Watchlist 2014 – On-board video and voice recorders

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With no requirement for on-board video and voice recorders on locomotives, key information to advance railway safety may not always be available.


Objective data is invaluable in helping investigators understand the sequence of events leading to an accident and in identifying operational issues and human factors, including crew performance. Having video and voice recordings would allow the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) to confirm the nature of crew communications and the dynamics of crew actions and interactions. It would also allow investigators to eliminate extraneous factors that did not play a role in the accident. Technology abounds in the area of recorded information, and the aviation industry has had voice recordings for at least three decades.

A number of railway accident investigations in North America have led to findings, recommendations and other safety communications that have identified human factors as an underlying safety issue. Many of these investigations would have benefitted from a recording of crew communications and interactions immediately prior to an accident.Footnote 1

The TSB has issued two recommendations on this issue: R03-02 and R13-02. Similarly, in the United States, accident investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, have called for the installation of voice, video, and forward-facing video recorders on locomotives.Footnote 2 Some Canadian railway companies have already voluntarily installed forward-facing video recorders on their locomotives, and some are moving toward broader use of video and voice recorders in locomotive cabs. But progress is limited. Transport Canada has written letters to individual railway companies and the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) urging voluntary installation of recorders, as recommended by the Advisory Council on Railway Safety's Locomotive Voice Recorder Working Group. However, this initiative falls short of mandating a clear plan of action to fully address the safety issue and the responses to the two recommendations that are currently rated as Satisfactory in Part.

In the ongoing dialogue, industry stakeholders have expressed their view that industry should be permitted to make use of video and voice recordings for safety management purposes. Conversely, labour organizations representing train crews support the initiative if the recorded data is used exclusively for TSB purposes. The TSB also acknowledges the potential value of these devices if used in a non-punitive manner in the context of proactive safety management. The TSB is encouraged by the agreement on the fundamental need to capture the data, and is hopeful that outstanding differences can be resolved to allow use of on-board video and voice recordings as a reliable source of investigative and proactive safety management information.


The railway industry must ensure that communications and interactions in locomotive cabs are recorded.

The TSB is committed to working with the regulator and the railway industry to remove legislative barriers.


Footnote 1

TSB rail investigation reports R10Q0011 and R12T0038

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Footnote 2

Accident investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board in Silver Spring, Maryland; Anding, Mississippi; Chatsworth, California; and Goodwell, Oklahoma

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