the second time SamTrans has hosted this training, and what I didn’t realize was how highly regarded TSI is within this industry.  TSI is the official training arm of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and its mission is to provide safety and security training for all modes of transportation. The training is quite broad and covers approximately 25 certifiable courses dealing with transit.

As soon as I arrived at the training conference room at North Base, I took the empty seat next to Ana Rivas, SamTrans Bus Transportation Superintendent and quickly noticed how full the class was.  It was an unprecedented turnout, as among the 15 people who were in the room, there were representatives from Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (CCCTA), SamTrans, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD), Transit America Service (TASI) from Caltrain and San Mateo County Transit District (District). In addition to the breadth of transit agencies in attendance, this training program served as a prime example of the District’s internal efforts to promote greater interdepartmental collaboration, as this three-day course brought together two of our District’s flagship transit agencies – Caltrain and SamTrans – under one roof.

We were in capable hands as the program was led by TSI Course Instructor Donald Pike, who was joined by Ron Nickle, who serves as the Chief Safety Officer for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) or Boston T, a division of Mass DOT Rail & Transit Services, which operates one of the oldest multi-modal transit agencies in the nation, including subway lines, trackless trolleys, buses, bus rapid transit along with paratransit and ferry transit services.

Together, both Donald and Ron provided insight into the reality of what testing and safety used to be.  For instance, in the early 1940s, there was a lot of trial and error. New airplane designs were flown and tested by test pilots, and it resulted in replacing a lot of planes, and sometimes pilots themselves who didn’t survive.

The concept of safety engineering sprang from this trial-and-error system as engineers designed and determined failures during the pre-design and pre-operations phase. This concept is what drove NASA in the early 1940s and 1950s until the Challenger disaster, which opened the door to the concept of safety management.

Safety has evolved dramatically from the 1940s to our present day and the newest version of safety management is the Safety Management Systems (SMS) program. Stemming from management systems, SMS came out of the business environment and the conceptual methodology of where all of management would be committed to a common goal, organizational silos would be removed and management would be integrated in a top-down approach – from the Board of Directors level and down to the employees – in a continuous cycle. Originating in Europe, this is the model Federal Transit Administration (FTA) adopted in 2013, under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) legislation, which aims to propel public transit in our current century and beyond.   Unlike system safety which is a more technical, SMS is a formal organization-wide approach to managing and mitigating safety risk that includes systematic procedures, practices and policies for managing risks and hazards.  Based on the increasing complexity of technology, industry safety performance and identified safety gaps/challenges, there is a need for an integrated SMS system for public transit.

After the morning sessions, I met up with Lou, who in addition to his Operations Manager role with SamTrans, is a Senior Associate for TSI and teaches training courses at other local and regional agencies.

Lou and his fellow instructors confirmed that TSI is in the process of developing a SMS program that would be tailored to executives and the training would only be four hours compared to a three-day curriculum.

With regards to implementing SMS, Lou reinforced that it cannot work without the support from leadership and eventually SMS will be a mandate that all transit agencies must abide by, so why not start now?

Public Affairs Specialist, Matt Wilson, contributed to this post. @WilsonSTComms

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