U.S. Rail News
Volume 26 No. 13
June 18, 2003
(Printed with Permission)
Railroads should expect new federal restrictions on use of cell phones by train crews as a result of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of the May 28, 2002, head-on collision of two Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) trains near Clarendon, Texas.
The NTSB concluded the engineer of a Burlington Northern coal train was distracted by a cell phone call when he was supposed to be stopping his train.
Instead, the coal train hit an oncoming intermodal train. The locomotive engineer of the intermodal train was killed in the collision. Damages to the train and track exceeded $8 million.
The Safety Board said the probable cause of the accident was the train conductor's failure to ensure that the engineer complied with track warrant restrictions.
The two trains were operating on track segments where dispatchers control train movements by issuing track warrants authorizing a train to occupy a section of track. The track warrant issued to the eastbound coal train was an after-arrival warrant requiring the train to stop at a specified point and wait for the westbound intermodal train to clear the track ahead.
WARRANTS WERE IGNORED
The NTSB determined that the coal train engineer was talking on his cell phone when his train passed the stopping point indicated in the track warrant. The board concluded the engineer's cell phone use distracted him. As a result, he did not notice the after-arrival stipulation and failed to stop his train.
The NTSB recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) amend regulations to control use of cell phones and other personal wireless devices by railroad operators while on duty.
The board's report further concluded that after-arrival warrants issued to moving trains create an unacceptable risk of a head-on collision. The NTSB recommended that the FRA restrict after-arrival track warrants to trains that have stopped at specified location to allow safe passage of oncoming trains. Exceptions would be granted for areas that utilize positive train control systems.
Both trains involved in the Clarendon collision operated with crews of two. All the crewmembers jumped from their trains before impact. The conductor of the intermodal train suffered minor injuries. The engineer and conductor of the coal train were critically injured. The STB's three recommendations for corrective actions by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) say:
"Promulgate new or amended regulations that will control the use of cellular telephones and similar wireless communications devices by railroad operating employees while on duty so that such use does not affect operational safety;
"In territory not equipped with positive train control systems, restrict the issuance of track warrant authority that contains an after-arrival requirement to trains that have stopped at the location at which they will meet the opposing train;
"Add language to the track warrant rules to ensure that in territory not equipped with a positive train control system, track warrant authority that contains an after-arrival requirement is issued only to trains that have stopped at the location at which they will meet the opposing train." Contact: Lauren Peduzzi, NTSB, at 202-314-6100.