FRA Safety Bulletin Aims to Increase Awareness of Hand-Operated Main Track Switches

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor, Railway Age
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Following a train collision that occurred on April 16 involving a misaligned switch, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has released a Safety Bulletin to remind railroads about ways to “ensure safe operation of hand-operated main track switches.”

The Safety Bulletin addresses the incident, which occurred when a train operating at a speed in dark territory, a section of track not controlled by signals, encountered a switch leading to a yard track occupied by a stationary train. The resulting collision seriously injured both crew members and derailed three locomotives and 12 grain cars.

According to FRA, which is still investigating the incident, the Safety Bulletin makes the following recommendations:

  • “Conducting proper training, periodic oversight, and adherence to railroad operating rule requirements for hand-operated, main track switches.

  • “Ensuring that the switches are visually verified to be properly lined for the intended route, and if uncertainty arises, conducting a double check as needed.

  • “Ensuring clear and concise verbal communication among all crew members to confirm the position of the switch before leaving the location where any hand-operated main track switch was operated.

  • “Releasing the limits of main track authority in non-signaled territory only after reporting to the train dispatcher that all hand-operated main track switches have been restored to their normal positions and locked. Exceptions can be made if the train dispatcher directs otherwise, and the necessary protection is provided.

  • “Guarding against complacency derived from repetitive task performance by using multiple methods or tools to validate safety critical tasks are complete.

  • “Encouraging employees to, when in doubt about switch positions, take the safe course and reverify the position of the switch before releasing track authority.”

According to FRA, the purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to “ensure the railroad industry, including railroad employees and contractors, are aware of this recent incident that resulted in injuries to employees and to recommend that railroads brief their employees and contractors about the circumstances of the incident.” As FRA completes its investigation, the agency says it may take additional actions with respect to this incident.

FRA requests that railroads review this Safety Bulletin with employees and contractors to increase awareness of hand-operated main track switches in non-signaled territory. FRA also reminds railroads of the need to “ensure all individuals involved in operating hand-operated, main track switches are properly trained and qualified on how to conduct those operations safely.”

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