# History of Railroad Safety - Spotlight on current derailments

Staff Emeritus
The recent spate of train derailments has put the spotlight on derailments and railroad safety in general.

Railroads are generally a safe means of transporting cargo, including hazardous chemicals, and in fact railroads are safer than a decade or two ago. Yet, one catastrophic accident leading to a chemical spill and/or fire, destruction of property, and/or disruption of those neighboring the rail line draws extra scrutiny of the wider public.

Train derailments are a daily occurrence. Some are minor, i.e., a few cars or locomotives hopping off the rails, but staying upright, to situations where several locomotives or many freight cars leave the track and end up on their sides, reoriented sides ways, or piled on other freight cars. Related to derailments are collision between trains or between a train and highway vehicle usually on a grade crossing. Railroad/trains have the right of way where roads cross the tracks - that is a historical precedent from when railroads were granted exclusive rights to their right of way (ROW) and property.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/coming-off-rails-ohio-history-104903840.html

Another NS derailment in Ohio
https://www.yahoo.com/news/another-norfolk-southern-train-derailed-151518209.html

A UP derailment in Kansas
https://www.yahoo.com/news/no-injuries-kansas-train-derailment-192504204.html

NTSB investigates railroad collisions and major derailments.

mathwonk and BillTre

Mentor
Train derailments are a daily occurrence.
I didn't know that. I haven't checked your links yet, but is there somewhere in them where they list the causes and frequencies? Certainly collisions and damaged tracks (and overheated wheel bearings) can create derailments, but what else can cause it?

Staff Emeritus
I didn't know that. I haven't checked your links yet, but is there somewhere in them where they list the causes and frequencies? Certainly collisions and damaged tracks (and overheated wheel bearings) can create derailments, but what else can cause it?
I think the article by the Washington Post article on Yahoo has some numbers in charts.

Otherwise, the Federal Railroad Administration within US DOT keeps track of accidents and statistics.
https://safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety/publicsite/summary.aspx

Derailments can be caused by:
• collisions (with other trains, highway vehicles, or other vehicles such as maintenance vehicles),
• track damages (rail fracture/damage, misaligned switches) or misalignment of track (apparent cause of Amtrak derailment in Montana, near Joplin, MT),
• structural failure of bridges and other supporting structures,
• collapse of roadbed (under the tracks),
• structural failure of a locomotive (rare) or freight car (rolling stock), and
• track/train dynamics (train traveling too fast on a curve) and tipping, or actually the outside wheels riding up over the rail head.
Related to collisions and track damages are avalanches, landslides or rock falls (particularly in hilly or mountain areas. Flooding would relate to collapse of road bed where the underlying ground is either washed out or softens to the point where one or both rails dip.

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BillTre and berkeman
Homework Helper
My dad used to investigate train wrecks for the ICC, and I recall two cases he handled; one involving human error (a switchman being distracted by a phone call from his wife and then not throwing the right switch to divert an oncoming train), and one involving a failure by the railroad company to update track layout to accommodate increased speeds of more modern trains. (The train company tried to pressure the ICC to have him fired for placing that blame on them, but he survived because he also had the goods on his own crooked agency bosses.) There were also cases that used to be proverbial, namely the switchman who was literally "asleep at the switch".

I presume automation has largely eliminated the need to throw switches manually, but the dynamics of trains going too fast for conditions remains a problem as Astronuc mentioned. Such a case occurred in Seattle not long ago, when the operator ignored warnings to slow down for an upcoming sharp curve. They have theoretically automated the application of brakes for that circumstance I believe but it takes time and money to implement such fixes, and it had not yet been done in that case.

Equipment failure is always a concern, and one of my dad's routine duties was to inspect trains for the condition of their brakes. That's probably how he knew his agency bosses were strong-arming the railroads to install one particular brand of hand brake to remain in compliance.

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dlgoff, BillTre and berkeman
Gold Member
A UP derailment in Kansas
There was also a derailment near Lawrence, Kansas:

From https://www.koamnewsnow.com/news/jo...DOUGLAS COUNTY, Kan.,amount of coal did spill.
DOUGLAS COUNTY, Kan. — A coal train derailed near Lawrence, Kansas on Friday shortly after 5 p.m. in dramatic fashion as seen from drone footage obtained CBS news.
Officials say there were no reported injuries but a large amount of coal did spill.

Staff Emeritus
https://www.yahoo.com/gma/ohio-train-derailment-investigations-074419822.html

ABC News published a video of the NS train derailment in Ohio. At a highway grade crossing, something happened at the upstream side of the crossing. A coil flat car (the trailing one of two cars in a set of coil flat cars) looks like it's leaving the rails. It pulls the leading coil car off the tracks with it, and the subsequent rail cars, including two tank cars, a centerbeam flat car (for building products), and others come off the rails as well. NTSB will have to look for an obstruction on the track, a broken rail or joint, dangling equipment on the freight car and possible broken wheel, bearing or axle.

Another driver with a cellphone or dashcam caught the derailment from the other side of the tracks.

Looking at the video several times, it appears several freight cars traversed the crossing without problem (they stayed in the rails). That would indicate a problem with the rail car that derailed.

Edit/update: News coverage of the second NS derailment in a month, which happened near Springfield, Ohio.

CBS - https://www.yahoo.com/news/second-train-derailment-ohio-under-132834524.html
WLWT - https://www.yahoo.com/news/norfolk-southern-train-derailment-clark-154115614.html

Fox News reports NS is revising their safety plans
https://www.yahoo.com/news/second-major-train-derailment-ohio-181620664.html

Edit/update: Reuters video from other side of NS derailment in Springfield, OH
https://www.yahoo.com/news/video-captures-moment-another-train-060123664.html

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phinds, BillTre, dlgoff and 1 other person
Staff Emeritus
Related to collisions and track damages are avalanches, landslides or rock falls (particularly in hilly or mountain areas.
Case in point - Three crew injured in fiery train derailment caused by rockslide
https://apnews.com/article/train-derailment-west-virginia-new-river-666564e6d74d66bf2550da4e1348ccd4

Normally, in areas where rockslides are possible, there are fences in place with wires connected to a warning system that alerts dispatchers and crews to a potential landside/rockslide. CSX will have to rethink that in those areas.

Edit/update: CSX Transportation Derailment with Hazardous Materials Release and Fire - Cause: Mudslide - too much rain in a given area, but not considered a hazard.
On February 13, 2020, a high hazard flammable train carrying denatured ethanol derailed on a CSX Transportation (CSX) railroad track that runs between a hillside and the Russell Fork River near Draffin, Kentucky. In the 2 weeks before the derailment, the area where the derailment occurred received more than 300 percent of its normal amount of rainfall, which prompted the mudslide that covered the track with mud and debris immediately before the derailment. Three leading locomotives, a buffer car, and four tank cars located at the front of the train derailed. Two of the derailed tank cars breached and released 38,400 gallons of denatured ethanol, which combined with diesel fuel from the locomotives and ignited. The locomotives were destroyed by the ensuing fire, and the train crew was able to evacuate through the river and sustained minor injuries.
https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/Pages/RRD20FR002.aspx

If they had sent out an inspection crew, perhaps they would not have derailed and lost three locomotives and two tank cars.
https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/RIR2213.pdf
One bulletin advised to be on the lookout for a mudslide between milepost locations 120.8 and 120.9. The other advised of an out-of-service slide detection fence, cautioning crews to approach at restricted speed
and watch for any obstructions.
The train was at reduced speed (24 mph).

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Mentor
Normally, areas where rockslides are possible normally have a fence in place with wires connected to a warning system that alerts dispatchers and crews to a potential landside/rockslide.
Interesting, I did not know that. We've had a few issues (and at least one derailment) over the past few years for commuter trains going through Niles Canyon east of Silicon Valley. I've never seen such a sensing fence on my car/bicycle/motorcycle trips through Niles Canyon, so I don't think we have that system. Are there criteria that trigger the requirement for such a system? (If I were riding those commuter trains daily, I'd sure want that system in place!)

