NTSB Issues New Safety Alert

Train Tracks

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a Safety Alert on Railroad Signals’ Visibility. This alert—the NTSB’s 35th—encompasses light-emitting railroad signals’ possibly masking nearby incandescent signals—thereby making them invisible to train crews.

The NTSB cited an incident on September 22, 2014 as evidence of the problem. The incident took place in Galva, Kansas and involved a control point with LED signals that began operation just three days prior. An eastbound Union Pacific Railroad (UP) freight train collided with the fifth car from the rear of a westbound UP freight train near the Galva control point. The dispatcher had planned to route the westbound train so the eastbound train could stay on track without incident.

The dispatcher’s intention was to route the westbound train into the siding (passing track) and have the eastbound train stay on the main track. This would have ensured they could pass each other. The eastbound train would have stopped at the red or “stop” signal until the westbound train was entirely in the siding. This, however, did not happen.

Event recorder data showed the engineer of the eastbound train advanced the throttle, thereby increasing the speed of the train as it continued to pass the westbound train. The engineer saw the LED signal beyond the red or “stop” signal as displaying green, or “proceed”. The westbound train was not safely and completely on the siding track and the two trains collided.

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but damages are estimated at $3.2 million.

When interviewed by the NTSB, the train crew explained they observed the green signal and proceeded accordingly. When the signal’s visibility was tested after the accident, it was determined that the control point’s green LED light was, in fact, dominant

The NTSB suggests 4 ways railroads can avoid similar accidents:

  • Identify locations where the closing spacing of signals may cause a signal to either mask or visually dominate another signal—especially at locations where LED and incandescent light units have been installed in close proximity [to one another].
  • Evaluate the railroad computer aided dispatching (CAD) software to prevent stacked requests from lining routes non-sequentially at multiple control points—particularly at locations where signals are located near one another.
  • In addition to performing all mandatory operational tests on signals, railroads should conduct hazard analysis that includes testing signal visibility (conspicuity test) with input from train crews.
  • Configuration management is critical in evaluating the safety of proposed changes to railroad systems, including signals and train control, motive power, rail cars, methods of operation, and track. Implement procedures to notify all personnel of changes they may encounter.

All NTSB Safety Alerts can be found here.


Posted on January 5, 2015, in LED, NTSB, railroad, UP, Visibility and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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