NTSB issues recommendations following freight train collisions


January 13th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

The National Transportation Safety Board, Thursday, issued two safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) related to five rear-end collisions in which crewmembers failed to operate their trains at the required restricted speed. One of the crashes happened on April 17th, 2011, near Red Oak. The trains’ conductor Patricia “Trish” Hyatt and Engineer Tom Anderson, both of Creston, died in the crash. They were both 48 years old. A similar incident which occurred the following month in Mineral Springs, NC, also resulted in crewmember fatalities. Both are still under investigation by the NTSB.

All five of the NTSB’s recommendations focus on the need for railroads to  disseminate information related to these accidents to their employees, and to emphasize the need for crewmembers to operate trains in accordance with restricted speed operating rules. The other freight train accidents happened last year in Low Moor, Virginia, DeWitt, New York, and in DeKalb, Indiana. Four of the five accidents occurred on railroad lines over which Amtrak passenger trains operate. 

Because the accidents occurred on different railroads and under different circumstances, the NTSB said it was concerned that non-compliance with restricted speed requirements may be an issue affecting a broad segment of the U.S. railroad industry. Signal systems provide for the safe separation between trains. However, officials say there are times when trains are authorized to occupy the same sections of track. In these cases, safe train operations rely solely on crewmember compliance with the railroad’s restricted speed requirements. Typically, the requirements include “being prepared to stop within one-half the range of vision.” Complete understanding of and strict compliance with restricted speed requirements are absolutely mandatory to prevent catastrophic train collisions. 

(The safety recommendation letters may be found here: http://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety_recs.html)