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Rail News: Safety

NTSB issues recommendations on signal maintenance after investigating two Amtrak accidents

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) late last week issued four recommendations addressing safety issues related to ongoing railroad accident investigations near Madison, Ill., and Niles, Mich., that involved the use of jumper wires during signal maintenance operations.

The board recommends that the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration provide railroad employees with best practices regarding the use of jumper wires when performing signal maintenance operations on active rails.

"Required safety precautions were not taken by railroad employees during maintenance and repair activities that resulted in one fatality and put hundreds of passengers at risk," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a prepared statement. "In railroading, what may seem like a small oversight can have deadly consequences."

In February 2012, a southbound Amtrak train collided with an automobile at a grade crossing near Madison, killing the car's driver. At the time of the accident, two Union Pacific Railroad employees were working on the crossing warning system. Preliminary information resulting from an investigation showed the crossing warning system had been temporarily removed from service for testing, inspection and maintenance, and did not activate when the train approached the crossing, NTSB officials said.

In October 2012, an eastbound Amtrak train that was routed onto a yard track while traveling 61 mph on a main track in Niles derailed about 254 feet beyond a power-operated switch and traveled about 1,086 feet before stopping on the yard track. During an ongoing investigation, NTSB investigators learned that an Amtrak signal employee was performing troubleshooting activities with jumper wires inside the signal bungalow just prior to the derailment, board officials said.

"This action circumvented the signal system's ability to verify that the power-operated switch was properly aligned and locked in the correct position for the displayed signals," they said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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