Posts Tagged ‘Silver Star derailment’

Human Error Ruled Cause of Silver Star Crash

July 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that human error led to the February 2018 collision in South Carolina of an Amtrak train and a parked CSX train.

Two Amtrak crew members were killed in the collision and 74 others aboard the train were injured.

The accident happened when Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was routed into a siding where the CSX train was sitting unattended in Cayce, South Carolina.

The NTSB investigation determined that the conductor of the CSX train had reported to the train’s engineer that a switch from the main to the siding had been realigned for the main.

The engineer in turn relayed that information to a dispatcher. However, the conductor had not realigned the switch.

At the time of the collision, the signal system on a 23-mile segment of the Columbia Subdivision has been suspended while workers were installing equipment for positive train control.

Trains were being dispatched by track warrants given over the radio.

The NTSB also concluded that the collision occurred as a result of inadequate attention to safety risks.

The board concluded that CSX failed to identify and mitigate the risk of operating trains while the signal system was under suspension.

Killed in the collision was the Amtrak engineer and conductor, who on the head end to copy train orders.

The Silver Star was traveling at more than 50 miles per hour when it struck CSX local F777.

“CSX failed to ensure that this crew was properly prepared to perform the tasks CSX assigned them to do that night,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, about the events leading to the Feb. 4, 2018, collision.

In the wake of the Silver Star accident, the NTSB asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order requiring railroads to operate trains at restricted speed approaching switches when a signal suspension is in effect.

In response the FRA issued an advisory to that effect, but not a rule. The NTSB in its final report repeated its recommendation that this be made a rule.

The NTSB also said the FRA could do more to prevent accident caused by misaligned switches, such as requiring the installation of switch position indicators.

In the Silver Star investigation, NTSB personnel found that CSX never conducted efficiency testing, or a skills assessment, on either the engineer or conductor of F777 for the purposes of ensuring proper switch alignment.

“I believe that the conductor had every intention of following the rules and thought that he did,” Mike Hoepf a consultant on human performance told NTSB. “He just made a mistake.”

The final NTSB report also called into question the effectiveness of using a Switch Position Awareness Form to mitigate the risk of an improperly lined switch.

No such form used by the F777 crew on that day was found by NTSB investigators.

NTSB to Announce Silver Star Collision Cause

July 2, 2019

A July 23 hearing has been set by the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the probable cause of a February 2018 collision between Amtrak’s Silver Star and a parked CSX auto rack train.

A preliminary investigation has already determined that a switch left lined from the main into a siding routed the Miami-bound passenger train into the path of the auto rack train near Cayce, South Carolina.

The board will meet at 9:30 a.m. to issue its findings in a proceeding that will be webcast.

Following the collision, the NTSB asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order regarding operations in territory in which the signal system has been turned off for maintenance or an upgrade.

The signals governing the CSX tracks used by the Star were out of service so workers could install positive train control equipment.

The collision killed the conductor and locomotive engineer of the Amtrak train and left 90 others onboard injured.

FRA Issues Advisory on Signal Suspension Operations

November 26, 2018

A collision earlier this year involving Amtrak’s Silver Star has helped lead to the issuance by the Federal Railroad Administration of a safety advisory for railroads operating under temporary signal suspensions.

The voluntary safety advisory recommends that railroads develop and implement procedures and practices consistent with identified “best practices,” and take other actions to ensure the safety of railroad operations during temporary signal suspensions.

Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was mistakenly routed into a siding at Cayce, South Carolina, on Feb. 4, where it collided head-on with a parked CSX auto rack train.

Killed in the collision were the engineer and conductor of the Amtrak train while 115 passengers were injured.

Although federal investigators have yet to issue a final probable cause finding on the accident, the FRA indicated that a CSX crew reported to a train dispatcher that the switch had been lined correctly when in fact it had not been restored to its normal position as required by federal regulation and CSX’s own operating rules.

The advisory published last week in the Federal Register came after the FRA solicited comments from at Amtrak, freight railroads, rail labor organizations and the National Transportation Safety Board.

CSX, Silver Star Changed Operating Procedures Following February Silver Star Crash

July 24, 2018

CSX and Amtrak said at a recent National Transportation Board hearing that they have begun new operating procedures in the wake of a February collision that killed two.

Among the changes are having a CSX signaling department employee be involved with every mainline switch move in territory where the signals are out of service.

A signal department worker will be present to lock, unlock, or move any mainline switch during a signal suspension, and at least two employees from at least two departments will work together to verify switch positions.

Amtrak engineers are to slow their trains to restricted speed of generally not more than 15 mph, when approaching facing-point switches in “dark” territory.

This will allow engineers sufficient time to stop if they observe a switch that is not properly lined, an action that exceeds the requirement of host-railroad rulebooks.

CSX officials said that additional safety measures will be undertaken during periods when signals are out of service in order to cut-in positive train control systems.

These changes include enhanced job briefings for crews and dispatchers and reduced train traffic. Amtrak said it has instructed its operating employees to stop a train when an unsafe condition exists.

“Each mitigation [Amtrak has] applied has been more restrictive than host railroad practice,” said Justin Meko, Amtrak vice president for safety compliance and training. “We can no longer simply rely on the host railroad’s rulebook and must augment host practices in ways that meaningfully enhance safety.”

The operating changes were made following a Feb. 4 head-on collision between the southbound Silver Star and a CSX train parked in a siding at Cayce, South Carolina.

The freight train crew had left a switch aligned from the main into the siding. The resulting collision left two Amtrak operating employees dead and 92 passengers injured.

The crash occurred as the signal system on CSX’s Columbia Subdivision was suspended to allow for the installation of positive train control.