Staff Emeritus
We've had a few issues (and maybe one derailment, but I'm not sure) over the past couple years for communter trains going through Niles Canyon east of Silicon Valley. I've never seen such a sensing fence on car/bicycle/motorcycle trips through Niles Canyon, so I don't think we have that system. Are there criteria that trigger the requirement for such a system? (If I were riding those commuter trains daily, I'd sure want that system in place!)
It may be based on historical experience. I've seen such fences on the Denver, Rio Grande & Western (DRGW; now part of the Union Pacific railroad) in Colorado, and on the BNSF near Glacier National Park in Montana. I don't believe they are mandatory, but up to the railroad to determine the risk.

On highways, one will often see barricades and steel mesh fastened to the rock faces.

berkeman
Staff Emeritus
Yet another derailment - this one in Tulsa, OK. It appears that a bulkhead flatcar for lumber or similar products has a mechanical failure that lifts the following coil flat car, and the cars decouple and the trucks (wheel sets) become disengaged from the cars. The coil flat jumps off the track. Fortunately, it was at a slow speed.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/t...in-derails-and-crashes-near-tulsa/vi-AA18lzsR

The NTSB is going to be very busy this year.

Edit/update: Another NS train derailed in Alabama, hours before the CEO was to testify to the US Senate.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-new...labama-hours-ceo-testifies-congress-rcna74183
A Norfolk Southern train derailed Thursday in Calhoun County, Alabama, hours before company CEO Alan Shaw faced lawmakers to answer questions about a Feb. 3 derailment that led to a toxic chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

The train was traveling from Atlanta to Meridian, Mississippi, when it derailed at around 6:45 a.m. in the Quad Cities area of White Plains, officials said.

There were no reports of injuries and no reports of a hazardous leak after approximately 30 cars derailed, the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency said in a news release.

Edit/update: Defective, loose wheels at risk of derailment discovered on Norfolk Southern rail cars
https://www.yahoo.com/gma/defective-loose-wheels-risk-derailment-070738700.html

A series of rail cars that Norfolk Southern recently put into service have been discovered to have defective, loose wheels.

These defective wheel sets were involved in one of the several recent derailments Norfolk Southern has had, including the most recent one in Springfield, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern first identified the defective wheels during the cleanup at Springfield -- the day after the derailment -- on March 5.
Wheels are pressed onto the axle, or the wheel is heated and allowed to shrink fit onto the colder axle for a friction based mechanical joint. Composition and processing of the steel could affect the thermal expansion and contraction. The bearings are pressed onto the ends of the axle outside of the wheel. The bearings are held in place in the truck side frames.

A loose wheel is a derailment waiting to happen.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/know-dont-know-hazards-pas-100100928.html

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Gold Member
The recent spate of train derailments has put the spotlight on derailments and railroad safety in general.

Railroads are generally a safe means of transporting cargo, including hazardous chemicals, and in fact railroads are safer than a decade or two ago. Yet, one catastrophic accident leading to a chemical spill and/or fire, destruction of property, and/or disruption of those neighboring the rail line draws extra scrutiny of the wider public.

wes: My home is within blocks of a major RR and I worry. The worst possible chemicals go by rail. I worked 23 years in operations for a major RR until retiring in a little over a decade ago. I worked into Montana and Minnesota from North Dakota. There were a number of minor derailments every week in the small portion that comprised my Division, so they are much more common than a civilian would think. My own experience ranged from a switch thrown under my moving grain-train to empty cars that fell off the yard tracks. The yard cars fell off when waist deep snow fell in behind the leading wheels until the packed "ice glacier" that formed on top the rail ball, finally tipped off and took the cars with it. I had duly run a locomotive in first to clear the tracks as required. In spite of the obvious, they drug tested. I was clean of course, but it went on my record anyway. Many of us carried "Bonehead" insurance, similar to malpractice insurance. It paid wages for a while, if one got canned.
I didn't know that. I haven't checked your links yet, but is there somewhere in them where they list the causes and frequencies? Certainly collisions and damaged tracks (and overheated wheel bearings) can create derailments, but what else can cause it?
Other causes of derailments include stuck brakes. Not infrequently, the air brakes hang up after a brake application and after several miles on a loaded train, the wheels get a dull red hot, usually all the wheels on the truck. Usually, a brakeman or nowadays a conductor that rides with the engineer, will get up and look out the back locomotive windows around curves looking for smoke during the day or a red glow at night, just one good reason for 2-member crews. The red hot is quite capable of overheating the bearings and if the grease goes, the axle goes. Perhaps worse, stuck brakes on an empty car can slide the wheels. When worn enough to cause a large flat, the hot, softened flange is useless to keep the truck on the rails. Small flats are those thumps you might hear on some passing cars.

Speaking of that, the TV footage shown on the derailment in East Palestine looked to me suspiciously like stuck brakes since it looked like there was sparks emanating from under the entire truck, not just one wheel. If so there might be a previous crew report on stuck brakes on the car which might be worse for Norfolk Southern. Not sure if NSTB would do that, but I once noted a lack of trust from fellow employees for NTSB to treat crew fairly since an NSTB board member might hark from the industry management. The employee experience appointment makes sense, sans a possible conflict of interest. --wes

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Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Perhaps worse, stuck brakes on an empty car can slide the wheels. When worn enough to cause a large flat, the hot, softened flange is useless to keep the truck on the rails. Small flats are those thumps you might hear on some passing cars.
I've seen that in person, when I watched a crew picking up cars and being in a hurry. The brakes hadn't released on one car. That was about 40 years ago. I've watched plenty of trains since, and it seems to me from casual observation, there are a lot more thumbing wheels that I recall in the past. Is the problem getting worse? Do railroads actually track the mileage of cars hauled, or is that left to the owners; do they exchange information? I'd be concerned about fatigue fractures of wheels.

Not sure if NSTB would do that, but I once noted a lack of trust from fellow employees for NTSB to treat crew fairly since an NSTB board member might hark from the industry management. The employee experience appointment makes sense, sans a possible conflict of interest.
That certainly would be a concern. The ICC did it in the past, and it's possible a few in the NTSB might put it on the crew members. I would hope that NTSB personnel are objective.

Gold Member
I've seen that in person, when I watched a crew picking up cars and being in a hurry. The brakes hadn't released on one car. That was about 40 years ago. I've watched plenty of trains since, and it seems to me from casual observation, there are a lot more thumbing wheels that I recall in the past. Is the problem getting worse? Do railroads actually track the mileage of cars hauled, or is that left to the owners; do they exchange information? I'd be concerned about fatigue fractures of wheels.

That certainly would be a concern. The ICC did it in the past, and it's possible a few in the NTSB might put it on the crew members. I would hope that NTSB personnel are objective.
Thanks for responding.

It is true that not all brakes may release after they are pumped back up after setting awhile. When crews pick up cars, they may also forget to take all the hand brakes off although it is a dumb thing to do. It's more likely when two or more crew do the task and each think the other guy did it. The hand brakes mechanically operate the rods the same way and are required to be set for permanent parking after the rest of the train pulls away and the air is typically dumped on purpose. When the air is dumped, the car brakes all go into a hard emergency setting and hand brakes added after emergency are particularly deep set and can easily slide if the car is empty. Some wheels slide intermittently and develop several flat spots. Bad flat spots make exceptionally loud bangs and can bounce off the track in extreme cases.

When single track is used, one train must always take the siding and a crew member must get out and frequently "roll the oncoming train by" which is a good thing. With more efficiency demands on transportation, there is this tendency for RR's to put in double track and in these cases, deal with far fewer roll-by inspections. Inspections thereafter rely on chance track maintenance workers or hot-box detectors to catch various problems. Maintenance workers generally only work a five-day week during daylight hours while most trains run at night, weekends or holidays. The hot box detectors are supposed to catch both heat signatures and dragging equipment (fallen brake rods etc.) and radio a report to the passing train. If there is a problem, they radio an axle count and a walking crew gets out to inspect.

