Posts Tagged ‘National Transportation Safety Board’

Homendy Named to NTSB

April 13, 2018

Jennifer L. Homendy has been nominated by President Donald Trump as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

She would  serve the remainder of a five-year term expiring Dec. 31, 2019.

Homendy is now the Democratic Staff Director of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials for the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the U.S. House of Representatives, a position she has held since 2004.

In that role, she advises members of Congress on legislation involving railroads, the safety of oil and natural gas pipelines, and the transportation of hazardous materials.

Homendy is certified by the International Association of Fire Fighters on Core HazMat Operations and Missions-Specific PPE and Product Control.

Between 1999 and 2004 Homendy was a legislative representative for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Previously, she worked for the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the American Iron and Steel Institute, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Homendy is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University.

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Truck was on Crossing at Time of Crash

February 23, 2018

An on-board camera has shown that the garbage truck that was struck by an Amtrak special on Jan. 31, had entered a grade crossing after the crossing gates had gone down.

The National Transportation Safety Board said this week that the forward-facing camera in the lead locomotive showed that as the crossing came into view, the gates were down and the garbage truck was on the tracks at the grade crossing.

The NTSB said that witnesses to the crash reported the truck had entered the crossing after the gates were down at the crossing near Crozet, Virginia.

The special was carrying Republican members of Congress to an annual political retreat at the Greenbrier resort hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

A passenger in the truck was killed and another suffered serious injuries. The truck driver came away with minor injuries.

Three Amtrak crew members and three passengers also suffered minor injuries.

The preliminary NTSB report said that the crossing has advance warning signs and pavement markings on its approach. It is equipped with crossbuck signs, warning lights, bells and gates.

The collision caused the front axle of the lead P42DC locomotive to derail, although it remained upright.

The NTSB will later release a finding of probable cause and issue safety recommendations.

NTSB Wants Restricted Speed for Trains Passing Through Territory in Which Signal System Has Been Suspended

February 17, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order directing that trains or locomotives move at restricted speed when passing through territory on which the signal system has been suspended and a switch has been reported realigned for a main track.

The recommendation came following a Feb. 4 head-on collision between Amtrak’s Silver Star and a parked CSX auto rack train, resulting in two Amtrak crew members being killed.

Preliminary NTSB findings are that a misaligned switch routed the passenger train into the path of the freight train, near Cayce, South Carolina.

CSX personnel had turned off the signal system on the territory where the crash occurred in order to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control.

That meant dispatchers were using track warrants to govern train movements through the work territory.

The accident was similar to one that occurred on March 14, 2016 in Granger, Wyoming.

The NTSB said safe movement of trains in the event of a signal system suspension hinges upon proper switch alignment.

In the case of the accidents that occurred in Wyoming and South Carolina, the switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision.

“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 in a statement. “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 Wants Screening for Sleep Disorders

February 16, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the Federal Railroad Administration to require railroads to medically screen “safety-sensitive” employees for sleep disorders.

The recommendation came in a special investigation report about two end-of-track collisions at commuter train stations in New Jersey and New York.

In a separate report, the NTSB said last week that both accidents, which involved commuter railroads in the New York City area, were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed and untreated obstructive sleep apnea.

In both accidents trains struck end-of-track bumping posts and continued into the waiting rooms of the stations.

In a news release, the MTSB said both incidents had “almost identical” probable causes and safety issues.

The NTSB also called for the use of technology such as positive train control in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations.

The New Jersey accident, which occurred on Sept. 29, 2016, and involved a New Jersey Transit train in Hoboken, killed one person and injured 110.

The other accident involved the Long Island Rail Road and occurred on Jan. 4, 2017, at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York. That incident injured 108.

Amtrak Pays Legal Claims of the Victims of its Accidents Even Though One of its Host Railroad May be at Fault

February 13, 2018

Based on information released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the cause of the collision in South Carolina that left two Amtrak crew members dead seems pretty straightforward.

A switch had been left open, thus routing the southbound Silver Star into a head-on crash with a parked CSX auto rack train.

That might seem to be the fault of a CSX employee although it’s possible the switch could have been tampered with by someone else.

The NTSB is expected to release its report on the cause of the accident more than year from now.

Whatever the cause of the accident, Amtrak likely will wind up paying the money that will go to those filing lawsuits in the wake of the crash.

