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Rear-End Norfolk Sothern Collision in Virginia Demonstrates Need for PTC

By Pottroff & Karlin LLC |

(Dublin, Virginia – July 14, 2015)

A rear-end collision between two westbound Norfolk Southern freight trains Tuesday afternoon at about 4:00 P.M. was still under investigation by railroad officials Wednesday. But regardless of excuse, it was another case of an accident that could have been prevented had the Congressionally-mandated Positive Train Control System been operational.

At least eight cars, including a tank car filled with 20,000 gallons of lubricating oil, a placarded hazardous material, which spilled the entirety of its contents, of the first train, which was either standing or moving slowly in the territory. Federal Railroad Administration records say a daily average of 16 trains operate at a top allowable speed of 45 mph. The first train was struck in the rear by a second train which suffered both the derailment of one of its locomotives as well as a diesel fuel spill and injuries to both its locomotive engineer and conductor.

Under legislation enacted during the George W. Bush Administration after a deadly passenger/freight train collision in Chatsworth, CA that killed 25 and injured over 100 more, the satellite-based, global positioning system that would slow or halt trains being operated too fast or in danger of colliding before a tragedy could occur was to have been in full use on America’s railroads by the end of this year. However, lobbying efforts by the Association of American Railroads and other railroad industry groups, as well as individual railroads, have pushed the effective date of the safety system’s institution off by another five years.

“All of a sudden we heard booms,” nearby resident Kellie Hoke said of the collision in an interview with WSLS-TV, News Channel 10. The crash “Sounded like a rocket going off – it almost shook the house.”

The Roanoke News reported that the derailed cars landed in the back yard of Kenny Trail, who heard the collision as he sat in his home watching television. Because the derailment crushed his motorized scooter, he was evacuated to a place of safety, and was still unable to return home Wednesday.

Teresa Frank told news writer Cameron Austin that she was picking green beans in her father’s yard when she heard the noise of the train crash which she described as deafening. “It was terribly loud, and I took off running back to the house.”

Frank added that “You hear all kinds of banging and clanging on the tracks, but this was super loud and I thought something was wrong.”


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