I worked out of Mandan, ND and it has a car shop that does thousand-mile inspections. In this way they do keep track of miles to an extent. It works best for cars that make round trip load-empty hauls such as coal, oil or grain. Some customers do supply their own cars and are responsible for maintenance.

In aircraft or RR, I think there is a general bias that crews have caused the incidents. It's a bit like the assumption that a wife's murder is always done by the husband. The reasoning is simple in that such assumptions are usually true. But they are not always true. The recording tapes and witnesses have been my best friends in several incidents involving rules. Still, I imagine there is a lot of incentive to reduce RR liability. RR's pay out millions on a lot of lawsuits. Even engineers are liable to being sued if someone can prove a full or partial fault. Finding any way to place blame on workers can accomplish two things. It may reduce financial liability on the RR itself. An oversight hearing can be more favorable if a company can be seen to fix the problem by firing a faulty worker instead of improving expensive equipment or deploying more time-consuming operational methods. Large corporations are, by nature, pretty crafty when it comes to stock earnings.
--wes

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Astronuc and berkeman
Staff Emeritus
I worked out of Mandan, ND
Twixt the Dickinson and Jamestown subs on what used to be the NP.

Wes Tausend
Staff Emeritus
Edit/update: News coverage of the second NS derailment in a month, which happened near Springfield, Ohio.
Apparently the American Association of Railroads has issued a warning on coil cars (coil flat cars) that may have defective wheels sets; the warning comes after a coil car initiated the derailment in Springfield.

The American Association of Railroads issued a rare advisory Thursday calling for certain rail cars to be taken out of service and inspected amid concerns that loose wheels might increase the risk of derailments.

The industry group said that one of its railroads had experienced three loose wheels on cars designed to carry coiled steel. The cars had wheels that were mounted between August of last year and March by National Steel Car, an Ontario-based rail car manufacturer, according to AAR. It said that any cars, loaded or empty, that are found to have these wheel sets must be removed immediately from service.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2023/03/10/norfolk-southern-wheels-ohio-derailment/

Train companies have been warned to remove certain cars from service after Norfolk Southern discovered loose wheels on railcars during the cleanup of last weekend's derailment in Ohio.

After Norfolk's discovery, the Association of American Railroads issued an advisory to stop using steel coil cars with those wheels due to "an increased risk of an out of gage derailment."
• "This is an uncommon defect that can create horizontal movement in the car as it travels down the track and could lead to a derailment," AAR spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek told Axios.
• 675 cars were initially identified and impacted by the advisory, she said.
• The cars should not be used or interchanged "until those wheel sets can be replaced," Kahanek said.

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Wes Tausend and berkeman
Homework Helper
I have been fascinated by this thread, since my dad was involved in the old days as an ICC safety inspector/courtroom prosecutor. His job at the safety bureau was to investigate wrecks in a 14 state area in the southeast, place blame, and if necessary bring a court case to inforce railroad safety. He started there in 1925 and was retired (forcibly) in 1959. But before that, he was a railroadman for over 17 years, a brakeman and conductor, member and organizer of the BRT (Brotherhood of railroad trainmen (deputy national president) and ORC (Order of railway conductors)). So he brought to his job a familiarity with and sympathy for the safety needs of railway workers.

He reportedly won every case he brought in federal court for 35 years, a record he attributed to just following the facts; hence he sometimes faulted workers, and sometimes the railroads, big time, occasionally costing them millions of dollars. (As I said earlier, he was almost fired for one of the latter.)

Reading the linked document on history of railroad safety taught me how complex this subject is and how hard to correct. Early on, there were not even hand - holds nor steps on the boxcars for the workers to hang onto while manually coupling-decoupling the cars! nor adequate brakes! nor signaling systems to manage track traffic! And the railroads fought every proposed safety regulation as too costly and limiting to their operations. The data seems to indicate most incidents were due to human error, but also that the installation of basic safety devices saved many, many lives and body parts.

Can you believe that no licensing standards were even required for someone to be qualified as a railroad engineer until 1988?!!? It was just literally anyone the railroad said could drive the train. (This reminds me of a story I read in 1964 in Time magazine of a railroad hiring destitute homeless people as firemen, since they were required by their contract to have firemen, but there was no qualifying definition of a fireman. Full disclosure: by this time a fireman also had no duties.)

Interestingly, it seems the actual 5 member commission comprising the leadership of the ICC is appointed by the president, so it could make a big difference whether the president is more responsive to workers or to railroad owners. But the safety oversight of railroads was transferred from the ICC in 1967.

Early on, the safety issues were lack of protection for workers, locomotives, brakes, and signals, and later it shifted to faster, heavier trains carying more and more hazardous cargo. So the laws have been periodically changed, subsequent to public outcry. My dad's safety bureau could only inspect the three main causes then thought most responsible, and the modern agencies have more flexibility and power. But the results have not always been consistently improving.

Now the situation seems more complicated, apparently with one agency, the FRA, in charge of setting safety standards, but another, the NTSB, in charge of investigations of failures. But I am not clear on this, as it is too complicated. Wes seems to me perhaps the most first hand - experienced person in the conversation, and so I especially appreciate his (and others') posts. Mine are just old man's second hand recollections.

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Wes Tausend, Bystander, Astronuc and 1 other person
Staff Emeritus
From the FRA article regarding the RAIL SAFETY IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 1974
Railroading in the early 1970's had taken a turn towards more accidents. As a
result, the safety data showed 1973 to be the worst year since 1957. There had been a
number of serious passenger-related accidents. The FRA came under heavy criticism for
the quality and quantity of its enforcement programs (especially with regard to track
related enforcement.) The 1974 law directed a new program be developed to evaluate
ways to improve enforcement, inspection and investigative functions. This act was a part
of the same legislation as the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which was enacted
the same year. In addition, the potential for state participation was to be evaluated.
Further attention was given to the question of hazardous materials.
I recall some spectacular train derailments during the 1970s and early 1980s involving tank cars carrying hazardous materials, notably vinyl chloride. Two accidents, one in Texas and the other in Lousisana, resulted in calls for more rigorous regulation. The one in Louisiana on the Illinois Central Gulf railroad in the town of Livingston, La.

At 5:12 a.m. Sept. 28, 1982, an Illinois Central Gulf freight train staffed by a crew that had been drinking bourbon ran off the tracks just north of the Livingston Town Hall. Of the 43 cars that derailed, 34 contained hazardous materials or flammable petroleum products, and many breached, burned and exploded, spewing toxic vapors over the town.

NTSB investigation report - https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/RAR8305.pdf
In the ICG derailment, cars 26-32 were tank cars loaded with vinyl chloride, which were among the 43 cars that derailed. two tank cars were break spilling the contents, which then ignited with a explosive fireball. One dwelling was enveloped in flames, and the occupant survived by escaping through a window.

Top of page 11 describes the fires and hazardous material that leaked or burned, including a tank car of tetra-ethyl lead.

The Texas accident involved a train that derailed in a yard. A tank car loaded with vinyl chloride was breached, subsequently ignited and involved a second tank car loaded with butadiene, which then exploded while a fire fighter was attempting to spray the cars with water from an elevated ladder (ladder truck). The firefighter was engulfed in flames but apparently he survived with burns over 50% of his body; it was caught on film by a news camera crew. Another firefighter was killed.

### ABC13's Vault: 1 of Houston's worst explosions took place on Oct. 19, 1971​

https://abc13.com/mykawa-rail-yard-...-train-car-blast-hazardous-materials/1561068/
A significant problem in battling the fire was the lack of information that the fire department had access to. Hazardous materials in tank cars were not marked. It wasn't long after the Mykawa Road fire that the Houston Fire Department started the hazardous materials (HazMat) unit.
NTSB accident investigation report is RAR-72-06, but it does not appear to be readily available.

