T. Bella Dinh-ZarrT. Bella Dinh-Zarr
Washington, D.C. ENR 10/12/16 p. 14
NTSB vice chairman has been an advocate for accelerated installation of positive train-control technology in U.S. rail infrastructure.

T. Bella Dinh-Zarr has been a leading voice to fulfill the National Transportation Safety Board’s 47-year-old call for technology that improves rail infrastructure safety. Her commitment was evident at her first appearance as a board representative on Capitol Hill—a Senate hearing on the deadly 2015 Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia.

Unsatisfied with another federal agency representative’s response to a question about railroads’ responsibility to implement positive train-control (PTC) technology, Dinh-Zarr stepped in to clarify how the regulation came about, including the railroads’ involvement in its development. While her well-intentioned interruption infringed upon congressional protocol, Dinh-Zarr later said she felt compelled to speak up, “because we at the NTSB should value providing truthful, life-saving information more than we fear breaking protocol or even risking the wrath of a senator.”

Dinh-Zarr, a Vietnam-born immigrant with a PhD in public health, was also the sole NTSB member to vote against official wording that blamed the Philadelphia crash solely on the engineer, having also introduced an unsuccessful amendment that would have named the absence of PTC as the probable cause, instead of a contributing factor. She has also sought to counter any perception of the technology as a panacea for rail safety: During the NTSB response to the October 2016 crash of a New Jersey Transit commuter train in Hoboken, N.J., she reminded reporters that PTC “cannot prevent every train accident.” Dinh-Zarr’s efforts to foster safety across all modes of mobility began well before her NTSB service. An injury prevention specialist, she was the U.S. director of the FIA Foundation, an international philanthropy that promotes safe and sustainable surface transportation. 

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