Posts Tagged ‘National Transportation Saftey Board’

NTSB Wants Screening for Sleep Disorders

February 16, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the Federal Railroad Administration to require railroads to medically screen “safety-sensitive” employees for sleep disorders.

The recommendation came in a special investigation report about two end-of-track collisions at commuter train stations in New Jersey and New York.

In a separate report, the NTSB said last week that both accidents, which involved commuter railroads in the New York City area, were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed and untreated obstructive sleep apnea.

In both accidents trains struck end-of-track bumping posts and continued into the waiting rooms of the stations.

In a news release, the MTSB said both incidents had “almost identical” probable causes and safety issues.

The NTSB also called for the use of technology such as positive train control in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations.

The New Jersey accident, which occurred on Sept. 29, 2016, and involved a New Jersey Transit train in Hoboken, killed one person and injured 110.

The other accident involved the Long Island Rail Road and occurred on Jan. 4, 2017, at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York. That incident injured 108.

Advertisements

Amtrak Pays Victims of its Accidents Even if the Host Railroad is at Fault or Negligent in its Cause

February 12, 2018

Based on information released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the cause of the collision in South Carolina that left two Amtrak crew members dead seems pretty straightforward.

A switch had been left open, thus routing the southbound Silver Star into a head-on crash with a parked CSX auto rack train.

That might seem to be the fault of a CSX employee although it’s possible the switch could have been tampered with by someone else.

The NTSB is expected to release its report on the cause of the accident more than year from now.

Whatever the cause of the accident, Amtrak likely will wind up paying the money that will go to those filing lawsuits in the wake of the crash.

It won’t matter if CSX is found to have sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak likely will pay the claims.

The accident on Feb. 4 in Cayce, South Carolina, has trained the spotlight again on a little-known fact about Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads.

Agreements between the passenger carrier and its host railroads leave Amtrak responsible for paying the legal claims that stem from accidents.

The exact language of those contracts has been kept secret at the insistence of the railroads and Amtrak, say lawyers who have been involved in legal proceedings involving Amtrak and a host railroad.

Amtrak has track use contracts with 30 railroads and all of them are “no fault” agreements.

As explained by an Amtrak executive in a September 2017 seminar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, that means Amtrak takes full responsibility for its property and passengers and the injuries of anyone hit by a train.

A host railroad is only responsible for its property and employees.

Amtrak manager Jim Blair said at the seminar that this was “a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.”

It doesn’t matter if the host railroad was negligent in causing the crash.

It wasn’t always that way, but things changed after a 1987 crash on the Northeast Corridor at Chase, Maryland, when Amtrak’s New York-bound Colonial struck a Conrail light power move that had run a stop signal.

Sixteen died in the crash. During the investigation, authorities learned that the Conrail engineer was under the influence of marijuana at the time.

Although Conrail paid damages from the resulting lawsuits, the railroad industry began pushing for Amtrak to assume liability for damage claims resulting from accidents, even if the host railroad was at fault for the cause of the accident.

A former member of the Amtrak board of directors said that following the Chase crash, Amtrak faced “a lot of threats from the other railroads.”

The former board member spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the company’s internal legal discussions are supposed to remain confidential and he doesn’t want to harm his own business relationships by airing a contentious issue.

The Amtrak board member said management gave in to the railroad industry demands because it felt it couldn’t afford to pick a fight.

“The law says that Amtrak is guaranteed access, but it’s up to the goodwill of the railroad as to whether they’ll put you ahead or behind a long freight train,” he said.

The practice of Amtrak paying damages for accidents involving its trains was revealed in a 2004 New York Times series on railroad grade crossing safety.

Following that disclosure, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that a railroad “cannot be indemnified for its own gross negligence, recklessness, willful or wanton misconduct,” said a 2010 letter by then-Surface Transportation Board chairman Dan Elliott to members of Congress.

That ruling gives Amtrak grounds to pursue gross negligence claims against freight railroads. However, Amtrak has declined to do so.

“If Amtrak felt that if they didn’t want to pay, they’d have to litigate it,” said Elliott, now an attorney at the law firm of Conner & Winters.

The Associated Press reported in the wake of the Cayce crash that it was unable to find any case in which Amtrak pursued a claim against a freight railroad since the Chase incident.