Edit/upate - After some poking around, I found a page on the NTSB website, which contains a like to recommendation reports, with a circular link to RAR-72-06; the link takes one back to the same page

https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/Pages/79781.aspx
However, the several documents/links contain the statement:
Event Details - 79781

THE MISSOURI PACIFIC RAILROAD'S FREIGHT TRAIN 94 WAS TRAVELING NORTH ON TRACK WHICH BELONGS TO THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND SANTA FE RAILWAY WHEN 20 OF ITS CARS DERAILED IN HOUSTON, TEXAS, ON OCTOBER 19, 1971, AT 1:44 P.M. THERE WERE FOUR DIESEL-ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE UNITS AND 82 CARS IN THE TRAIN. DERAILED CARS INCLUDED SIX TANK CARS CONTAINING VINYL CHLORIDE MONOMER AND TWO CARS CONTAINING OTHER HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. TWO TANK CARS WERE PUNCTURED IN THE DERAILMENT. THE VINYL CHLORIDE MONOMER ESCAPED AND IGNITED. THE HOUSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT ATTEMPTED TO CONTROL THE FIRE. APPROXIMATELY 45 MINUTES AFTER THE INITIAL DERAILMENT, ONE TANK CAR RUPTURED VIOLENTLY AND ANOTHER TANK CAR "ROCKETED" APPROXIMATELY 300 FEET FROM ITS INITIAL RESTING PLACE. THIS SEQUENCE OF EVENTS CAUSED THE DEATH OF A FIREMAN. FIFTY PEOPLE WERE INJURED AND THERE WAS CONSIDERABLE PROPERTY DAMAGE. MOST OF THE INJURED WERE FIREMEN. THE SAFETY BOARD DETERMINES THAT THE PROBABLE CAUSE OF THIS ACCIDENT WAS AN UNEXPLAINED EMERGENCY BRAKE APPLICATION WHICH INDUCED LATERAL FORCES EXCEEDING THE HOLDING CAPACITY OF THE TRACK FASTENERS. THE SEVERITY OF THE ACCIDENT WAS INCREASED BY THE ABRUPT RUPTURE OF THE TANK CAR AND THE LACK OF ADEQUATE TRAINING, INFORMATION, AND DOCUMENTED PROCEDURES FOR IDENTIFYING AND ASSESSING THE THREATS TO PUBLIC SAFETY.
https://data.ntsb.gov/carol-main-public/sr-details/R-72-042
https://data.ntsb.gov/carol-main-public/sr-details/R-72-045

I don't know why the accident investigation report has been made unavailable, as many are available. It should be restored for public access. Apparently, ATSF (now part of BNSF) did take exception to a finding.

Why training on handling of hazmat/chemicals is important.
https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/HZM0402.pdf

https://iprr.org/HazMatdocs/HMCaselist.html

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Wes Tausend and berkeman
Staff Emeritus
DENVER – Since a fiery Ohio derailment on Feb. 3, trains have derailed in Florida, West Virginia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Alabama and Nebraska. On Wednesday evening, a freight train carrying corn syrup derailed in western Arizona.

