WASHINGTON – The eastbound train involved in last summer’s head-on collision with another train near Goodwell,Okla.,passed three warning signals before crashing into the oncoming westbound train,killing three of the four crew members aboard the two freight trains.
The National Transportation Safety Board heard from investigators and seven other witnesses Tuesday as a part of an all-day investigative hearing. The investigators told board members about the warning signals. The agency will issue a final report on the cause of the accident in the summer.
Deborah A.P. Hersman,NTSB chairwoman,said the agency is still in the fact-finding stage of the investigation.
She and other board members asked representatives of Union Pacific,which was operating both trains,how it penalized crew members who reported not obeying signals. Board members asked if the 30-day suspension imposed for signal violations might discourage crew members from reporting violations.
The hearing did not examine the activities of the crewmembers just before the crash,and the crash destroyed all but two “event recorders” that might have provided additional details. Those two were in the locomotives at the back of the trains,which did reveal information about signals and speed.
The eastbound train applied its emergency brakes eight seconds before the collision. The westbound train,which did not miss any signals,applied emergency breaking 20 seconds before the accident.
Crew members are expected to obey many regulations while they operate trains. This includes not using cell phones while the train is operating and not being under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
“With all these different regulations,we still end up with these tragic accidents,” said Robert Lauby,the Federal Railroad Administration deputy associate administrator for regulatory and legislative operations. He said there needs to be more communication,not more regulations.
“There’s got to be peer pressure right there in the cab to do the right thing. …We can write regulations,but if they’re ignored then we’re in the same place,and that’s why we need this peer to peer interactions,” Lauby said.
Jordan Multer,manager of the rail human factors program at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center,which is part of the Department of Transportation,testified that there are 35 different kinds of stop signals,making it difficult for crewmembers to remember what each signal means.
The two freight trains collided head-on while moving on a single straight track near Goodwell,in Oklahoma’s panhandle,June 24. There were two crewmembers on each train,and the only survivor of the crash jumped off one of the three locomotives powering westbound train. He was not injured and has not been identified.
The accident occurred at 10:01 a.m. with clear skies and 10 miles of visibility.
The eastbound train should have stopped to allow westbound train to pull into a side track so the eastbound train could proceed.
The westbound train was carrying 80 freight cars of automobiles,and two of its locomotives and six freight cars derailed. The eastbound train was carrying 108 cars of mixed freight,and three of its locomotives and 24 freight cars derailed.
Diesel fuel tanks on the locomotives burst,causing a fire that did $14.78 million in damage.
Both trains had passed brake inspections shortly before the accident. No problems with the signals were noted in the on-scene investigation after the crash.
Robert M. Grimalia,UP vice president of safety,environment and security,said the railroad will report 95 stop-signal violations for 2012. The only one resulting in a collision was the one near Goodwell. Grimalia said there were fewer signal violations in 2012 than in 2011.
According to the Association of American Railroads,Union Pacific is one of the nine major North American Railroads. Union Pacific operates in 23 states and has about 45,000 employees.
Reach reporter Amy Slanchik at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.