Human errors led to fatal BNSF South Dakota incident

Written by Kyra Senese, managing editor
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a Sept. 7 report that a series of human errors led to a BNSF Railway train striking and killing two BNSF roadway workers.

NTSB noted that one of the BNSF roadway workers was the designated “watchman/lookout.”
The Jan. 17, 2017, accident near Edgemont, S.D., occurred when a train traveling at 35 mph struck and killed two of three workers, who had been clearing snow and ice from a track switch.

The NTSB said the investigation revealed the sight distance at the switch was inadequate for the safe use of the train approach warning method with a single watchman/lookout. NTSB also said the watchman did not devote his full attention to detecting approaching trains.

The watchman was not provided the equipment necessary to perform his duties as required by federal regulations. In addition, the work group did not have the correct information needed regarding minimum-required sight distance and also did not have the necessary time to move to the predetermined place of safety for the work group.

NTSB says the probable cause for the accident states the Federal Railroad Administration’s inconsistent enforcement of federal regulations for watchman/lookout equipment requirements contributed to the accident.

“This is the 52nd fatal accident in the past 21 years involving railroad roadway worker safety in which 55 workers have been killed,” said Robert Hall, the NTSB’s director of the Office of Rail, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials. “These accidents are completely preventable when the people involved, from the workers to the regulators, follow well-established rules and perform their duties with a focus on safety.”

The 34-page report is available here.

Categories: Class 1, OFF Track Maintenance, Safety/Training
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