Federal data from 2021 and 2022 says an average of about three trains derail in the U.S. a day. While not all derailments are equally as dramatic or dangerous, railroads are required to report any derailment that causes more than $10,700 in damage. https://www.yahoo.com/news/trains-keep-derailing-over-country-000805788.html How often do trains derail in the US? According to federal records, trains derailed 1,164 times last year, and 1,095 times in 2021. That's a significant improvement from past decades. In 1979, for instance, railroads reported 7,482 derailments, and reported 6,442 in 1980. Today, the majority of those derailments happen in freight yards. Because the cars on yards are frequently being switched between tracks, there's a greater chance of derailing, experts told USA TODAY. Edit/update: BNSF had two derailed train in the past 24 hours, one in Arizona and the other in Washington state. https://www.yahoo.com/news/trains-keep-derailing-over-country-000805788.html ### Understanding train derailments, how they happen, next steps in prevention​ https://www.yahoo.com/news/understanding-train-derailments-happen-next-150619122.html Last edited: Wes Tausend Gold Member ... Of some other interest in this thread are some significant changes that appeared in my Division the years that I worked RR. One, more in the interest of safety, was an experiment BNSF did with "electrically controlled pneumatic brakes". I think I saw the subject mentioned in the news over the Palestine incident and here are a couple of links: ### The Railroad Industry Loved Modern Brakes and Safety, Until They Didn’t​ ### ECP brakes: Could technology have mitigated Ohio derailment?​ I believe various RR's did some research in the area of electrically controlled pneumatic brakes and our BNSF experiment on just a few train trips over a few weeks was the probably the result of an outside company promoting the feature. Our set-up consisted of special control attachments to the brake system of each car, an electrical control line that followed the airline throughout the train and a switch-box attachment bolted to our control stand. For the less initiated, normal train brakes are controlled by incrementally reducing the built-up air pressure in the entire brake-pipe arrangement running the length of the train. By arrangement, I mean that each car is plumbed with a rather ordinary front-to-back water-pipe-like steel pipe including angle-cocks (valves) and a tap for individual car brakes. Besides the car plumbing, all cars are directly connected en masse via glad-hand fitted brake hoses between cars. Normally when the train engineer/driver needs brakes, he or she moves a lever on the cabin locomotive control stand that literally leaks the air from the entire trainline (brake-pipe) braking system, while at the same time the same main brake lever stops all pumping to replace inevitable slow illegitimate leaks in the system. While normally underway with no braking, the locomotive compressor control is adjusted to maintain a normal 90 psi trainline. When the brake lever is actuated, this maintenance setting stops and as the trainline is 'leaked' to purposely decrease it's pressure, the nearly 1000 brake shoes on a long train increase braking drag in a linear fashion. Brakes are normally applied gradually in small increments to lessen slack reactions. From a safety perspective, all this trainline length takes valuable time to 'leak down'. The air pressure decreases near the head end of the train before the rear end drop catches up. Even after all train brake shoes finally apply, they 'purposely' do not immediately offer much braking until they heat up first. This 'purpose' is partly because of a compromise intended to prevent what we know as brake fade on automotive equipment. The brake lining of hot train brakes does not gas nearly as badly as ordinary hot consumer automotive brakes. But train brakes don't work well until they are hot either. Stops and speed reductions are intricately planned. Consumer automotive brake shoes need to grab quite instantaneous so that quick, cold emergency braking is available. This compromise causes the auto shoes to somewhat vaporize more during use, reducing friction contact as they form a slippery "gaseous lubricant" between the shoe and disk or drum. That is what automotive 'brake fade' mainly consists of on long downhills. Some specialty low-gassing automotive road-racing brake compounds are formulated like train shoe liner since the brakes often remain hot throughout a race and the 'shoe advantage' is they are more durable during abuse, able to last the race. Slotted discs and/or shoes are also used to help dissipate formed gases (and water). If one watches a Le Mans 24 hour on a dry night, the glowing brake discs can be seen. For train operation, sometimes with 32+ million pounds of weight and miles of continuous downhills, it is understandable that having little or no accumulating brake fade is imperative. Train brake shoes contact the thick steel face of the wheel tread under tremendous mechanical pressure and can somewhat survive and provide drag running against red hot wheels although that much heat is wholly undesirable. In electric/pneumatic use, instant electrical control of individual car brakes mitigates the first portion of lost time, that of 'leak down wait time', when slowing or stopping a train. I assume better brake shoe compounds may have reduced warm-up time somewhat in the past, although they never seemed to change much during my tenure with traditional brakes. Older cast iron shoes did finally disappear off of switch engines. Cast iron shoes stop very well at slow speeds but not so much at faster speeds. The whole unlined cast iron assembly have probably been called "shoes" forever, although newer bins of "shoes" are technically brake-shoe/liner assemblies. The electric/pneumatic brakes we tested had great new features though. Besides an almost instantaneous even, non-violent application across the train per electric signal, the composite "liners" seemed to warm much quicker too. Additionally, the brake pipe air pressure and car reservoirs were being replenished the whole time the brakes were being used since the main brake lever was not employed. Control was solely button-by-screen. Otherwise, some ordinary non-equipped trains had little braking left immediately after the first use, especially in cold weather. ND gets very cold, the basis of more than a few RR's horror stories. In using electric/pneumatic brakes, I estimate that I could stop an incredibly heavy coal train in as little as 1/4 to 1/3 the distance from my first desire, using no more than a company-preferable 10-pound "electric" draw (down to 80 from 90psi). We were limited to 50mph max, so stops were significantly better considering how long normal non-electric stop procedures were. One other feature was that one could reduce the amount of initially applied braking, if it turned out to be too much after said initial application. This is achieved by later raising the set partially upwards (going from 80psi up to 85 psi for instance). This is equivalent to an automobile where braking can be modulated and is so much more precise. Otherwise with normal, non-electric train braking, what you originally set, you had to live with because the alternative was a complete release (and a reset) that, at times, greatly suffered from a loss of air effective pressure left in the trainline. Re-applying could take precious time you didn't have, to simply regain enough air to effectively do so. Trains vs. autos, are more like planning and executing a long, drawn-out stop sequence by setting a wimpy automotive parking brake with a loaded trailer attached (pick-up/ RV trailer?) and not being able to safely reset it to a lesser drag or use the good brakes. Although I'm sure all operators were as impressed with the electric product as I was, BNSF did shelve them. I heard rumors that the reason was that electric control accelerated brake shoe wear, thus more maintenance. It makes some sense that increased deceleration may not be free; that it may cause accelerated (exponential) wear per stop. It also made stops convenient, a principle not favored by bean counters when it took more than 50 gallons of fuel (I was told) to start again. Each locomotive held about 5500 gallons and each locomotive of three took about 700 gallons per loaded 200-mile return trip... and that was slightly downhill overall. Another form of improved electric brake control arrived in the form of distributed power. In our case, we previously needed a manned pusher crew for nearly half our loaded return journey. Some of the hills required so much draft (pull) force that the front locomotive knuckles could pull apart without any additional intermittent slack forces involved. The extra HD coal knuckles were rated at 395k pounds, but just three large engines can already achieve this kind of traction and it seemed just two sometimes, with pre-cracked knuckles in the mix. A manned pusher (or pair) took up a good fourth of the required train motivation force, safely relieving this knuckle overload condition most of the time. Two was much better to prevent run-out in case one quit suddenly, and they were typically the oldest marginal units. Our distributed power was often two units, two normal in the lead, two distributed radio slaves on the rear. By later adding crewless, distributed power engines to the rear of the train, the company saved labor. There is one other advantage to distributed power in that, except for an emergency air dump, a manned pusher cannot be configured to help control brake demands from the rear, nor help replenish air (to speed both ops up). Since intricate control of the rear crewless (distributed) locomotive is assigned as a slave by newer computer control screens in the control cab, via radio, a suitable automatic matching brake release assist, and trainline air replenishment, from the rear distributed power locomotive(s) is standard. Note, modern trains have always had the ability to institute an emergency brake from the rear but no compressor or normal brake help. Cabooses, pushers, Distributed Power and FRED's have the ability to apply an emergency air dump. Without a manned caboose (conductor may dump air), a required radio-controlled FRED can be used by the head engineer to apply an emergency stop to the rear from the head end. When the train slack is in a stretched configuration, this option is infinitely better for controlling buff forces (slack run-in) than a sudden head-end air-dump. The train rear grabs first, preserving the train stretch. I should mention that this handy low-wattage radio control can also be surprisingly lost on occasion. This is where slack control and any semblance of smoothness then becomes a crapshoot. Loss of control often results in a broken knuckle at the least and a derailment at the worst. ----------- AC Locomotives: One other major experiment was a field test that actually found it's beginnings on our Dickinson Subdivision, that of American AC powered locomotives. Apparently smaller AC locomotives were being used in Europe prior to the USA. In around 1993-94, Siemans of Germany sent their engineers (the real kind) to Mandan to accompany the first few large AC road engines (SD60MAC) on trips towards and beyond my Glendive Mt terminal. Glendive had nearly a complete Roundhouse (locomotive) repair facility at the time. These AC beta engines were then very successfully field tested to haul heavy coal eastward back towards Mandan. Prior to AC, DC locomotives high amperage draw regularly wore out their huge commutator brushes and burned-out traction motors on hills. I worked in consumer electronic repair in the early '70's and it wasn't unusual to have a 100watt amplifier blow it's wimpy, fragile output transistors. And now Siemans had solid state switching aboard that could withstand a variable extreme wattage, furnished by one generator capable of powering a small village. Shortly after, I found similar Siemen solid state devices powered high tension DC power transmission and ironically, Edison's high voltage DC powerline has apparently finally triumphed over Tesla's AC. DC has less radiation/reactance loss than AC. By late 1994, we got several similar SD70MAC engines that were used in coal service from then on. I think these represented the only RR equipment I ever operated for which I actually got a personal instruction manual (which I still have). The Mac's were different under the skin. Manual levers are the same but operation monitoring is largely done on-screen, by a matched pair of redundant touch screens. All the analog gauges are now digital, and I could page to very detailed info as to how most of my locomotives were performing. Although the main brake lever hissed as usual when released, it was a fake air leak under the dash to assure the operator that the computer truly believed the brakes were being applied by wire. Soon visible brake pressure decreased digitally on-screen to let the operator know the computer believed that too. Within a couple of minutes, the satisfaction of very slight deceleration was felt by the operator so he or she could finally relax, fully believing the computer was correct. The brakes were working for now, all is well. The standard pair three axle trucks were now articulated, slightly curving the axle mountings to match the solid axles to curved track for more traction and less tire wear. (The outer edge of locomotive wheels is re-ringed with new shrink-fit 'tires' when needed. A gauge tells me what size they are at present. My train footage counter is set to the present size, so I know when my train has cleared a switch.) Damaged AC Traction Motors could be isolated one at a time instead of cutting out and losing an entire truck like DC required. Prior to these new locomotives, an engineer could carry some jumper wires in their grip in case the DC locomotive electrics failed. The full wall cabinet behind the crew contained much of the fallible solenoids to operate transition and other automatic switching and they could be manually