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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / NTSB report says slack action led to fatal fall for KCS conductor

NTSB report says slack action led to fatal fall for KCS conductor

By | May 16, 2022

December 2020 accident occurred during switching in Tupelo, Miss., yard

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Diagram of railyard with notations showing switching moves by train
Diagram of railyard with notations showing switching moves by train
An illustration shows the switching moves of the Kansas City Southern train involved in a fatal accident on Dec. 23, 2020, in Tupelo, Miss. (National Transportation Safety Board)

WASHINGTON — A Kansas City Southern conductor killed in a December 2020 accident in Tupelo, Miss., fell in front of the train during switching because of unexpected slack action, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined in its final report.

The report says that during a shoving move in the Tupelo yard on Dec. 23, 2020, the conductor may have been in an unstable position as he held a vertical handrail on a tank car while operating his handheld radio. Slack action from a reduction in train speed by about 3 mph in 3 seconds, if unexpected, could have caused the conductor to fall.

After the fall, the conductor was able to communicate by radio that he had been injured; Tupelo Fire Department responders arrived within 10 minutes after a 911 call and transported the conductor to the hospital, where he died from his injuries.

Immediately after the accident, KCS issued a safety alert to employees reiterating rules regarding safety while switching, and directed supervisors to thoroughly review those rules.


9 thoughts on “NTSB report says slack action led to fatal fall for KCS conductor

  1. While not a perfect solution due to many factors, wouldn’t train personnel riding a traincar while hanging onto the ladder benefit from wearing a similar harness attached to the car that those working in high environments are required to have?

    1. Gary Caramella is correct. The value of being able to quickly detrain from moving equipment is higher than the value gained by being in a harness, tied to the moving equipment. In this particular case the problem is almost entirely the single point of contact that a tank car provides. IIRC, you are not supposed to get on a moving tank car because of the singular point of contact, your body swings as you mount the moving tank car and at least for me, that provided first hand experience showing me the danger of riding a tank car.

  2. Robert, no, a tall building does not move. That harness could get caught on a switch stand or something else near the tracks or in a close clearance situation or on another piece of rolling equipment. The harness in those instances and others would probably kill the trainman instead of letting him bail off.

  3. Gary – I realize and noted that it wasn’t a solution. My point was that simply hanging on to a moving train is dangerous in itself. My call is for the industry to get innovative and design something to protect personnel in those situations. I have two siblings that work for Class 1’s as trainmen. Both at one time or another have fallen from stationary or moving equipment – it happens.

    1. The railroad probably could design a better method to ride railcars, but then the board wouldn’t be able to buy another diamond studded swimming pool.

  4. The single vertical handrail on a tank car is not very stable. A normal ladder would be much better as the 2 hands can be spaced farther apart.

    1. Landon – I’ve seen some newer tank cars have exactly that on the end platforms – two vertical handholds along with the ladder. We didn’t get them very often at the shortline where I worked, but they were certainly safer than the standard single vertical rail to hold on to while juggling your handhold and the radio simultaneously.

  5. What says the team about simply extending the footpad on the ladder to accommodate the entire foot plant instead of just current tubular or flat ladder rung?

  6. You used to be ableride the end sill of a tank car between the bulkhead and the end sill Stanchion.It was by far the safest way to ride tank cars ,but most railroads outlawed that so now you have to hang on to one single upright stanchion on the side of the car all the while trying to hold on to a radio and paperwork. Add to that an iPad on some railroads or a lantern at night and well there you have it a rule determined by a committee in an office that’s never ridden rail cars in their life. Some newer tank cars have redesigned uprights and they’re getting more common and they are way better than the old ones but there are still a ton of the old designs out there and they will be around for a long time to come. The railroads of coarse have a blanket best practice in their safety rules that riding cars are a last resort but seeing the end of a cut from a van or walking in many instances is either impossible or impractical at best.

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