AP said it asked Amtrak, CSX and the Association of American Railroads to identify any example within the last decade of a railroad contributing to a settlement or judgment in a passenger rail accident that occurred on its track. However, none would provide such an example.

Robert L. Potrroff is a member of a Kansas law firm that specializes in railroad accident litigation, told the AP that even in a case in which establishing gross negligence by a freight railroad is possible he has never seen any indication that the railroad and Amtrak are at odds.

“You’ll frequently see Amtrak hire the same lawyers the freight railroads use,” he said.

Another attorney, Ron Goldman, who has represented passenger rail accident victims, said he has long been curious whether it was Amtrak or freight railroads that ended up paying for settlements and judgments.

“The question of how they share that liability is cloaked in secrecy,” he said. “The money is coming from Amtrak when our clients get the check.”

Pottroff said he has long thought that Amtrak should fight its contract railroads on liability matters because it would make safety a larger financial consideration for them. He also said there is a fairness issue at stake.

Following the Chase crash, a federal judge ruled that forcing Amtrak to take financial responsibility for “reckless, wanton, willful, or grossly negligent acts by Conrail” was contrary to good public policy.

Pontroff is representing clients who have sued Amtrak and CSX following last week’s South Carolina crash, but doesn’t expect CSX to pay any settlements or judgments.

“Amtrak has a beautiful defense — the freight railroad is in control of all [of] the infrastructure,” he said. “[But] Amtrak always pays.”

The railroad industry contends that it has ample incentive to keep tracks safe for employees, customers and investors.

“Our goal remains zero accidents,” said CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker in a statement to the Associated Press.

Signal System Had Been Turned Off to Install PTC

February 6, 2018

Some news accounts of the head-on collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train in South Carolina early Sunday morning mentioned that the signal system in place on the line had been turned off.

There was a reason for that. CSX crews were working to cut in a positive train control system on the route, the same system that National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said might have prevented the crash.

During a news conference on Monday afternoon, Sumwalt said Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was operating with track warrants in temporarily dark territory.  See a post below for an account of the final seconds before the crash.

Crews for Amtrak and CSX were in verbal contact with the dispatcher controlling that stretch of track where the work was being performed, which is the Columbia Subdivision of the Florence Division.

Sumwalt said NTSB investigators have thus far not found any problems with the track where the collision occurred in Cayce, South Carolina.

Earlier NTSB news briefings said that a switch had been left aligned to route Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX auto rack train, which was sitting on a siding without a crew onboard.

The collision, which destroyed Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and CSX AC44CW Nos. 130 resulted in an Amtrak engineer and conductor being killed.

Sumwalt said the NTSB inquiry will be broader than the mechanics of how the crash occurred.

“It is very important that we look at each of these incidents in isolation to determine if there are systemic issues,” Sumwalt, making reference to other incidents involving Amtrak in recent months. “Last Wednesday, it was a garbage truck that was on the track. We aren’t sure what happened here [and] why that switch was lined for the siding. We do look at safety culture issues and we did a report in October.”

That report, which reviewed an April 2016 incident in the Northeast Corridor in Pennsylvania that left two Amtrak maintenance of way workers dead, was critical of Amtrak’s lack of an effective safety culture.

NTSB Says Amtrak Engineer Applied Brakes, Sounded Horn Before Collision With CSX Train

February 5, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday afternoon that the engineer of Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star had applied the train brakes seconds before it struck a parked CSX freight train in a siding in Cayce, South Carolina.

The engineer also sounded his locomotive’s horn for three seconds.

NTSB investigators have said that a misaligned switch routed Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX train, which did not have a crew aboard at the time of the collision early Sunday  morning.

Chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators found the data event recorders of Amtrak P42DC No. 47 undamaged in the wreckage.

The Amtrak engineer and an Amtrak conductor in the cab of the locomotive were killed in the crash, which also left 116 people aboard the train injured.

Sumwalt said the data showed that seven seconds before impact, the locomotive horn sounded for three seconds. The train was traveling at 56 miles per hour at that point, which was slightly slower than the 59 mph top speed allowed at that location.

Five seconds before impact, the brake pipe pressure began decreasing, indicating that the train brakes were being applied. The engineer had also moved the throttle from full to idle, which dropped the train’s speed to 54 miles an hour.