jumped in a pinch. After AC, one could only try rebooting the AC computer after stopping. Some of the computers used Window XP and others ran on Sun Systems. If that didn't work, one could call Mechanical in Ft. Worth, Tx, by radio or cell and they had a few hacks to try. Otherwise, the usual fare, set them out or run DIT (dead-in-tow). -------- Train vs. Truck Air Brakes: Train air brakes are slightly different than commercial tractor/trailer air brakes. Commercial truck brakes have a strong spring that keeps trailer brakes on until the brake cylinder is pumped up. After being pumped and released for moving, draining the trailer air allows the spring to re-apply the brake. Train brakes have double action cylinders. When they are pumped up, there is equal air pressure on both sides of the piston, and they are in a condition of release. After the trainline is aired up and car (think trailer) brake air is released from one piston side, brake forces are applied by the other piston side left still pressured. The leftover one-sided air pressure is the spring. In this way, the train brakes, like truck trailer brakes, also apply if the cars (trailers) become disconnected or the air hose otherwise comes loose. If a train car is to be moved for switching later, the other cylinder side, with brake pressure-left, can be also conveniently drained by a manual valve and then the train car has no air and no brakes, except the mechanical hand brake. Storage yards are normally bowl shaped to contain the free-rolling cars. Other than a bowl, a train car is not safely stopped if depends solely on leaving the air brake on. Even yard-bowls fail in high wind, especially boxcars. When a train car dumped into emergency is parked for more than a few minutes, the pressure-left brake air leaks off eventually. Some leak off in minutes, others in days. Adequate hand brakes must be set. I do apologize for the length of this post. --wes Last edited: mathwonk and Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor ### CSX train derails trying to avoid crash with semi-truck in Kentucky; Nearby people injured​ https://www.yahoo.com/news/csx-train-derails-trying-avoid-073852340.html All too common accident. Truck stopped/stuck on tracks, train comes along and BAM! The train allegedly went into “emergency” before 21 railcars derailed near the crossing at Hodgenville Road in Glendale, the spokesperson said. One of the derailed railcars hit a nearby, occupied vehicle causing injuries to the vehicle’s occupants. However, they did not suffer life-threatening injuries, the spokesperson informed. I'm wondering if another long train. Need more details. Wes Tausend Gold Member ### CSX train derails trying to avoid crash with semi-truck in Kentucky; Nearby people injured​ https://www.yahoo.com/news/csx-train-derails-trying-avoid-073852340.html All too common accident. Truck stopped/stuck on tracks, train comes along and BAM! I'm wondering if another long train. Need more details. Astronuc, Some more on the train you just mentioned: ### Kentucky train derailment forces 21 railcars off tracks, no threat to public​ Nothing on the length. It looks like it might have been automobiles and was possibly a unit train with nothing else. Motor vehicle assembly plants in Kentucky. Hopefully not Corvettes from Bowling Green. This derailment may exhibit one of the hazards associated with emergency stops, particularly those initiated by the conductor. The conductor now rides on the locomotive since the cabooses are gone and there is an emergency brake lever on the conductor's side (which is often a good thing). Had the engineer initiated the stop instead, though, there is a good chance he or she would have taken a few moments to more gently bunch up the train first. Hard run-ins are a common cause of derailments if the train is in draft mode (pulling, stretched). Additionally, electrically controlled brakes may have very well prevented this accident, provided the engineer took the stop action using electric control. This is because hard train stops do not cause significant slack run-in when all cars brake at the same time. As noted in the two links I had in the tediously long above post, the air-only system of brakes we are using is 150 years old and have never been ideal. Disclosure: I have also worked and am casual friends with one of the national improved-brake proponents mentioned above, John Risch. I agree with his assessment. It seems this thread is somewhat incomplete without some opinions on how the Palestine-like situation can be fixed. It is my opinion that trains with the most volatile hazmat loads should slow down when traveling through designated populations. Where I live, the speed limit is 35mph through Bismarck. For my own health, I'm thinking I'd like to see a max of about 20mph concerning volatile hazmat loads near concentrated population. With less violent derailments, I think many cars would not be so likely to leak. There are several chemicals more dangerous than what happened at Palestine, OH and speed limits through many small communities are not restricted at all. Our rail is usually 50mph. Unfortunately, such an idea would work much better in very sparsely populated rural areas (ND?), than in endless heavily populated parts of the country. Such an idea would immediately be unpopular with RR companies because, under increasing demand, they rather prefer to speed things up. It would also be immediately unpopular with road crews because I believe most all work as I did, by the mile, not the hour. Such crews also want to complete their trip in as little time as possible. RR management is slowly trying to work towards running trains without any crew. The trains are mechanically and technically capable of this now using auto-pilot forms of PTC. If trains ever run entirely without crew, at least it would be continuous, conveyer-belt-like movement without changing timed-out crews. I don't think RR would be safer in other ways though. It is also possible to run trucks, ships and aircraft without crews, but diligent humans still offer worthwhile safety factors. Thanks, --wes Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Some more on that train: ### Kentucky train derailment forces 21 railcars off tracks, no threat to public​ Nothing on the length. It looks like it might have been automobiles and was possibly a unit train with nothing else. Motor vehicle assembly plants in Kentucky. Hopefully not Corvettes from Bowling Green. I found another link to a CBS affiliate - with conflicting information on that derailment. The CBS article mentions 8 cars are off the tracks at the rear of the train, but other articles state 21 cars derailed, so presumably, 13 of the derailed cars stayed on the tracks. It looks like a unit train of autoracks, which seem to be bilevels carrying SUVs and pickups. https://www.wlky.com/article/train-carrying-cars-derails-hardin-county-glendale-kentucky/43340951# According to the Hardin County Sheriff, a train derailed near Main Street in downtown Glendale just before 3 p.m. on Thursday. [Time was about 2:53 pm] No hazmat was involved, but in the middle of town, one autorack hit a building and another autorack his an occupied vehicle; one person had minor injuries according to police. It's odd that rear cars would derail, unless the didn't have brakes applied and their momentum cause them to pivot off those case that were stopped or braking. Run-in forces have been a problem for decades. Back in 1974, D&H had a train that went into emergency when center sill and draft gear failed on car 4 (couplers between cars 3 and 4 separated). The locomotives instigated emergency stop, but cars from 4 on back didn't stop, and they ran into the front end on a 3° 30' curve. The lead coupler on car 4 was add an odd vertical angle, since the car was heavily loaded, and apparently it was pushed to the point the outside rail was pushed out of gauge, as well as being overturned for some length. NTSB/RAR-83/05 - https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/45449/dot_45449_DS1.pdf Cars 5, 6, and 7 passed Car 4 and stopped in various positions just north of Car 4. (See Figure 1.) Cars 1, -2, and 3 remained coupled to the locomotive, but overturned when they stopped. Car 21, a tank car, was crushed by the derailing cars and split open, and escaping LPG was ignited immediately. The derailed cars were, in turn, set on fire. . . . The intensity of the fire increased for 30 minutes and the tanks' sheets adjacent to the vapor space were heated to a point that they be came thin, and the tanks consequently ruptured. As a result one of the cars exploded violently and several persons including firemen were injured. Three additional explosions occurred in 10-minute intervals fol lowing the first. During the explosions, half sections of Cars 23 and 25 were propelled eastward about 1,200 feet. Cars 22 and 24 separated into two tub-shaped ends, and portions split longitudinally. A small split occurred in the tank of Car 26 near the manway during the derailment. The escaping LPG ignited, was allowed to burn, and was consumed in about 7 days. I believe there was an issue with the track in that the rail was not properly secured. D&H was struggling financially (fuel prices greatly increased due to OPEC oil embargo), and like many railroads at the time, they deferred maintenance on the track, structures and cars. Car 4, C&0 603325, was a covered hopper loaded with 190,000 lbs, of shelled corn. The car had a capacity of 100 tons, a light weight of 61,900 lbs., and a load unit of 201,100 lbs. The car was constructed of welded steel and provided with 4 wheel-roller bearing trucks which had 36-inch wheels. The car was manufactured in December 1969 by the Pullman Standard Company. The car in question was only 5 years old. It had a capacity of 264k lbs. The fractured center sill of Car 4 weakened the car's structure to the extent that the heavy lading caused the center sill to be deflected downward as the train proceeded toward the accident site. The center sill probably deflected after the train was dispatched from Binghamton. Such a deflection would not be detected during a running inspection, and crew members would not be able to detect the deflection during en route inspections. The downward deflection of the sill caused the north end of the sill, at the coupler, to be canted upward. Therefore, the pulling faces of the couplers were at an angle to each other, instead of parallel. The coupler of Car 4 was pulled upward as force was applied and eventually passed over the coupler of Car 3, and the train separated. Last edited: Gold Member Safety First perhaps: I should take this opportunity to mention to any PF readers that there is normally an 800 number printed on the mechanical box for the crossing gates. Had the truck driver found time to call that number with a cell, it might only take a minute or less for the train dispatcher to radio the train and warn it in plenty of time for the train to make a safe, planned stop. Seconds count, like near runway mishaps at airports. I found another link to a CBS affiliate - with conflicting information on that derailment. The CBS article mentions 8 cars are off the tracks at the rear of the train, but other articles state 21 cars derailed, so presumably, 13 of the derailed cars stayed on the tracks. It looks like a unit train of autoracks, which seem to be bilevels carrying SUVs and pickups. https://www.wlky.com/article/train-carrying-cars-derails-hardin-county-glendale-kentucky/43340951# No hazmat was involved, but in the middle of town, one autorack hit a building and another autorack his an occupied vehicle; one person had minor injuries according to police. It's odd that rear cars would derail, unless the didn't have brakes applied and their momentum cause them to pivot off those case that were stopped or braking. Run-in forces have been a problem for decades. Back in 1974, D&H had a train that went into emergency when center sill and draft gear failed on car 4 (couplers between cars 3 and 4 separated). The locomotives instigated emergency stop, but cars from 4 on back didn't stop, and they ran into the front end on a 3° 30' curve. The lead coupler on car 4 was add an odd vertical angle, since the car was heavily loaded, and apparently it was pushed to the point the outside rail was pushed out of gauge, as well as being overturned for some length. NTSB/RAR-83/05 - https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/45449/dot_45449_DS1.pdf I believe there was an issue with the track in that the rail was not properly secured. D&H was struggling financially (fuel prices greatly increased due to OPEC oil embargo), and like many railroads at the time, they deferred maintenance on the track, structures and cars. The car in question was only 5 years old. It had a capacity of 264k lbs. Thanks for the reply, Astronuc Quote: "It's odd that rear cars would derail, unless the didn't have brakes applied and their momentum cause them to pivot off those case that were stopped or braking." From the video, I see that this was not a unit train, but mixed freight. It's a bit blurry, but I see at least one black tank car towards the front of the train (@0:45 sec remaining) as the video pans forward to the guilty perp-truck on the crossing. I don't know what cars may be behind the rest of the auto-racks, but this type loaded railcars are relatively light compared to many loads. If some heavier cars are behind lighter cars, the middle lighter cars can literally "pop out" from the middle of a train like peanut butter from between two suddenly squeezed crackers. Again, for those not familiar, train air brakes set up right away behind the engines and the air release signal delay thereafter slowly travels towards the end of the still moving train as the front of the train begins to stop. The result of the brake delay gradient is, if there is any slack in couplers, heavy rear cars smash against front cars, in this case often lighter cars. Derailments happen from this delay effect even when all cars weigh the same, but the effect is much worse when heavy cars are on the