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Rail News: Safety

NS discovers loose wheel on certain rail cars; AAR issues safety advisory


Norfolk Southern Railway yesterday announced it determined an urgent safety issue related to a specific model of rail cars involved in the train derailment last week in Springfield, Ohio.

During its cleanup of the site, the Class I determined that a model and series of rail cars had loose wheels, which could cause a derailment. The investigative team identified the wheels as coming from a series of recently acquired cars from a specific manufacturer, which NS did not identify in its press release.

Although the investigation of the accident’s cause is still underway, NS has notified the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration and is now inspecting other cars from the series on its rail network, company officials said.

"We issued orders to remove these cars from service until their wheelsets could be replaced, and we have taken steps to remove this specific model and series from service until they can be fully inspected,” they said. “We also notified the manufacturer and worked urgently to inform the rest of the railroad industry, as Norfolk Southern is not the only user of these cars.”

As a result of the situation, the Association of American Railroads issued an advisory to halt the use of these cars. Earlier this week, AAR announced other initial steps it is taking in its “drive toward a future with zero incidents and zero injuries” so that the NS derailment that occurred Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, doesn't happen again.

The AAR announced the following:
• Detectors – spacing: The industry has long recognized the risk posed by hot bearings and voluntarily installed thousands of hot bearing detectors (HBDs) across the railroad network. The railroads also have voluntarily installed acoustic bearing detectors, which can ascertain potential problems from the noise created by bearings that are starting to fail. For over three decades, the Class Is have voluntarily spaced HBDs no more than 40 miles apart on key routes. In recent years, all Class Is have reduced their HBD spacing significantly below the 40-mile criterion. All Class Is now agree to immediately begin installing additional HBDs across their key routes, with the goal of achieving average spacing of 15 miles, except if the route is equipped with acoustic bearing detection capability or other similar technology. This will amount to the deployment of 1,000 new HBDs. A route containing acoustic bearing detection capability or other similar technology shall maintain maximum HBD spacing not to exceed 20 miles where practical due to terrain and operating conditions. Inoperative HBDs on key routes will generate critical incident tickets and be prioritized for dispatch and repair.
• Detectors – new action threshold: The Class Is commit to stopping trains and inspecting bearings whenever the temperature reading from an HBD exceeds 170 degrees Fahrenheit above ambient temperature. This action establishes a new industry standard for stopping trains and inspecting bearings.
• Detectors – shared trending analysis: Analysis of trending data from multiple HBDs can reveal a bearing problem before an absolute temperature threshold is reached. Each Class I now uses trending analysis, but there are a variety of approaches employed by the Class Is to accomplish this goal. The Class Is are reviewing the trending analyses programs each uses and have targeted March 31 to arrive at recommendations regarding the use of trending analyses.
Confidential Close Call Reporting System: As outlined in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, all seven Class Is are joining the FRA’s voluntary program to supplement their own programs for confidential reporting of safety issues.
• Training: In 2023, the railroads will train roughly 20,000 first responders in local communities across the country on accident mitigation. In addition, the industry will facilitate the training of 2,000 first responders at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center facility in Colorado, which includes enhanced scenario planning and training at a new facility.
• AskRail: The industry is expanding efforts to get the AskRail app — which provides real-time information about the contents of every car in a train and the safe handling of those contents in the event of an accident — into the hands of every first responder by directly targeting emergency communication centers to promote broader access versus relying solely on individual downloads. Railroads are also targeting all 50 state fire associations. If successful, these measures should dramatically increase the number of first responders that have access to AskRail, with a goal of doubling the number of first responders who have access to the tool by the end of 2023.
• Tank car improvement: Following a safety advisory from the NTSB raising the “potential for certain manway assemblies with aluminum protective housing covers to melt when exposed to extreme heat as experienced in a pool fire situation,” the AAR’s Tank Car Committee is accelerating the work of a dedicated task force that has been investigating the use of heat-resistant gaskets for tanks transporting flammable liquid. The task force — comprised of railroads, equipment owners and tank-car manufacturers — will expand its scope to consider all fire performance improvements to service equipment.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/10/2023