Three seconds before the collision, the emergency brakes were applied.

Sumwalt said the force of the collision moved the lead CSX locomotive 15 feet back from its location.

The switch that is the focus of the investigation was described as a hand-thrown switch that was found to have been locked into position to route a train from a mainline track into a siding.

The CSX train was sitting stationary 659 feet from the switch. Sumwalt indicated that aligning the switch for a straight move on the main would have been the responsibility of a CSX employee.

“We want to understand why that was the case,” Sumwalt said of why the switch was aligned as it was.

He said investigators found no mechanical problems with the switch.

Thus far, NTSB personnel have interviewed the CSX engineer, conductor, dispatcher, and a trainmaster. They plan to interview the surviving Amtrak crew members on Tuesday.

Earlier reports indicated that the signal system in the area of the crash was in the process of being upgraded and that trains were operating under track warrants issued by the dispatcher.

Sumwalt declined to reveal what the CSX employees said during the interviews.

He also declined to assess any blame. “I’m confident that our investigators will be able to piece this back together,” Sumwalt said.

Crossing Gates May Have Malfunctioned

February 3, 2018

The grade crossing gates in Virginia where an Amtrak special carrying congressmen to a political retreat struck a garbage truck on Wednesday may have been malfunctioning at the time of the collision, NTSB investigators have said.

The investigators told reporters that several witnesses have come forward to say that there had been “issues” with the gates in the days before the incident.

The collision occurred on the Buckingham Branch Railroad near Crozet, Virginia. One person inside the truck was killed. None of the congressmen, their aides or family members was seriously injured. They were en route to a Republican conference being held at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The NTSB said that the chartered train was traveling at 61 mph at the time of the accident, which is slightly over the 60 mph top speed for that section of track.

The NTSB investigation is expected to take up to two years to complete.

Shutdown to Have Minimal Effect on Railroads

January 22, 2018

The federal government shutdown that began on Saturday is not expected to have much effect on railroad operations.

Federal safety and oversight oriented agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Surface Transportation Board have designated “excepted” employees to perform accident investigations and equipment inspections related to the safety of human life and to issue emergency service orders.

However, those employees will not receive paychecks or be reimbursed for their travel expenses while the shutdown continues.

During past shutdowns, Congress agreed to grant back pay and travel reimbursements after the shutdown ended.

The heads of the agencies are presidential appointees and thus exempt from being furloughed.

Under federal law, presidential appointees have an absolute entitlement to their salaries. If needed, they can use the federal Court of Claims to get paid.

The FRA said that 487 of its 929 employees, including some in the legal department, are excepted from being furloughed due to their responsibilities for safety inspections, investigations, writing emergency orders and representing the agency in court.

Such day-to-day operations as management of federal grants and environmental reviews will not be performed during the shutdown.

Most STB operations will be on hold during the shutdown, but it provides a telephone number to be called “if you believe you have an emergency that requires immediate Board action” such as an emergency service orders.

Amtrak will continue its regular operations during the shutdown. The passenger carrier’s federal funding comes in large block grants that are sufficient to enable it to continue operating.ro

Amtrak Chicago Maintenance Worker Killed

January 17, 2018

An Amtrak maintenance worker was killed early Tuesday morning near the service and inspection building in Chicago.

The victim was identified as Martin Rivera, 42, of Chicago. The incident occurred at about 7:15 a.m.

No other injuries of Amtrak workers were reported. The National Transportation Safety Board in investigating the death.

News reports indicated that Rivera was already dead and lying on railroad tracks in the 1400 block of South Lumber Street when paramedics arrived.

Rivera was found lying on the tracks by another Amtrak worker who notified authorities.

NTSB Issues Preliminary Cascade Accident Report

January 5, 2018

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board avoids seeking to pin point the cause of the Dec. 18 Amtrak derailment near DuPont, Washington, that left three passengers dead and 62 crew members and passengers injured.

The Board expects its investigation to take at least a year.

The report said that investigators have not yet been able to interview the engineer or conductor involved in the derailment due to their injuries.

Other information in the preliminary report indicates that not only was the train speeding at the time of the derailment, but the train, Cascades Service No. 501 from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, did not slow prior to the accident.

The train was traveling 78 mph at the time of the derailment in a zone where the top speed was 30 mph.