rear. One might imagine a string of rowboats connected by short ropes, all pulled by the lead rowboat which is the only one under power. Some in front are loaded, some rear loaded, but empties in the middle. A single large ship would be easier. This load distribution effect is one of the things that an attempt was made to remedy, only after I began working RR. Ordinarily, cars were always switched out to build a train so that the first job-car to be dropped off, or multiple car set-out, was on the rear of the train and the arrangement continued in this logical successive manner to save time from randomly digging out cars. When it dawned on detached management that weight arrangements were costing more than labor, an attempt was made to arrange cars with the heaviest blocks of cars to the front. This helped cure part of the slack problem we just discussed above because theoretically, only light cars ran into only heavy cars. But the labor increased because now a block of cars to dig out often required part of the train to be cut-off (parked from) the train on the main line and hand brakes laboriously tied, while the desired set-out, now on the rear, was pulled forward, past the set-out switch and then backed up into the spur track. Hand brakes must be tied on the set-out of course and then only the main train is pulled out of the spur and backed to the block of cars still on the main line. Once this coupling is made, air is slowly pumped back up from zero brake-pipe and hand brakes untied. An FRA air test must now be legally made on this rear block because it has been without air for a period. This type switching is often all done near facilities and populations likely have a crossing nearby, perhaps a now blocked crossing (the bane of commuters), and so a crew judgment must be made whether a blocked crossing should be cut for traffic convenience by splitting the train up even more. Finally, the train is back together whole, FRA tested and on it's way to the next set-out and the circus sets back up. This may seem excessive detail to have said all this, but now the reader may realize why some cheating may happen instead of perfectly arranging all the cars into possibly safer, but significantly more time consuming, train movement arrangements. Offhand, air brakes all applied in unison by electric cable as mentioned earlier, would have very likely prevented this costly accident in Kentucky. That is if a panicked conductor did not dump the air pipe in terror, but rather a calm, confident, well equipped engineer was allowed to set safer brakes from his or her upgraded control stand. Note the train above stopped not far from impact. I have dumped air (just in time) as a conductor and as an engineer, both split-second intuitive decisions that prevented serious impacts, and now I am still alive to tell it. If the conductor had any doubt of the engineer's judgement, he or she did the right thing. How much further would the train have traveled in a half second later than the dump? What was in the truck? Some trivia. One day, in the Mandan terminal, one of the carmen had posted a picture on the bulletin board. It was a picture taken by a trackside detector on the east edge of Bismarck. Since Mandan was a major car repair facility, the detector had an added private feature to video/audio inspect incoming cars. A car inspector listened for the thump of flat spots, cars that may need new wheels, but also observed cars for the car numbers to ID them. The posted still picture was a freeze-frame of the coupling between two westbound cars that had their mutual couplers temporarily jacked up in a vee from buff forces, the wheels about a foot above the tracks in midair. What had obviously happened was an engineer had suddenly realized too late, that he or she was traveling far too fast for the RR city (yard limit) speed limit sign (35mph) and said engineer probably went to full dynamic brake and a panic, full 10-pound set of airbrakes at 40-50mph, instead of a gradual brake plan. The resulting severe slack run-in jacked the car ends up. Amazingly, the cars set back down on their wheels just right because no permanent derailment occurred. I used to listen to that detector wheel report, trains and track warrants with my portable radio, to estimate my departure calls. Should I sleep now? Do I have time to mow the lawn first? Some more trivia. My company sent me to Johnson County Community College in Kansas City for some training and one of the instructors related a story about a truck that he had supposedly hit, a truck that pulled right in front of him and was moving when he hit it. It was a tanker carrying gasoline. He dumped the air and had the presence of mind to quickly get out of his seat and hit an emergency kill button on the back wall of the cab that shut off all the locomotives right before they hit. The fuel tanker blew apart upon impact, easily shattered the reinforced cab windshield and enough gasoline drenched the crew to the point that one could have measured the depth of fuel on the floor in inches before it dribbled away. Fortunately, it did not ignite, and they stayed on the track. It still took a half mile to stop after impact. He said the adrenaline caused him to recklessly jump from the locomotive and insanely rush back intending to properly assault the fool truck driver that tried to rob his family. By the time he got back there the insane moment had passed and he ended up assisting the mildly injured driver. The tractor had spun around violently from the trailer collision. ----------------- Quote: "The locomotives instigated emergency stop, but cars from 4 on back didn't stop, and they ran into the front end on a 3° 30' curve." There are three brake levers in every locomotive. One is vertical on the conductors side and is pushed ahead to dump the air. Both the other two are on the engineers control stand. They are also moved ahead, horizontally, for desired braking. One lever is for the Main train brakes which is what we have mostly discussed so far. The other, very nearby lever is for the Independent brakes which are all MU'd (multiple units) together with others in the Consist to brake all connected engines simultaneously. The Independent brake applies all locomotive brakes in joined engines (consist) but does not affect the Main train brakes. But when the Main brakes are applied, the engine brakes automatically follow the train brakes. This condition is usually undesired as it is better to leave the locomotive brakes off to save their wear etc. For instance, when the locomotive is disconnected from the train, a worn-out engine brake could mean surprise... no engine brakes left. For that reason, it is a rule to Actuate (and save) the engine brakes whenever train brakes are used. Actuate in this instance means to push the Independent lever down (it's spring loaded) whereby all the locomotive cylinders dump their air so that the locomotive brakes are off. Here's the catch. When the train goes into auto-emergency (wth, trainline opened), the surprised engineer may forget to Actuate the locomotive brakes off. In such a case, the *heavy locomotive may continue to inadvertently coast with some light Independent brakes on. The problem happens thus: If the emergency air loss in the middle of the train causes a run-out break-in-two on the head end and the rear train brakes fail to remain set, the following train cars may run back into the slowing 'Independent braked' front section of the train. Entering a curve also impedes RR cars and engines. Because of a possible long-distance run-up gain, the run-in may be a lot harder than a short distance slack run-in and can injure the crew. The reason the rest of the train did not stop is a mystery to me, a nightmare in the making. Perhaps a crushed glad hand, a kinked brake-pipe and/or a traveling brake-pipe pressure wave that signaled a release on a trainline that did not ever fully dump. Brrr. *Almost all locomotives weigh in at about 415k pounds. It seems to be the safe limit of metallic contact pressure distributed by twelve large diameter wheels, because of wheel/rail metallurgy. Compare that engine weight to the 264K lbs. of just one car (you mentioned earlier) and multiply by over a hundred cars. Now you can better realize why all locomotives have always had traction control since day-1. If the traction control fails, the affected axle will spin and burn a trough in the rail, right through the ball, down into the web within seconds and your day is done. All draft forces provided by locomotives are limited by traction only. They have enough torque to pull so much more than they can ever find traction to do. I once climbed a hill, it seemed forever, in light rain with a heavy mixed freight (14k ton?), whereas I topped the hill at .2 mph using copious sand. Yes, trains sometimes slip on wet track. Yes, the speedos are that precise (for coal loaders) and the locomotives, two large GEs, kept reducing power until they finally quit slipping at .2 mph. The masterplan was to limit the horsepower of trains on my sub to 2hp per ton and the numb powers that be, decided to give me two newer 4400 hp engines instead of three or four old 2000 hp jeeps. The smaller old engines would have given me the traction (weight-on-drivers) to top the hill at about 6 to 8 mph, if they didn't die enroute which was quite common. There were other times when I just stalled or old DC traction motors timed out on amperage (per operator calculation, me) on what was known as short-time ratings. One then waited for an oncoming train, or a train from behind, to cut off their power and help. They hated it but where could they go? ----------------- Propane trucks, gasoline trucks, gravel trucks, even moose. Families going to church. All these could ruin a RR's day at least and all days at most. A former coworker, a friend of mine, who was also an engineer was involved in no less than three fatalities and at least one derailment from an equipment strike, none of which were in any way her fault. She was also the one whose errant axle secretly ate through a rail. I would guess that any train crew member who has worked more than a couple of years on the road has suffered some sort of close call. For me the luck of Greek gods, no fatalities at least. The worst, an incompetent conductor and his helper once nearly backed me into a train while I was loaded with 80 loads of coal and thereby changed RR radio communication forever. But for another error made earlier in the day by others, we would have impacted an Amtrak passenger train, probably a center-punch. The new system CEO called the terminal. Train service is a good example of long hours of boredom punctuated with occasional brief moments of terror. But sometimes a panic lasted days while one waited to see if they still had a job, after some coworker made a serious mistake. Usually everybody in the crew went down together. But I had maybe 50 favorable witnesses on radio, all engineers. There are so many different RR errors that may occur and will probably always occur, that I think yes, we should improve obsolete train brakes for one thing. But I think the worst hazmat should also entail slowing down, especially near populations. Think what would happen if we were all allowed to drive interstate auto speeds inside our cities. With new technologies available, why must RR's be allowed this type insanity? Locomotives have been ICE/electric hybrids since the 1950's. They were inspired by world war diesel/electric submarine technology. Some lesser dynamic brakes appeared on older DC locomotives. The newer AC locomotives have excellent dynamic brakes that revert the traction motors into generators to provide extensive wheel drag by converting generated wheel electricity to heat. We the RR, probably heat 'toaster grids' every trip with enough wasted energy to heat my home for a year. The grid exhaust can be seen on top many road locomotives as short, flat round towers and the loud noise they make is from the powerful fans used to cool them. If corporate RR is worried about wasting fuel by allowing too good of braking, why can't RR have at least one rail car of storage batteries, dedicated to capturing the wasted energy of slowing for safety, instead of the usual venting it directly to our overheating atmosphere? Except for it's nickel-metal hydride battery, my trusty Prius uses the same solid-state technology as the new AC locomotives. The Toyota Prius Hybrid is currently the highest performance production auto in the world... ICE efficiency-wise at least. I've always liked hot-rods. Thanks, --wes Last edited: mathwonk, Astronuc and berkeman Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Norfolk Southern Railway Train Derailment, Anniston, Alabama.[ https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/Pages/RRD23LR008.aspx On March 9, 2023, about 6:19 a.m. local time, westbound Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) mixed freight train 245A109 derailed 2 locomotives and 37 railcars on the Alabama East End District of its Gulf Division in Anniston, Alabama. [1] The derailment involved two sections of the train, resulting in two derailment sites. At the first site, located near the head end of the consist, 2 locomotives and 29 railcars derailed. At the second site, located near the rear end of the consist, eight railcars derailed. A total of three tank cars carrying hazardous materials derailed: one containing sodium hydrosulfide residue and two containing ferrous chloride residue. The tank cars remained intact and did not release hazardous materials. There were no reported fatalities or injuries. NS estimated damages to equipment, track, and signal infrastructure to be about$2.9 million. At the time of the accident, visibility conditions were clear with early morning daylight; the weather was 57°F with no precipitation.
The train derailed at the head end (2 locomotives and 29 railcars) and toward the rear (8 railcars). It looks like the rear cars derailed coming out of a curve, or perhaps on the curve but managed to get pulled beyond the curve. No details yet, other than the summary.

