The 2019 Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety

The 2019 Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety

The 2019 PACTS Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety, in partnership with IMEchE and supported by Michelin and Thatcham Research

The lecture report is now available to download.  An audio recording of the lecture is also available and presentation slides can be downloaded here.

Lessons from the Ashes:

Improving transportation safety through accident investigation

PACTS has been highlighting the importance of in-depth accident investigation that focuses on learning and prevention, for all transport modes. We are delighted that Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board and expert in accident investigation, has agreed to deliver the PACTS 2019 Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety – the 29th in the series. We are holding this event on the evening of 4th December in partnership with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at their prestigious Westminster headquarters. Members of both organisations are welcome; others by invitation.

Lecture overview

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. and significant accidents in other modes of transportation – railroad, highway, marine and pipeline. The NTSB determines the probable cause of the accidents and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. In addition, the NTSB carries out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinates the resources of the Federal Government and other organizations to provide assistance to victims and their family members impacted by major transportation disasters.

The Honorable Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB, will discuss recent accidents investigated by NTSB in each mode of transportation, including findings from a Volvo SUV collision that was being tested in the self-driving mode by Uber Advanced Technologies Group. Also discussed will be the NTSB’s focus on vulnerable road users – pedestrians, bicyclist, and motorcyclist.

Dr Nhan Tran, Coordinator for Safety and Mobility within the Department for the Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organisation, will open the evening with an update on road safety and the global goals for sustainable development. Carolyn Griffiths, founder and former Chief Executive of the Rail Accident Investigation branch will chair.

Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt

Robert L. Sumwalt was sworn in as the 14th chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board on August 10, 2017, after being nominated by President Donald J. Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He was reappointed as chairman by President Trump on August 5, 2019, after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Chairman Sumwalt began his tenure at the NTSB in August 2006 when President George W. Bush appointed him to the Board and designated him as Vice Chairman of the Board. In November 2011, President Barack Obama reappointed Mr. Sumwalt to an additional five-year term as Board Member.

Under Chairman Sumwalt’s leadership, the agency’s ranking in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government has advanced 33 percent to the agency’s current position of Number 6 of 29 small federal agencies. He is a fierce advocate for improving safety in all modes of transportation, including teen driver safety, impaired driving, distractions in transportation, and several aviation and rail safety initiatives.

Before joining the NTSB, Chairman Sumwalt was a pilot for 32 years, including 24 years with Piedmont Airlines and US Airways. He accumulated over 14,000 flight hours. During his tenure at US Airways, he worked on special assignment to the flight safety department and served on the airline’s Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) monitoring team.

Following his airline career, Chairman Sumwalt managed the corporate aviation department for a Fortune 500 energy company.

In other notable accomplishments, he chaired the Air Line Pilots Association’s Human Factors and Training Group and co-founded the association’s critical incident response program. He also spent eight years as a consultant to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) and has written extensively on aviation safety matters. He has co-authored a book on aircraft accidents and has published more than 100 articles on transportation safety and aircraft accident investigation.

Chairman Sumwalt earned an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Aeronautical Science (with Distinction) from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, with concentrations in aviation/aerospace safety systems and human factors aviation systems. In recognition of his accomplishments, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of South Carolina, and an honorary doctorate from Embry-Riddle. He is an inductee into the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.

Dr Nhan Tran

Dr Nhan Tran was born in Viet Nam and grew up in the United States where he completed studies in international relations and modern languages. He obtained a graduate degree in International Public Health and a PhD in Health Systems Research with an emphasis on road traffic injuries from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. Dr Tran worked at the regional and federal levels of the United States Department of Health and Human Services in various capacities managing programmes and as a science advisor. Later, as a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, Dr Tran was engaged in health systems and road safety research and co-founded the International Injury Research Unit.

Dr Tran joined WHO in 2011. He was previously the Manager of the WHO Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research where he led the development of guidance and initiatives to strengthen health systems through the implementation of proven effective interventions. Since October 2017 Dr Tran is the Coordinator for Safety and Mobility within the Department for the Social Determinants of Health. He co-ordinates work in the areas of unintentional injury prevention focused mainly on road safety, injury surveillance/surveys and alcohol and drug-related injuries.

Carolyn Griffiths

Carolyn Griffiths is a senior rail industry professional. She has worked in heavy rail, metro and light rail systems. Her roles have been in operations, manufacturing, and consultancy, establishing new rail systems, regulation and managing major projects both in the UK and overseas. She has worked in the private and public sectors. Most recently she founded UK’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) and was Chief Inspector during its first 10 years of operations. She is a Non-Executive Director of Irish Rail.

She is the President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and chair of its Board, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Board member of the Engineering Council. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Cranfield University in recognition of her contribution to the rail industry.


Date:               Wednesday, 4th December 2019

Time:              18.00  – Arrival drinks in the Marble Hall                          

                         18.30  – Lecture programme – Lecture theatre

                                          Carolyn Griffiths  – Introduction

                                          Dr Nhan Tran – Road safety and global goals for sustainable development

                                          Hon Robert L. Sumwalt – Lessons from the Ashes                                        

                           19.45  – Drinks served in the Marble Hall     

Location:       Institution of Mechanical Engineers, One Birdcage Walk, London, W1H 9JJ

Attendance is for PACTS and IMechE members and guests, by invitation only. Any queries please contact


Please note: On Thursday 5th December, PACTS and IMechE will be holding a one-day Driver and Pilot Alertness seminar at IMechE. This is a paid event, open to all. For details, please see


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