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Transport & Logistics

Learning from the worst rail crisis in Canadian history | Interview with Kirby Jang

3 Feb 2015, by Informa Insights

Kirby Jang is a Director of Investigations – Rail/Pipeline at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. Since joining the TSB in 2003 he has been involved in over 140 rail accident investigations and is highly regarded within the industry. Kirby will be presenting a key case study at the 2015 Rail Safety Conference in Melbourne, 24 – 26 March. KIRBY JANG

Q1. Kirby, can you please give us some background on your career and what led you into the highly specialised area of rail accident investigation?

The railway system has always fascinated me. I am a Civil Engineer and I have also completed my post-graduate studies in Transportation Systems.

Early in my career, for over 10 years, I worked for an engineering consulting firm as a Railway Systems consultant. Then for 5 years, I worked at the Canadian National Railway as Manager – Systems Engineering in its international consulting group. During this time, I was involved in the implementation of a number of track infrastructure maintenance systems for freight and passenger railways. Many of these consulting assignments focused on the development of more effective processes for designing, inspecting and maintaining railway infrastructure.

In 2003, I had the opportunity to join the Transportation Safety Board of Canada in the Rail/Pipeline Investigation Branch. It was a fairly easy decision for me to take on this new challenge as it allowed me to broaden my knowledge into other safety critical areas of the industry, including railway operations, railway equipment and railway crossing safety. Even today, for each new accident investigation, I believe that there are always opportunities to learn more about railway safety. At the TSB, by being able to share these safety messages with key industry stakeholders, I am truly blessed with being able to help advance transportation safety.

Q2. You will be delivering a case study at Rail Safety 2015 on the Lac-Mégantic incident in 2013, one of the worst rail accidents in Canadian history. Obviously you will be addressing the complexities of the issue at the event. However, from your experience, what advice would you give someone in your position dealing with a similar crisis?

First, I hope that an accident of the scope and devastation of the Lac-Megantic derailment will never happen again. However, we must ensure that all accident investigation organisations are adequately prepared to deal with similar types of occurrences.

Through the Lac-Megantic investigation, we were able to re-validate many of the investigation processes and procedures which are documented in our Manuals of Investigation. In addition, we conducted a lessons learned exercise upon completion of this investigation.

In general, the most important piece of advice that I can offer is to ensure that communications is always maintained and maximized during the crisis. This will obviously include internal communications between investigation team members. But, just as important, senior management must be kept up to date. This will ensure that operational decisions, such as the deployment of  resources, can be made quickly on a priority basis.

External communications to the media and the public must also be carefully considered. A well-executed communications plan, including media events, media requests and social media will ensure that the relevant factual information is provided during the early phases of the investigation, which will hopefully minimize any speculation on the causes of the accident.

Finally, an accident of similar scope and complexity will likely involve many organizations with similar and/or overlapping jurisdictions. In this situation, there can be multiple, concurrent investigations – regulatory, criminal and safety. Therefore, it is critical to communicate with these other organizations early to ensure that jurisdictional boundaries and related ground rules are appropriately established.

Q3. Finally, do you think there are any key differences between the Australian and Canadian approach to rail safety, or things we can learn from each other?

Although I am not completely familiar with the Australian approach to rail safety, what I can say is that there are always opportunities to learn from each other.

During the conference, I will be talking about the lessons learned from the Lac-Megantic investigation, including the TSB recommendations on what needs to change in the Canadian railway industry. Some of these recommendations involve operational changes and equipment changes which can be specific to North America. However, there are also recommendations relating to company safety culture and regulatory oversight which can be universally-applicable.

I am looking forward to presenting these lessons learned at the conference. But, I am also very excited to be meeting with other international rail safety experts at the conference to share safety knowledge and to discuss how this knowledge can be applied throughout the world.

To hear from Kirby Jang and a host of other expert speakers, book now for the 2015 Rail Safety Conference, 24-26 March in Melbourne.





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