News & Reviews News Wire In latest safety advisory, FRA makes additional hot bearing detector recommendation

In latest safety advisory, FRA makes additional hot bearing detector recommendation

By Bill Stephens | June 9, 2023

Safety advisory, issued today, comes in response to May 10 Norfolk Southern derailment in Pennsylvania

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Norfolk Southern train 14M derailed on May 10, 2023 in New Castle, Pa. NTSB

WASHINGTON — In the wake of a May 10 Norfolk Southern derailment in Pennsylvania, the Federal Railroad Administration today issued a safety advisory recommending that railroads implement safeguards to ensure that hot bearing detectors properly report defects.

The supplemental advisory adds a fifth recommendation to the four spelled out in a March 3 safety advisory addressing the use and maintenance of hotbox detectors.

“Since publication of that Safety Advisory, FRA has continued to evaluate railroads’ use of HBDs and on May 10, 2023, in New Castle, Pennsylvania, another accident occurred that is suspected of being the result of a burnt journal bearing,” the FRA says. “Preliminary information related to this most recent accident shows that the train involved passed a HBD which alarmed prior to the accident. Accordingly … this Notice adds a fifth recommendation to Safety Advisory 2023-01 recommending that railroads take action to evaluate the resiliency and accuracy of the overall process used to monitor and measure bearing health.”

The 164th car of a Norfolk Southern train triggered a critical hot box detector alert before the New Castle wreck, but the train continued on its journey for 15.34 miles before derailing because neither the crew nor the railroad’s network operations center received the warning that would have required the train to stop immediately, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report released June 1.

Signal maintainers working in the area two days before the derailment detached and reattached track-mounted hot box detector components, the NTSB said, but the transducers were attached incorrectly and prompted the detector to report reversed train travel directions. The railroad’s advanced train control desk requires an accurate report of train travel direction to interpret hot box detector data.

The train’s crew was unaware of the alert, which did not sound over the locomotive’s radio. The NTSB found a loose coaxial connection between the locomotive’s antenna and the radio.

“FRA is probing the communication and timing of the alarm to both the locomotive and the dispatch center, as well as the history and performance of the bearing in question,” the safety advisory says. “Of particular interest is the impact of failures or delays in the communication of bearing health information to those involved in the data analysis and decision-making process as to what action to take in response to the information and to enable the crew to take appropriate action.”

The safety advisory’s new recommendation says that railroads should: “Rigorously evaluate the resiliency and accuracy of the overall process used to monitor and act upon information from wayside detectors, with specific focus on steps and tasks that, if not performed or performed incorrectly, could mislead decision makers. The process of monitoring, reporting, inspecting, analyzing, and acting on information from detectors includes tasks that, if incorrectly executed, could introduce risk. Railroads should also evaluate each step and task performed by railroad personnel to pinpoint any HBD reporting failures and implement appropriate safeguards to minimize the impact of those failures when monitoring, analyzing, and responding to detector information.”

The FRA also said that several concerns have arisen as part of the additional Norfolk Southern safety assessment it launched in March. The investigation phase of the safety review was completed in the middle of May, FRA says, and analysis of survey results is under way.

“While FRA continues to analyze results to confirm FRA’s findings and any recommendations, several areas of concern have arisen, including the resiliency of NS’s processes and procedures for monitoring and actioning bearing health information from the railroad’s system of HBDs,” the safety advisory says.

In addition, FRA said its review of high-hazard flammable train routes across the country has found “significant inconsistencies in the railroads’ application of best practices associated with the installation and maintenance of HBDs, as well as in the assessment and use of HBD data to address failing or failed bearings.” The review of hazardous materials routes was in response to the Feb. 3 NS derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

FRA says it is continuing to evaluate how railroads evaluate bearing health and the way they train employees involved with wayside detectors and their data.

A Norfolk Southern spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest safety advisory.

However, on June 1 the railroad said it has taken action without waiting for the NTSB preliminary report, including:

  • Enhancing technology to provide multiple means of communicating temperature alarms.
  • Updated systems processes so that wayside alarms are consistently received by the wayside help desk for investigation regardless of their alignment to a specific train.
  • Enhanced standards for locomotive radio trouble reports.
  • Strengthened the training of standard operating procedures for employees who install and inspect wayside detectors.

NS on March 6 announced a six-point safety plan to enhance the effectiveness of wayside detectors. And in May the railroad announced both the appointment of an outside consultant to lead an independent review of safety practices and a commitment to partner with labor unions to improve safety.

5 thoughts on “In latest safety advisory, FRA makes additional hot bearing detector recommendation

  1. I’m sure all the RRs are cowering from the FRA’s letter of encouragement; noting the FRA still has no regulations for any type of detector, even though they have been around since at least the 1960s.

  2. Supposedly a loose cable was discovered on the lead locomotive radio. In my experience the radio can be working fine then all of a sudden it isn’t. Sometimes if there is a connection problem to the antenna a message will scroll on the radio. One thing I have not heard mentioned or asked. Did the crew get ANY message from the detector? If not, they are to contact the dispatcher and inform them they received no message from that detector. On NS there is also a detector desk that needs to be contacted. They can go into the system and look at what that detector is doing. Also, with the hiring of so many new people is it possible these were new maintainers?

  3. Could it be that the maintainers did not have enough time to properly test the HBD transducers for proper operation after they were reinstalled?

    Could it be the terminal did not have enough time to test the radio for proper function before releasing the lead locomotive for service?

    I write this because, in an effort to save $1.98, could it be that NS reduced the time allowed to perform these maintenance functions. Time is money.

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