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Texting CSX conductor blamed for Jackson Township derailment

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is blaming a texting CSX conductor for the three-train pile-up in Jackson Township on Jan. 6, 2012.

Five locomotives and 25 cars were derailed in the incident, two CSX crew members were injured, and property damage totaled $5 million, according to the NTSB report, released on Aug. 20.

Nearly every fire department in Porter County responded to the scene and for 16 hours they battled a conflagration started when spilled diesel fuel ignited paper products being carried on one of the trains. Smoke from that fire was visible for some five miles and as a precaution authorities ordered the evacuation of one square mile to the north and east of the site.

The incident began at 1:18 p.m. that day, when a westbound CSX train--stopped on Track 2 by the dispatcher to permit a higher priority intermodal train to pass on Track 1 and arrive at the Chicago terminal first--was rear-ended by a second westbound train just north of C.R. 600N, in the area of C.R. 500E.

That first collision caused multiple cars to derail across Track 1, on which the higher priority train was traveling. As that third train began to round the curve north from Washington Township into Jackson Township, at a speed of 57 miles per hour, its engineer was unable to stop in time to avoid hitting the debris field from the first collision. It too wrecked.

At issue: why did the second train on Track 1 (train Q39506) barrel into the rear of the first train (train K68303), particularly given the fact that the conductor on K68303 sent two radio messages to Q39506 that it was stopped?

The engineer on Q39506 told investigators that “he did not recall hearing such an advisory.” The conductor did hear it but he “did not inquire if the engineer had also heard or understood the message, nor did the two discuss its content or relevance,” the NTSB found.

Because the locomotive cab of Q39506 was not equipped with inward-facing video or audio recorders, investigators “were unable to determine the crew’s specific actions before the accident,” the NTSB said. The crew’s personal electronic devices were examined, though, to reveal that at 1:13 p.m.--five minutes before impact and at the same time the conductor on K68303 was radioing Q39506 that it was stopped--an incoming call was routed to the conductor’s cell phone and went to voice mail. One minute later, at 1:14 p.m., the “same caller again tried to reach the conductor.”

“It could not be determined if the conductor answered his cell phone,” the NTSB said, but at 1:15 p.m. “the conductor sent a text message to the person who made the two calls to him.”

“Moments later,” the NTSB report states, crewmembers on Q39506 “were surprised to see the rear of stopped train K68303 and applied the emergency brakes. The conductor later told investigators that he assumed that train K68303 had already departed.”

The engineer on Q39506, meanwhile, could not stop his train in time because, the NTSB said, he was traveling at a calculated speed of 43 miles per, “substantially above the maximum of 15 mph or a speed that would facilitate stopping within one-half the range of vision.”

The NTSB made note of the following:

* “CSX train crewmembers are not permitted to text or access the Internet while on duty.”

* “There was no evidence that any crewmembers on the other involved trains were using portable electronic devices at inappropriate times.”

* “No track or mechanical conditions were identified that contributed to the accident.”

* All crewmembers on the involved trains tested negative for alcohol and illegal drugs.

* “The engineer and the conductor on train Q39506 were not known to be suffering from any medical condition and had not been prescribed medications that would have affected their performance.”

The probable cause of the incident, concluded the NTSB: “the failure of the crew of train Q39506 to maintain vigilant attention to wayside signals, communicate effectively, avoid distractions from prohibited text messaging, and comply with the speed restrictions required by the railroad signal system.”

 

Posted 9/10/2013