NTSB issues report on fatal SW IA Train Crash


May 3rd, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board today (Tuesday) released a report on their investigation into the April 17th train crash in southwest Iowa that claimed two lives. The crash, during which an eastbound Burlington Northern Sante Fe coal train operated by Engineer Tom Anderson and Conductor Patricia Hyatt, both of Creston and both of whom were 48-years old, collided with the rear end of a standing BNSF maintenance of way equipment train near Red Oak, happened just before seven-a.m. The two crew members on the locomotive of the maintenance of way equipment train were not injured.

Officials say during the crash, the event recorder and forward facing video camera on the leading locomotive of the coal train were damaged in the collision and subsequent fire. Both recorders were retrieved and are being analyzed at the NTSB’s lab in Washington, DC. The video camera was too badly damaged to retrieve data.

A preliminary review of the locomotive event recorder data indicates that just before the collision, train speed increased and the throttle was decreased as the train reached the top of a hill west of the accident site. The data also indicates that the speed at impact was 23 mph and that the emergency brakes were not applied before impact.

During the on-scene investigation, NTSB investigators tested the signal system and the undamaged coal cars. The equipment satisfactorily met test criteria. Trains in this area operate on wayside signal indications visible to the crew. Signal system data indicate that the last signal encountered by the coal train was set at “restricting.” This indication

required that the train be prepared to stop short of another train.

The crew of the struck train reported that visibility at the time of the collision was good. Investigators conducted sight distance observations under similar daylight and weather conditions. The observers were able to identify the standing train about 1,376 feet from the point of collision.

As the investigation continues, investigators will review personnel, maintenance and various other records. In addition, crew cell phone records have been subpoenaed and will be reviewed by investigators. The NTSB says it has also formed a work group which will examine the crash performance of the leading locomotive where crew members were fatally injured.