Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NTSB issues safety recommendations for signal maintenance

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued four recommendations addressing safety issues related to ongoing railroad accident investigations near Madison, Ill., and Niles, Mich., involving the use of jumper wires during railroad signal maintenance operations.

As a result, NTSB recommends the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration provide railroad employees with the best practices regarding the use of jumper wires when performing signal maintenance operations on active rails.

On Feb. 28, 2012, a southbound Amtrak train collided with an automobile at a highway-rail crossing near Madison, Ill. As a result of the accident, the automobile driver was fatally injured. At the time of the accident, two Union Pacific employees were working on the grade crossing warning system. Preliminary information resulting from the NTSB's investigation indicates that the highway-rail grade crossing warning system had been temporarily removed from service for testing, inspection and maintenance. The warning system did not activate as the train approached the crossing.

On Oct. 21, 2012, an eastbound Amtrak train was routed onto a yard track while traveling 61 mph on a mainline track in Niles, Mich. The train derailed about 254 feet beyond the power-operated switch and traveled about 1,086 feet before stopping on the yard track. The four cars and two locomotives derailed upright and in line with the track. On board the train were 165 passengers and four crewmembers. During the ongoing investigation, the NTSB investigators learned that an Amtrak signal employee was performing troubleshooting activities with jumper wires inside the signal bungalow just prior to the derailment. This action circumvented the signal system's ability to verify that the power-operated switch was properly aligned and locked in the correct position for the displayed signals.

"Required safety precautions were not taken by railroad employees during maintenance and repair activities that resulted in one fatality and put hundreds of passengers at risk," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "In railroading, what may seem like a small oversight can have deadly consequences, that is why we issue our recommendations, to shine a light on problems that need attention."

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