Federal travel safety officials are recommending trains go slower in areas where signals are being upgraded
Ironically, a safety upgrade was involved in a recent train collision in South Carolina that killed a conductor and an engineer.
The National Transportation Safety Board this past week urged federal railroad officials to put out an emergency order requiring trains to slow down in areas where rail signal systems are down while workers make safety upgrades.
That’s what the NTSB says happened near Cayce, S.C., leading up to the Feb. 4 collision of an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train that left two Amtrak employees dead.
The NTSB said that the day before the accident, CSX personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control, a safety measure officials say is needed to make train movement safer overall.
“The lack of signals required dispatchers to use track warrants to move trains through the work territory,” the NTSB said in announcing its safety recommendation. “In this accident, and a similar accident March 14, 2016, Granger, Wyoming accident, safe movement of the trains, through the signal suspension, depended upon proper switch alignment. That switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision, creating a single point of failure.”
Positive train control technology is widely seen as a needed safety improvement in the nation’s rail network – and NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt was quick to point out that upgrades need to continue.
“The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, South Carolina train collision,” Sumwalt said. “While the collision remains under investigation, we know that signal suspensions are an unusual operating condition, used for signal maintenance, repair and installation, that have the potential to increase the risk of train collisions. That risk was not mitigated in the Cayce collision. Our recommendation, if implemented, works to mitigate that increased risk.”