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Issues Recommendations Regarding Five 2011 Train Collisions

The occurrence of five rear-end collisions between freight trains on three major U.S. railroads during 2012 and the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of them has resulted in the NTSB’s issuance of five recommendations to five major railroad organizations.

Two of the five collisions, one each on Burlington Northern Santa Fe (Red Oak, IA) and CSX (Mineral Springs, NC), resulted in employee fatalities, and four of the five occurred on freight routes shared with Amtrak passenger trains.

The three non-fatal accidents in the NTSB report were on Norfolk Southern (DeKalb, IN) and two on CSX (Low Moor, VA and DeWitt, NY).

The recipients of the recommendations included the Federal Railroad Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Administration, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the United Transportation Union. All five recommendations focused upon 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 requirements.

The NTSB report said “Because these accidents occurred on different railroads and under different circumstances, the NTSB is concerned that noncompliance with restricted speed requirements may be an issue affecting a broad segment of the U.S. railroad industry.

Further, the NTSB said that “Signal systems provide for the safe separation between trains; However, 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,” which the NTSB described as typically including “Being prepared to stop within one-half the range of vision.”

The tragic accidents at Red Oak, IA (BNSF) and Mineral Springs, NC (CSX) are still under investigation by the NTSB.