It won’t matter if CSX is found to have sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak likely will pay the claims.

The accident on Feb. 4 in Cayce, South Carolina, has trained the spotlight again on a little-known fact about Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads.

Agreements between the passenger carrier and its host railroads leave Amtrak responsible for paying the legal claims that stem from accidents.

The exact language of those contracts has been kept secret at the insistence of the railroads and Amtrak, say lawyers who have been involved in legal proceedings involving Amtrak and a host railroad.

Amtrak has track use contracts with 30 railroads and all of them are “no fault” agreements.

As explained by an Amtrak executive in a September 2017 seminar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, that means Amtrak takes full responsibility for its property and passengers and the injuries of anyone hit by a train.

A host railroad is only responsible for its property and employees.

Amtrak manager Jim Blair said at the seminar that this was “a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.”

It doesn’t matter if the host railroad was negligent in causing the crash.

It wasn’t always that way, but things changed after a 1987 crash on the Northeast Corridor at Chase, Maryland, when Amtrak’s New York-bound Colonial struck a Conrail light power move that had run a stop signal.

Sixteen died in the crash. During the investigation, authorities learned that the Conrail engineer was under the influence of marijuana at the time.

Although Conrail paid damages from the resulting lawsuits, the railroad industry began pushing for Amtrak to assume liability for damage claims resulting from accidents, even if the host railroad was at fault for the cause of the accident.

A former member of the Amtrak board of directors said that following the Chase crash, Amtrak faced “a lot of threats from the other railroads.”

The former board member spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the company’s internal legal discussions are supposed to remain confidential and he doesn’t want to harm his own business relationships by airing a contentious issue.

The Amtrak board member said management gave in to the railroad industry demands because it felt it couldn’t afford to pick a fight.

“The law says that Amtrak is guaranteed access, but it’s up to the goodwill of the railroad as to whether they’ll put you ahead or behind a long freight train,” he said.

The practice of Amtrak paying damages for accidents involving its trains was revealed in a 2004 New York Times series on railroad grade crossing safety.

Following that disclosure, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that a railroad “cannot be indemnified for its own gross negligence, recklessness, willful or wanton misconduct,” said a 2010 letter by then-Surface Transportation Board chairman Dan Elliott to members of Congress.

That ruling gives Amtrak grounds to pursue gross negligence claims against freight railroads. However, Amtrak has declined to do so.

“If Amtrak felt that if they didn’t want to pay, they’d have to litigate it,” said Elliott, now an attorney at the law firm of Conner & Winters.

The Associated Press reported in the wake of the Cayce crash that it was unable to find any case in which Amtrak pursued a claim against a freight railroad since the Chase incident.

AP said it asked Amtrak, CSX and the Association of American Railroads to identify any example within the last decade of a railroad contributing to a settlement or judgment in a passenger rail accident that occurred on its track. However, none would provide such an example.

Robert L. Potrroff is a member of a Kansas law firm that specializes in railroad accident litigation, told the AP that even in a case in which establishing gross negligence by a freight railroad is possible he has never seen any indication that the railroad and Amtrak are at odds.

“You’ll frequently see Amtrak hire the same lawyers the freight railroads use,” he said.

Another attorney, Ron Goldman, who has represented passenger rail accident victims, said he has long been curious whether it was Amtrak or freight railroads that ended up paying for settlements and judgments.

“The question of how they share that liability is cloaked in secrecy,” he said. “The money is coming from Amtrak when our clients get the check.”

Pottroff said he has long thought that Amtrak should fight its contract railroads on liability matters because it would make safety a larger financial consideration for them. He also said there is a fairness issue at stake.

Following the Chase crash, a federal judge ruled that forcing Amtrak to take financial responsibility for “reckless, wanton, willful, or grossly negligent acts by Conrail” was contrary to good public policy.

Pontroff is representing clients who have sued Amtrak and CSX following last week’s South Carolina crash, but doesn’t expect CSX to pay any settlements or judgments.

“Amtrak has a beautiful defense — the freight railroad is in control of all [of] the infrastructure,” he said. “[But] Amtrak always pays.”

The railroad industry contends that it has ample incentive to keep tracks safe for employees, customers and investors.

“Our goal remains zero accidents,” said CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker in a statement to the Associated Press.