NTSB Releases More Info on Silver Star Crash

March 1, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday released a preliminary report on Feb. 4 head-on collision between Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star and a CSX auto rack train in South Carolina that provides additional details about the crash that caused an estimated $25 million in damage and claimed the lives of two Amtrak crew members. At least 92 passengers and crew members aboard Amtrak No. 91 were injured.

The report reviews the CSX dispatching system at the time of the accident and reveals how two CSX crew members of the parked auto rack train that Amtrak struck managed to escape injury.

The report said the CSX engineer had gotten off his train before the Silver Star entered the siding due to a misaligned switch. He was able to run to safety.

The CSX conductor was thrown off the locomotive of his train by the impact of the collision and suffered minor injuries.

The three-page NTSB report does not seek to assess blame for the accident, but reiterates earlier released information that a misaligned switch led to the collision.

A more detailed report that states a probable cause along with recommendations will be issued several months later.

In the meantime, the NTSB has recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration issue an emergency order providing instructions for instances in which a signal system has been turned off and a switch has been reported as relined for a main track.

Other information contained in the preliminary NTSB report includes:

Amtrak Train No. 91 reached a top speed of 57 mph after leaving its station stop in nearby Columbia, South Carolina. This was below the 59 mph limit allowed under signal suspension rules.

Information taken from the Amtrak locomotive’s event recorder indicated that before it stopped recording the engineer had activated the locomotive horn for three seconds and brake pipe pressure began decreasing two seconds later.

The engineer then moved the throttle from full throttle to idle as the train slowed to 54 mph.

A second later, the train’s emergency brakes were applied, by which time its speed had fallen to 53 mph.

The recording ended as the air brakes were approaching maximum braking effort and train speed was 50 mph.

The forward-facing video camera of the Amtrak P42DC was recovered from the wreckage and sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington for analysis.

It stopped recording shortly before the collision, but NTSB engineers are attempting forensic efforts to recover further information.

Investigators have also recovered the forward-facing video camera and event recorder of the lead CSX locomotive.

The engineer and conductor of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision and at least 92 passengers and crew members of the Amtrak train were transported to local medical facilities.

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.

CSX Employee Gave Wrong Info About Switch

February 7, 2018

A Jacksonville, Florida, newspaper reported on Tuesday that incorrect information provided by a CSX employee helped lead to a head-on collision early Sunday morning between a CSX auto rack train and Amtrak’s Silver Star.

Two Amtrak employees were killed in the collision in Cayce, South Carolina, and 116 were injured.

The Jacksonville Business Journal said it based its report on CSX records that it obtained and a source the newspaper did not name.

Those documents show that Amtrak’s New York to Miami No. 91 had stopped five miles before the collision site.

At the time, the signal system in that area had been off since 8 a.m. on Saturday as work progressed to install positive train control.

After a CSX conductor at the site informed the dispatcher that a manual control switch had been moved back into its normal position, the dispatcher cleared the Amtrak train to proceed.

However, the switch had not been restored and Amtrak No. 91 was routed into the path of the parked auto rack train, which did not have a crew on board at the time of the collision.

With the signal system turned off, dispatchers were governing movement in the area with track warrants.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt has told reporters during press briefings that the CSX auto rack train had backed into the siding after working at an auto facility.

Sumwalt said investigators discovered that the switch that had been opened to enable the CSX train to move into the siding was locked with a padlock in the open position.

Amtrak No. 91 had 149 passengers and eight crew members on board at the time of the crash.

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.

2 Dead, 110 Hurt After Silver Star Collides Head-on With CSX Auto Rack Train in South Carolina

February 5, 2018

Two Amtrak crew members were killed and more than 100 injured early Sunday morning when the Miami-bound Silver Star was misrouted into the path of a parked CSX freight train.

The accident happened at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, South Carolina, about 10 miles south of a the train’s previous station stop at Columbia, South Carolina.

Officials said Train No. 91 had 147 aboard and 110 of them were reported to have suffered injuries ranging from minor cuts to broken bones. Nine of those aboard were Amtrak employees.

Killed were Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36 of Orange Park, Florida.

Dr. Eric Brown, the executive physician for Palmetto Health,  said six people were admitted to hospitals for more severe injuries, including head trauma.

National Transportation Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said on Sunday afternoon that the switch had been manually “lined and locked” to divert the Amtrak train into the freight train.

“Of course key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way because the expectation is the Amtrak would be cleared and would be operating straight down,” Sumwalt said.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during a conference call with reporters that before the crash the Amtrak crew was communicating with a CSX dispatcher by phone because a signaling system that governs traffic in the area was down for maintenance.

Authorities said investigators are still trying to determine how fast the Silver Star was going at the time of the collision, but the top speed there is 59 mph.

Sumwalt said the CSX train had two locomotives and 34 empty auto rack cars. It had unloaded automobiles on the west side of the main line and then used it to back into a siding on the east side of the main line.

“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock to make it lined to go into the siding,” Sumwalt said of the switch on the main.

He said investigators will focus on why the switch wasn’t restored to its normal position before Amtrak No. 91 arrived.

NTSB personnel at the scene retrieved a front-facing video camera from Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and sent to their laboratory in Washington for review. The train’s event data recorder had not been located as of Sunday evening.

“I can tell you there’s catastrophic damage to each of the locomotives,” Sumwalt said. “In fact, I would say that the Amtrak locomotive would be not recognizable at all.”

The consist of the Amtrak train included a P42 locomotive, three Amfleet coaches, an Amfleet cafe lounge, two Viewliner sleepers and a baggage car.

Sumwalt said the crash could have been avoided if positive train control had been in operation at the time.

About 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled after the collision, but authorities said it posted “no threat to the public at the time.”

Passengers who were not injured or had been treated for injuries were taken to a middle school for shelter.

They were later put aboard chartered buses to continue their journey southward.