Heat Order After Amtrak Derailment Slows Rail Service On CSX Tracks

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U.S. Rail News
Vol. 25 No. 17
Published Aug. 14, 2002

U.S. Rail News, in Vol. 25 No. 17, published, reported on a new heat order for passenger and freight trains issued by CSX Transportation, as well as the review being conducted by CSX of its track inspection policy.

Heat Order after Amtrak Derailment
Slows Rail Service on CSX Tracks

Passenger and freight trains that operate on CSX Transportation tracks will be running more slowly through September as a result of a heat order issued by the railroad.

The heat order is a direct result of the July 29 derailment of an Amtrak train in Kensington, Md., that injured 101 people, 16 of them seriously. CSX owns, operates maintains the tracks. The Amtrak engineer reported that he saw a “misshapen” track segment that prompted him to apply the brakes. The train was unable to stop before hitting the misaligned track section.

The engineer estimated the track was 18 inches out of alignment. However, a subsequent National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that it was 30 inches out of alignment. Investigators were uncertain whether the derailment worsened the misalignment.

Safety Is Higher Priority than Convenience

CSX officials acknowledged their heat order might inconvenience Amtrak and commuter rail passengers who use their tracks, but believed safety was more important. The track heat order applies to areas with consecutive days of temperatures greater than 90-degrees. It requires freight trains to reduce speeds by 10 mph and passenger trains to travel no faster than speeds allowed for slower-moving freight trains, although CSX is allowing some exceptions. The slower speed limits apply between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“We have a duty to protect the people that ride on passenger trains on our rails,” said Alan Crown, a CSX vice president. “Until we know more facts about the recent derailment and are able to determine if there is a better solution, we’re taking the most conservative course.”

A normal speed limit for most Amtrak and commuter trains would be about 70 mph to 79 mph. Freight train speed limits on the same track segments typically would be about 35 mph. In some cases, CSX was allowing the passenger trains to travel 45 mph to 50 mph.

The inconvenience to Amtrak from damage to its rail cars is at least as great as any inconvenience to its customers. The railroad has been storing damaged rail cars at its Indianapolis rail yard rather than repairing them because it lacks money. Amtrak officials warned before the Kensington derailment more rail car losses could impair service. Contact: Gary Sease, CSX, at (904) 366-2949.


CSX Corp. is considering changes to its track inspection policy following the July 29 derailment of an Amtrak train on CSX tracks at Kensington, Md. Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating reports of lax track maintenance as well as an apparent heat kink that might have warped the track into misalignment. The NTSB said equipment used by a CSX maintenance crew four days before the derailment broke down at nearly the same spot where the track was misaligned. The crew was using a tamping machine to tamp down the ballast that helps hold the track in place. After the equipment stopped working, the crew continued tamping by hand.

Andrew Kish, a research engineer for the Transportation Department’s Volpe Center in Cambridge, Mass., said proper inspection and maintenance should have prevented a track misalignment regardless of high afternoon temperatures. 'The ambient temperature during the Kensington derailment was 97 degrees. The NTSB said a heat build-up raised the track temperature to 118 degrees.

Maintenance Should Correct for Heat

Kish said track crews typically heat track to 100 degrees or install it on the hottest days to account for “lateral expansion” of rail from heat. Good ties and ballast should keep the track straight even at hotter temperatures, in some cases around 130 degrees, he said.

CSX Chief Executive John Snow gave no details of how the railroad might change its track inspection policy but admitted after a Senate hearing that it was being considered. “That’s the question we are looking at,” Snow said. He added that CSX has a good safety record. The railroad handles nearly 20 percent of Amtrak’s passenger traffic but has been involved in only 4 percent of derailments in the last decade.

Although improvements in track laying technology and stronger alloys are reducing heat kink, or sun kink, derailments, railroads say the continuous welded rail introduced in the 1950s will always make heat a problem. The lack of joints in welded rail gives the track nowhere to expand, creating pressure within the steel. In 1980, the Federal Railroad Administration reported 174 accidents from buckled tracks. Last year, there were 44. Contact: Warren Flatau, FRA, at (202) 493-6024.

If you or a loved one have suffered a work injury or wrongful death on the railroad, call an experienced FELA lawyer / railroad injury attorney at Hoey & Farina, P.C. at 1-888-425-1212, or complete this form, for your FREE CONSULTATION. Hoey & Farina represents clients throughout the United States.


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