BNSF HEAD ON COLLISION CAUSED BY CELL PHONE?

 

NTSB REPORT

AS POSTED ON RAILSPOT



NTSB PRESS RELEASE
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National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC 20594
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 3, 2003
SB-03-21
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TRAIN ENGINEER DISTRACTED BY CELL PHONE CITED AS
PROBABLE CAUSE OF TRAIN COLLISION
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Washington, D.C. - In a report adopted today, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the engineer of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) coal train was distracted by a cell phone call when he was supposed to be stopping his train and caused a head-on collision with a BNSF intermodal train. The engineer of the intermodal train was killed in the collision. Damages to the trains and track exceeded $8 million.
       



The Safety Board cited the probable cause in its report on a May 28, 2002 collision of an eastbound BNSF coal train and a westbound BNSF intermodal train near Clarendon, Texas.


Also noted in the probable cause was the train conductor's failure to ensure that the engineer complied with track warrant restrictions.
       



The two trains were operating in track warrant
territory where dispatchers control train movements by issuing track warrants authorizing a train to occupy a certain 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.


       

Through its investigation the Safety Board 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 that the engineer's cell phone use likely distracted him and he did not take proper note of the after-arrival stipulation and therefore did not stop his train.



As a result the Board issued a recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to amend regulations to control the use of cell phones and other personal wireless devices by railroad operators while on duty.



"Safety is the primary responsibility of any vehicle operator and this responsibility demands the full and undivided attention of the person at the controls," said Chairman Ellen Engleman when reading the Board's recommendation, "Issuing these recommendations is not enough -implementation is the key."

       
The Board's report further concluded that after-arrival warrants issued to moving trains create an unacceptable risk of a head-on collision. Therefore the Board recommended that the FRA, in areas where there is no positive train control system, restrict the issuance of after-arrival track warrants to trains only after they have stopped at the specified location to allow safe passage of the on-coming train.


       

A synopsis of the Clarendon, Texas accident
investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the Publications page of the Board's web site, http://www.ntsb.gov/. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.
 
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Media contact:  Lauren Peduzzi
                        (202) 314-6100
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Amarillo Globe News Story

A story from the Amarillo Globe-News, found at:



http://www.amarillonet.com


Web posted Wednesday, June 4, 2003
12:47 a.m. CT



Train crash blamed on cell phone
Widow critical of findings



By David Enrich
States News Service



WASHINGTON, D.C. - The deadly head-on collision of two freight trains near
Clarendon last year was caused in large part by a train engineer chatting on his mobile phone when he should have been stopping his train, according to a government report released Tuesday.



On May 28, 2002, two Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains - one hauling hundreds of metal cargo containers and heading west, the other carrying
thousands of pounds of coal in the opposite direction - smashed into each other.


A dispatcher had instructed the coal-carrying train to stop at a checkpoint in Ashtola so that the other train could switch tracks. But the National
Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the coal train's engineer was immersed in a personal phone call and missed the instruction to stop.


The two crewmen on each train leaped from the trains just before impact, but
flying debris critically injured both men on the coal train and killed Lubbock native Galen Shelby, the engineer of the westbound train.


The crash caused more than $8 million in damages.


The safety panel Tuesday unanimously approved a report citing the phone use as the crash's primary cause.


"The engineer's cell phone use likely distracted him to the extent that he... was unaware of the need to bring his train to a stop," the report
concluded.



"This is a very clear-cut case, in our minds, of the probable cause," NTSB Chairwoman Ellen G. Engleman said in an interview. The report recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration prohibit the use of cell phones
while operating a train and require trains to stop if they are approaching another train on the same track.


Ann Shelby, widow of the deceased engineer, said the cell-phone issue was a distraction from the crash's true causes.


"That's not a good answer," said Shelby, who has sued Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. "I know that the engineer made a
mistake, but that does not release (BNSF) from liability, because they had been warned about putting a safety light on that line."



She said BNSF ignored her husband's repeated requests for the company to modernize its traffic-control system.


Shelby said her husband had told BNSF that reliance on radio instructions was dangerous and that the railway should switch to a system in which
track-mounted lights tell engineers whether to stop or slow down. The computerized system alerts dispatchers if a train disregards the commands.


"He had told me a few months before the accident that someone was going to have to be killed for them to do something about it. He just had to be the one to get it," Shelby said. "I know companies have to cut corners to make a profit, but it's not worth a man's life."



Shelby said a lawsuit filed against BNSF is scheduled for trial in July, but she expects the matter to be settled before then.



Pat Hiatte, a spokesman based at BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth, said he
could not comment on pending litigation. BNSF spokesman Steve Forsberg said the railroad installed a centralized traffic control system in the wake of the Clarendon crash.

Official NTSB Report of BNSF Texas Head On Collision

NTSB UP New Mexico Investigation Feb 2004

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