Staff Emeritus
A UP train carrying iron ore derails, catches fire in San Bernardino; hazmat crew responding - Monday morning at approximately 0830 local time.
https://news.yahoo.com/train-no-passengers-derails-san-181822173.html
"It did derail and it is on fire. Carrying 180 cars of iron ore," said a man on the San Bernardino County fire and rescue radio channel more than an hour earlier. Another fire employee said there was a fire "under the first locomotive."

Two locomotives and 55 freight cars derailed, and one unverified source indicated the train was a runaway and traveling at 80 mph, which is well beyond the maximum speed limit of 60 mph on the best track. I would expect the max speed for such a train is 50 mph. Waiting for more details.

Edit/update: Apparently UP confirmed the train was a runaway (without crew onboard)! If it only had 2 locomotives, it was severely under-powered to hold back 120+ ore cars.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, a CP train derailed in North Dakota spilling some liquid asphalt.
https://www.yahoo.com/news/70-car-train-derails-north-144146249.html
Canadian Pacific train derailed around 11:15 p.m. about a mile southeast of Wyndmere in Richland County, Valley News Live reported. No injuries were reported.

Officials said 31 of the 70 cars derailed, with some leaking petroleum used in the making of asphalt, according to the report.

Another CP train near to Chicago also derailed. A video capture the derailment as it happened. An empty centerbeam flat car got lifted by buffing forces while the train stopped, and the trailing truck hopped of the rails. Then the train moved forward, the flat car tilted, which caused a following grain hopper to derail. I'm disappointed that the person taking the video didn't try to warn the train/locomotive crew.

Edit/update: In South Dakota, they are concerned about rail traffic moving through the state.
https://www.yahoo.com/news/secret-shipments-11-billion-pounds-101113193.html

'Secret' is not accurate. They just don't discuss in public what chemicals are being shipped at any give time; they don't want to become a target. Tank cars are have placards that indicate the lading, and some cars are dedicated to a particular commodity, e.g., anhydrous ammonia, LPG, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride, raw petroleum, . . . .

The article does cite some derailments of concern.

In 60 South Dakota accident reports from 2017-2022, mechanical problems and railroad wear played a role in a number of derailments and accidents:
• On June 26, 2017, six rail cars derailed due to a broken segment of track near Gayville in Yankton County.
• On June 5, 2020, train workers could see the track ahead was misaligned near Harrold in Hughes County, causing eight cars to derail at 24 mph due to soft ground believed to be caused by a muskrat den.
• On Sept. 18, 2022, nine rail cars derailed while traveling at 23 mph near Utica in Yankton County due to missing joint bolts on the rail line.
Missing bolts should not happen. Such an occurrence indicates a failure of the track maintenance program and lack of oversight. The idea is to prevent derailments and release/loss of hazardous material.

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