Forms New Center For Safety-Critical Systems With
Initial Focus On Railroads And Nuclear Industry
18, 1999 -- When it comes to railroad or industrial
safety, how safe is safe enough?
engineering professors at the University of Virginia have established
a Center for Safety-Critical Systems to explore questions of safety
with railroad industry officials and government regulators who oversee
industries where safety is a matter of life and death. The goal
is to make the current systems even safer for the public.
new center at the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science
is co-directed by Barry Johnson, a professor of electrical engineering,
and Ted Giras, an electrical engineering professor with extensive
experience in the railroad industry.
Federal Railroad Administration has transferred $150,000 to the
new center through an interagency agreement with the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, with another $150,000 to follow. This funding will allow
the development of techniques to be used by the railroad industry
in assessing the safety of modern rail transportation systems. Also,
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has designated the U.Va. program
as its "center for excellence" in safety-critical systems and has
provided an additional $450,000 in funding for the center to study
issues of safety in the nuclear industry. The center has received
support for related projects from the National Science Foundation
and the U.S. Air Force.
a university center, we want to create new knowledge that can be
used by industry to create safer systems, by regulators to write
regulations or license operation of nuclear power plants, and by
labor to educate the work force," Giras said. "We also will incorporate
an educational component, primarily a series of courses for industry
representatives involved in assuring the safety of critical systems."
need for the center has grown out of two converging national trends
in the railroad industry.
consolidation of the rail industry has joined companies with different
communications systems that now must create smooth links to ensure
interoperability and avoid dangerous mistakes. At the same time,
very little new track is being built. So, as freight demands continue
to grow, the need to use existing track more efficiently has intensified.
The result has been rising traffic volume on existing track and
a push for even greater use.
along with these technical changes, regulation of the railroad industry
also is changing. Instead of the current approach, which involves
a regulatory body writing prescriptive rules, the system is moving
toward performance-based standards, or "quantified safety," Johnson
said. Under this approach, an independent third-party examines the
safety of products to determine
they meet performance standards, rather than depending on suppliers
to certify that their products match the "specs" issued by the regulatory
increasing complexity of the systems running the trains have made
it tougher to assess how safe the systems are and how safe they
should be. "This area of quantified safety is U.Va.'s
Johnson said. "We will be designing computer methodologies that
can quantify and assess the safety of complex systems, such as those
used in the transportation, power generation, aerospace and process-control
industries. Basically, what we're trying to do is to create tools
that will allow regulators to answer two questions: 1) How do I
know this system is safe enough? and 2) How do I quantify how safe
this system is?"
an eye to global trends, the center also is on track to becoming
a repository for European safety information and has agreed to open
an information exchange with colleagues at the Technical University
of Brunsweig, Germany, Giras said.
summer, the center held a seminar on safety-critical technology
for members of the federal Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC),
which will be writing new safety regulations for "positive train
control" systems. The 40 or so participants included representatives
from all of the major American rail companies, labor officials,
major suppliers of electronic equipment and officials from related
government agencies -- the Federal Railroad Administration, the
National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Transit Administration.
Prototypes of these train control systems are now being tested with
an eye to fine-tuning them for future adoption by commercial operations.
institutions that have supported research in the field of safety-critical
systems will be collaborating with the new center. They include:
Carnegie-Mellon University, Pennsylvania State University's Transportation
Institute, William & Mary College, the University of Maryland-College
Park, the American Association of Railroads, the New York City Transit
Authority, and NASA-Langley.
more information about safety-critical systems in the transportation
industry, contact Ted Giras by phone at (804) 924-6986, by fax at
(804) 924-8818 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or, Barry Johnson
by phone at (804) 924-7623 or by email at email@example.com
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858.