Urgent NTSB Recommendations Issued After Two Train Accidents

"The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, South Carolina 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."

The National Transportation Safety Board on Feb. 15 issued three urgent safety recommendations based on the agency's findings in two ongoing railroad accident investigations. One went to the Federal Railroad Administration based on NTSB findings on the Feb. 4, 2018, crash of an Amtrak train into a CSX train near Cayce, S.C., in which the conductor and engineer of the Amtrak train died.

NTSB also issued two urgent safety recommendations to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority based on findings 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.

NTSB investigators found that the day before the accident in Cayce, 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 accident March 14, 2016, Granger, Wyoming accident, safe movement of the trains, through the signal suspension, depended upon proper switch alignment," NTSB reported Feb. 15. "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 and so issued an urgent safety recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration seeking an emergency order directing restricted speed for trains or locomotives passing through signal suspensions when a switch has been reported relined for a main track."

"The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, South Carolina 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."

The investigation of the LIRR accident has identified an improper practice by LIRR roadway workers who were working on or near the tracks. They 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. The NTSB said 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.

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