The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued three urgent safety recommendations, two to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and one to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) based on the agency's findings in two ongoing railroad accident investigations.
NTSB recommends that FRA “Issue an Emergency Order directing railroads to require that when signal suspensions are in effect and a switch has been reported relined for a main track, the next train or locomotive to pass the location must approach the switch location at restricted speed. After the switch position is verified, the train crew must report to the dispatcher that the switch is correctly lined for the main track before trains are permitted to operate at maximum-authorized speed.”
The recommendation is based on NTSB’s investigation of the Feb. 4, 2018, collision of an Amtrak train and a CSX train near Cayce, S.C., where the conductor and engineer of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision. NTSB says that investigators found that on the day before the accident, CSX personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control. The lack of signals required dispatchers to use track warrants to move trains through the work territory. In this accident, and a similar one which occurred March 14, 2016, in Granger, Wyo., safe movement of the trains, through the signal suspension, depended upon proper switch alignment. That switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision, creating a single point of failure. The NTSB concludes additional measures are needed to ensure safe operations during signal suspension, prompting the safety recommendation to the FRA.
“The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, S.C., train collision,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “While the collision remains under investigation, we know that signal suspensions are an unusual operating condition, used for signal maintenance, repair and installation, that have the potential to increase the risk of train collisions. That risk was not mitigated in the Cayce collision. Our recommendation, if implemented, works to mitigate that increased risk.”
NTSB’s recommendation to MTA stems from its investigation of the June 10, 2017, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) accident in which a roadway worker died near Queens Village, N.Y. During the investigation of the LIRR accident, the NTSB identified an improper practice by LIRR roadway workers who were working on or near the tracks. LIRR employees were using “train approach warning” as their method of on-track safety, but they did not clear the track, as required, when trains approached and their “predetermined place of safety” did not comply with LIRR rules and procedures.
NTSB says it is concerned LIRR management is overlooking and therefore normalizing noncompliance with safety rules and regulations for proper clearing of tracks while using “train approach warning” for worker protection. The two urgent safety recommendations to the MTA call for MTA to audit LIRR’s use of “train approach warning” for worker protection, and, to implement corrective action for deficiencies found through the audit.