Ex-NTSB Head Says Accidents Will Continue to Occur Until PTC is Installed and Implemented

February 13, 2018

A former head of the National Transportation Safety Board believes that accidents such as the one that killed two Amtrak crew members in South Carolina on Feb. 4 will continue until positive train control is fully installed and implemented.

Deborah Hersman said in an interview with Trains magazine that two recent derailments involving Amtrak that resulted in fatalities could have been prevented had PTC been in place at the time of the accidents.

Hersman said those accidents are especially frustrating because PTC is designed to prevent head-on collisions and speed-related incidents.

Excessive speed figured in a December derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train in Washington State while a misaligned switch has been implicated in the head-on crash of the southbound Silver Star with a parked CSX auto rack train.

“History just keeps repeating itself and we’re not learning from past mistakes fast enough to save lives,” she said.

Hersman was appointed to the NTSB in 2004. She was named chair of the board in 2009. Since 2014, she had served as president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

In the interview with Trains, Hersman noted that the NTSB has been calling for the implementation of PTC since 1990.

She said the number of accidents that might have been avoided had PTC been in place has continue to grow.

Following a head-on collision between a Los Angeles commuter train and a Union Pacific train in 2008, Congress adopted legislation requiring Class I railroad mainlines that haul hazardous materials or routes with regularly scheduled passenger service to have PTC.

The deadline was to have been at the end of 2016, but was extended by Congress to the end of 2018.

By law railroads required to have PTC must show that they have installed it by the end of this year. Failing that, they must show they have made substantial progress to seek an extension to 2020, something Hersman said would be disingenuous.

“We keep kicking the can down the road,” she said. “The pressure is on in the next 10 months because having PTC close to being installed is not close enough.”

CSX Signals Had Been Turned off For PTC Installation

February 6, 2018

Some news accounts of the head-on collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train in South Carolina early Sunday morning mentioned that the signal system in place on the line had been turned off.

There was a reason for that. CSX crews were working to cut in a positive train control system on the route, the same system that National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said might have prevented the crash.

During a news conference on Monday afternoon, Sumwalt said Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was operating with track warrants in temporarily dark territory.  See a post below for an account of the final seconds before the crash.

Crews for Amtrak and CSX were in verbal contact with the dispatcher controlling that stretch of track where the work was being performed, which is the Columbia Subdivision of the Florence Division.

Sumwalt said NTSB investigators have thus far not found any problems with the track where the collision occurred in Cayce, South Carolina.

Earlier NTSB news briefings said that a switch had been left aligned to route Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX auto rack train, which was sitting on a siding without a crew onboard.

The collision, which destroyed Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and CSX AC44CW Nos. 130 resulted in an Amtrak engineer and conductor being killed.

Sumwalt said the NTSB inquiry will be broader than the mechanics of how the crash occurred.

“It is very important that we look at each of these incidents in isolation to determine if there are systemic issues,” Sumwalt, making reference to other incidents involving Amtrak in recent months. “Last Wednesday, it was a garbage truck that was on the track. We aren’t sure what happened here [and] why that switch was lined for the siding. We do look at safety culture issues and we did a report in October.”

That report, which reviewed an April 2016 incident in the Northeast Corridor in Pennsylvania that left two Amtrak maintenance of way workers dead, was critical of Amtrak’s lack of an effective safety culture.

NTSB Says Amtrak Engineer Applied Brakes, Sounded Horn Seconds Before Fatal Crash

February 5, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday afternoon that the engineer of Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star had applied the train brakes seconds before it struck a parked CSX freight train in a siding in Cayce, South Carolina.

The engineer also sounded his locomotive’s horn for three seconds.

NTSB investigators have said that a misaligned switch routed Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX train, which did not have a crew aboard at the time of the collision early Sunday  morning.

Chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators found the data event recorders of Amtrak P42DC No. 47 undamaged in the wreckage.

The Amtrak engineer and an Amtrak conductor in the cab of the locomotive were killed in the crash, which also left 116 people aboard the train injured.

Sumwalt said the data showed that seven seconds before impact, the locomotive horn sounded for three seconds. The train was traveling at 56 miles per hour at that point, which was slightly slower than the 59 mph top speed allowed at that location.

Five seconds before impact, the brake pipe pressure began decreasing, indicating that the train brakes were being applied. The engineer had also moved the throttle from full to idle, which dropped the train’s speed to 54 miles an hour.

