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FRA, BNSF to test wireless switch monitors in dark territory


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is funding a test in Oklahoma to determine if wireless switch-monitoring technology can help prevent train accidents in dark territory. The administration and BNSF Railway Co. recently installed wireless communication devices on 49 switches along a 174-mile, non-signalled line between Tulsa and Avard.

Train dispatchers at BNSF’s Fort Worth, Texas, operations center will monitor the devices to ensure hand-operated switches are not set in the wrong position. If a switch is misaligned, a dispatcher will order a train to stop until field crews determine it’s safe to proceed. The FRA is providing $527,308 for the test; BNSF is funding $472,680 to cover equipment costs.

About 40 percent of U.S. mainlines are located in dark territory, where nine train accidents have occurred so far this year, according to the FRA.

“If successful, this technology will prevent needless accidents and make a large part of the nation’s rail network safer,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman in a prepared statement.

To improve switch safety in dark territory, the FRA previously issued an emergency order directing railroads to re-train employees on switch operations and distributed a safety advisory recommending ways to improve switch procedures. The administration currently is developing a federal rule governing switch operations.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/15/2005