The report said the authorized track speed north of the accident site is 79 mph and decreases to 30 mph before a curve over Interstate 5.

A 30 mph speed sign was posted 2 miles before the curve on the engineer’s side of the track. Another 30 mph sign was on the wayside at the start of the curve on the engineer’s side.

About six seconds before the accident, the locomotive engineer commented on an over speed condition to an Amtrak conductor who was also in the cab learning the route.

The NTSB said inward facing cameras showed that neither crew member was observed using personal electronic devices in the cab.

The derailment caused $40.4 million in damage. Aside from those injured aboard the train, eight people in vehicles on Interstate 5 were injured when train cars landed on the highway after going off a bridge.

The train had a leading and trailing locomotive, a power car, 10 passenger cars and a luggage car.

A positive train control system was not in operation on the route at the time of the accident.

“In this accident, PTC would have notified the engineer of train 501 about the speed reduction for the curve; if the engineer did not take appropriate action to control the train’s speed, PTC would have applied the train brakes to maintain compliance with the speed restriction and to stop the train,” the report states.

The 55-year-old engineer had worked for Amtrak since May 2004 and had been promoted to engineer in August 2013. The 48-year-old qualifying conductor had been working for Amtrak since June 2010.

Investigators Eye Whether Cascades Engineer Was Distracted Just Before Derailment that Killed 3

December 20, 2017

The engineer of an Amtrak Cascades Service train that derailed on Monday near Olympia, Washington, may have been distracted shortly before that accident that left three passengers dead.

Federal investigators have said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone and left the tracks where the route curves to cross Interstate 5.

The distraction may have been caused by the presence of an employee in the lead locomotive who was being trained.

Investigators are focusing on why the engineer lost situational awareness.

National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said that the train’s emergency brakes were activated automatically and not manually set off by the engineer

Dihn-Zarr said that skid marks from the train’s wheels show where it left the tracks.

However, Dinh-Zarr said investigators still have not concluded why the train derailed or why it was going too fast.

Investigators plan to interview the engineer and other crew members as well as review the event data record from the lead locomotive and an engine on the rear of the train. They also will seek to get images from two on-board cameras that were damaged in the crash.

The second person in the cab of the Charger locomotive was described as a conductor trainee making a trip to become familiar with the route.

Cascades Service No. 501 was making Amtrak’s first revenue service trip over the Point Defiance Bypass.

Officials have not identified the engineer, but he was bleeding from the head after the crash and his eyes were swollen shut.

No. 501, which was traveling from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, had 85 passengers and crew members aboard at the time of the crash. More than 70 people were injured in the derailment of which 35 were hospitalized, 21 of them in critical or serious condition.

Dinh-Zarr said Amtrak crew members had been making test runs over the route for two weeks before scheduled service on it began. The route is owned by Sound Transit and had recently been rebuilt.

Two of the victims were identified as passenger rail advocates Jim Hamre, a retired civil engineer with the Washington State Transportation Department; and Zack Willhoite, a transit agency customer service employee. Both were members of All Aboard Washington.

In the meantime, Amtrak has resumed operating between Seattle and Portland over its previous route.

Cascades No. 502, the morning run from Portland to Seattle, was canceled but trains were to run as scheduled.

It is now known how long it will be before Amtrak can resume using the Port Definance Bypass. In the interim, Amtrak will also use is former station in Tacoma at 1001 Puyallup Ave.

Trucker Blamed for 2016 S.W. Chief Derailment

November 24, 2017

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that a truck driver’s failure to properly secure an unattended truck led to the March 2016 derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief near Cimarron, Kansas.

The derailment resulted in 28 people being injured and caused $1.4 million in damage to the tracks of the BNSF La Junta Subdivision.

The NTSB said that the day before the incident, the unattended truck rolled downhill and damaged the BSNF tracks.

The Chicago-bound Southwest Chief derailed when it crossed the misaligned tracks.

In its report, the NTSB said neither the truck driver or his supervisor reported the incident to local authorities.

“Railroads are not required to post emergency contact numbers other than at grade crossings,” NTSB said in its report. “In situations such as this one, the correct approach is to call 911 and report the concern. Using this approach, local emergency officials can notify the railroad about any potential issue with its equipment.”

The Southwest Chief was operating at the time with two locomotives and 10 cars.