Three seconds before the collision, the emergency brakes were applied.

Sumwalt said the force of the collision moved the lead CSX locomotive 15 feet back from its location.

The switch that is the focus of the investigation was described as a hand-thrown switch that was found to have been locked into position to route a train from a mainline track into a siding.

The CSX train was sitting stationary 659 feet from the switch. Sumwalt indicated that aligning the switch for a straight move on the main would have been the responsibility of a CSX employee.

“We want to understand why that was the case,” Sumwalt said of why the switch was aligned as it was.

He said investigators found no mechanical problems with the switch.

Thus far, NTSB personnel have interviewed the CSX engineer, conductor, dispatcher, and a trainmaster. They plan to interview the surviving Amtrak crew members on Tuesday.

Earlier reports indicated that the signal system in the area of the crash was in the process of being upgraded and that trains were operating under track warrants issued by the dispatcher.

Sumwalt declined to reveal what the CSX employees said during the interviews.

He also declined to assess any blame. “I’m confident that our investigators will be able to piece this back together,” Sumwalt said.

2 Dead, 110 Hurt When Amtrak’s Silver Star Collides Head-on With CSX Auto Rack Train

February 5, 2018

Two Amtrak crew members were killed and more than 100 injured early Sunday morning when the Miami-bound Silver Star was misrouted into the path of a parked CSX freight train.

The accident happened at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, South Carolina, about 10 miles south of a the train’s previous station stop at Columbia, South Carolina.

Officials said Train No. 91 had 147 aboard and 110 of them were reported to have suffered injuries ranging from minor cuts to broken bones. Nine of those aboard were Amtrak employees.

Killed were Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36 of Orange Park, Florida.

Dr. Eric Brown, the executive physician for Palmetto Health,  said six people were admitted to hospitals for more severe injuries, including head trauma.

National Transportation Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said on Sunday afternoon that the switch had been manually “lined and locked” to divert the Amtrak train into the freight train.

“Of course key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way because the expectation is the Amtrak would be cleared and would be operating straight down,” Sumwalt said.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during a conference call with reporters that before the crash the Amtrak crew was communicating with a CSX dispatcher by phone because a signaling system that governs traffic in the area was down for maintenance.

Authorities said investigators are still trying to determine how fast the Silver Star was going at the time of the collision, but the top speed there is 59 mph.

Sumwalt said the CSX train had two locomotives and 34 empty auto rack cars. It had unloaded automobiles on the west side of the main line and then used it to back into a siding on the east side of the main line.

“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock to make it lined to go into the siding,” Sumwalt said of the switch on the main.

He said investigators will focus on why the switch wasn’t restored to its normal position before Amtrak No. 91 arrived.

NTSB personnel at the scene retrieved a front-facing video camera from Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and sent to their laboratory in Washington for review. The train’s event data recorder had not been located as of Sunday evening.

“I can tell you there’s catastrophic damage to each of the locomotives,” Sumwalt said. “In fact, I would say that the Amtrak locomotive would be not recognizable at all.”

The consist of the Amtrak train included a P42 locomotive, three Amfleet coaches, an Amfleet cafe lounge, two Viewliner sleepers and a baggage car.

Sumwalt said the crash could have been avoided if positive train control had been in operation at the time.

About 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled after the collision, but authorities said it posted “no threat to the public at the time.”

Passengers who were not injured or had been treated for injuries were taken to a middle school for shelter.

They were later put aboard chartered buses to continue their journey southward.

Crossing Gates at Location of Amtrak Special Collision in Virginia May Have Been Malfunctioning, NTSB Says

February 3, 2018

The grade crossing gates in Virginia where an Amtrak special carrying congressmen to a political retreat struck a garbage truck on Wednesday may have been malfunctioning at the time of the collision, NTSB investigators have said.

The investigators told reporters that several witnesses have come forward to say that there had been “issues” with the gates in the days before the incident.

The collision occurred on the Buckingham Branch Railroad near Crozet, Virginia. One person inside the truck was killed. None of the congressmen, their aides or family members was seriously injured. They were en route to a Republican conference being held at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The NTSB said that the chartered train was traveling at 61 mph at the time of the accident, which is slightly over the 60 mph top speed for that section of track.

The NTSB investigation is expected to take up to two years to complete.