I Wanna Testify, Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized at 16:30 by Administrator

I attended in person for several reasons:  1)I could.  I’m retired I have the time 2) I could.  I’m retired I have the time and I have the money 3) I could.  With time and money I could purchase a ticket on Amtrak and arrive, theoretically before the hearing started  4) I could.  With time money ticket and faith in Amtrak, I could return the same day.  I would not have to stay in DC overnight… something else that gives me the shivering willies, and which explains, by the way, why I opted to catch day one of the hearings via the streaming webcast.  Brave new world, everything you need to know is on a flat screen.

Wait, there are more reasons: 4) I worked for Metro North for 23 years, establishing accruing a certain degree of authority, responsibility, credibility, and establishing a certain level of performance of which I was, I am, I will always be proud.  Not just pride of self, but pride in how the railroad improved, developed– how it established its authority, discharged its responsibilities, achieved its level of performance  5) I have friends,  colleagues,  and co-workers still there whom I look forward to seeing with such selfishness that I wasn’t worried about how they might feel seeing me.

There’s still more: 6) Most importantly of all, I wanted to attend because the two accidents in May, one a derailment due to failure of a joint under train movement producing a raking collision between two trains, yielding damage and injuries; the other a fatality of a roadway worker when a train was improperly allowed into the work zone, critically demonstrate the greatest challenge we face– human factor.  Not human error.  Not human mistakes. Not human ignorance, human weakness, not the inexplicably human behavior of behaving in an inexplicable manner.  But human performance.   That is to say that tendency to, literally, live off, draw down, consume the “capital” embedded in previously, and properly, engineered track, train control, and vehicle systems; to subject and encumber the railroad system with creeping minimalism, where we organize, supervise, institutionalize, work to a minimum standard, to a “condemnable limit” and then convince ourselves that the minimum acceptable standard, the condemnable limit is indeed “good enough,” and indeed can be, if not broken, at least “pushed.”

We no longer have to assess, much less require, the level of effort in maintenance,  in execution, and most of all, in supervision that corresponds to the level of effort previously embodied in the design, construction, and supervision of those systems.

We are human beings.  We depreciate the systems, the value of the very systems we rely upon for performance. 

And then we develop an ideology, with an impressive vocabulary, to excuse our depreciation, our unwillingness to maintain, execute, and most of all supervise.   Hell, we develop whole disciplines to justify our unwillingness and explain how the problem is somewhere else– in “attitudes”  in “bad employee relations,” in “poor communication channels,”  in utilizing “obsolete” “punishment and discipline” to enforce the effort necessary to performance.

We get a world of buzzwords, and I’m here to tell you, buzzwords kill.

It was established early, and clearly, that the  May 17, 2013 derailment and raking collision was the result of a failure to take proper actions regarding a repeatedly appearing and worsening track defect.   It was established by the Metro North witnesses that the incident was the product of a systematic failure of supervision.  Now supervision, like performance, is, but is not solely, a question of individual human performance.  The field officer has exactly that:  field responsibility.  Supervision is also a system.  The system requires that somebody supervise the supervisor.   Systems require that the “checking loop” go all the way to the very top.

However, we have labored for too long under what I call “the nonsense theory of management”  that says a) a good manager doesn’t have to know the details of the operation to make the operation good.  He/she has to be able to “manage people.”  and b) managers should “delegate.”  These abstractions “managing people” as opposed to knowing the requirements, the methods and means to a good operation, and “delegation” are complemented by the criticism and dismissal as “micro-managers,” “detail obsessed,”  of those supervisors who do take the checking loop seriously.

So let’s get it straight and early:  Knowing the details of the operation, of the systems required to make the operation perform is essential to managing the operation.  You cannot be responsible for the performance of a railroad and not know what “safe separation of trains” means.  Having such knowledge is not sufficient, but it sure is necessary.

You cannot manage an operation in real time by looking at performance indicators as such performance indicators even in their most current form are lagging indicators.  The real time for systems management is always the level of effort going forward.  

That’s just my personal observation, and I may be wrong.  But I’d be willing put up my experience, my performance, and the performance of the railroad in every category under my supervision for inspection and evaluation.

Stay tuned…………more to come.



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