News & Reviews News Wire FRA issues safety bulletin after fatal accident on Norfolk Southern

FRA issues safety bulletin after fatal accident on Norfolk Southern

By Bill Stephens | January 6, 2023

Agency reminds railroaders of importance of inspecting cars for protruding objects

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WASHINGTON – In the wake of a fatal accident on Norfolk Southern last month, the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a safety bulletin urging railroaders to conduct pre-departure inspections to ensure that no objects are protruding from freight cars.

An NS conductor trainee was killed on Dec. 13 in Bessemer, Ala., when a metal object from a train passing on the adjacent main track pierced a window of the locomotive cab and struck the crewman.

The FRA is investigating the accident, which involved a piece of angle iron protruding from a freight car.

“Based on FRA’s preliminary results from its ongoing investigation, the piece of angle iron appears to have been part of the freight car (not lading, but a repair to the carbody side top cord of a scrap metal gondola car) that was starting to dislodge from the carbody. It appears that the piece of angle iron was in this state when the car was pulled from the customer, moved to a yard, and then added to a different train on the main track,” the Dec. 20 bulletin says.

FRA asked railroads to review the safety bulletin with employees to increase awareness of the type of hazardous condition that led to the fatal accident.

“FRA also reminds train crew members that … prior to pulling any cars and only when it is safe to do so, to perform a proper visual inspection of freight cars for any protruding objects that may foul an adjacent track from a railcar, and if observing such a condition to immediately report it,” the bulletin says.

The FRA also issued a bulletin last month after a train crew experienced an unintended brake release of their train’s automatic air brakes while stopped at a signal in June.

During a thunderstorm, a 7,392-ton intermodal train stopped on a descending grade near the signal and set the train’s air brakes as 12 pounds and fully set the locomotive consist’s independent brakes. After being stopped for about three hours, the train began to roll toward the signal due to an unintended automatic brake release.

The locomotive brakes were not enough to keep train from rolling due to the combination of tonnage, grade, and wet rail. The crew was able to stop the train before it would have collided with a train that was preparing to cross through the interlocking.

The Dec. 29 bulletin recommends that crews should not expect a service rate or emergency brake application to indefinitely maintain application of a train’s air brakes. If a train does begin moving, the crew should immediately apply the emergency brake and, once the train is stopped, set a sufficient number of hand brakes.

Each railroad, the FRA says, should adopt an air brake procedure consistent with the recommendations.

3 thoughts on “FRA issues safety bulletin after fatal accident on Norfolk Southern

  1. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t put a full service brake application whenever a train is stopped. This was also the main yet overlooked issue with the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

  2. Back in my fireman days, fifty years ago, I would get up, cross to the opposite side of locomotive whenever passing another train. Apparently that’s no longer done. Could have avoided a fatality.

  3. And yet it seems RR’s are moving closer to one person crews, how in the heck can one person deal with all the possibilities that even a short train can have much less the monster length trains we see today. Might we come to a “Safety long as it doesn’t cost any money”

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