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Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation R-06-013
Details
Synopsis: About 5:46 p.m., central daylight time, on May 19, 2004, two BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) freight trains collided head on near Gunter, Texas. The southbound train, BNSF 6789 South, was traveling about 37 mph, and the northbound train, BNSF 6351 North, was traveling about 40 mph when the collision occurred. The trains were being operated under track warrant control rules on non-signaled single track. The collision resulted in the derailment of 5 locomotives and 28 cars. About 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel were released from the locomotives and resulted in a fire. The southbound train engineer was killed, and the southbound train conductor was airlifted to a hospital in Dallas with serious burns. The crewmembers on the northbound train were transported to a local hospital, where they were admitted. Estimated property damages exceeded $2 million.
Recommendation: TO THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS AND THE AMERICAN SHORT LINE AND REGIONAL RAILROAD ASSOCIATION: Encourage your members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants for train movements in dark (non-signaled) territory not equipped with a positive train control system.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Closed - Acceptable Action
Mode: Railroad
Location: Gunter, TX, United States
Is Reiterated: Yes
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: DCA04FR009
Accident Reports: Collision Between Two BNSF Railway Company Freight Trains
Report #: RAR-06-02
Accident Date: 5/19/2004
Issue Date: 6/29/2006
Date Closed: 7/29/2014
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (Closed - Unacceptable Action)
Association of American Railroads (Closed - Acceptable Action)
Keyword(s): Positive Train Control,

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 8/19/2010
Response: The NTSB is pleased that the AAR has encouraged its members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants and has confirmed that one of its after-arrival orders; accordingly, Safety Recommendation CLOSED – ACCEPTABLE ACTION.

From: Association of American Railroads
To: NTSB
Date: 5/17/2010
Response: Letter Mail Controlled 6/3/2010 8:47:11 AM MC# 2100180 - From Robert C. VanderClute, Senior Vice President, Safety and Operations: In response to recommendation #R-06-13, on June 14, 2006 the AAR communicated with our members the circumstances of the collision at Gunter, Texas [see attachment]. In our communique we also brought to the industries' attention the NTSB's recommendation of discontinuing the usage of "After Arrival Order in dark territory." The attached Appendix A documents our correspondence with our members. However, we did not stop at just one means in discussing the usage of "After Arrival Orders in dark territory." The AAR participated in the September 2008 Federal Railroad Administration sponsored Rail Safety Advisory Committee [RSAC] Operating Rules Working Group. During the September meeting, attended by Class I representatives, the Group spent time reviewing the usage of "After Arrival Orders in dark territories." During this meeting we discussed several steps that might help reduce the risk of error when employing "After Arrival Orders." Since the issuance of recommendation #R-06-13 the AAR is in receipt of information that one of our members has discontinued the usage of "After Arrival Order" in their dark territory operations. Most recently, the railroad industry is in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive Positive Train Control System (PTC). As noted in your report on the Gunter, Texas collision, the Safety Board concluded that "If a PTC system with collision avoidance capabilities had been in place and operational on the Madill Subdivision at the time of the accident, the collision would not have occurred."' Hence, as we come closer to implementing a PTC system on our routes, there will be less need to use "After Arrival Orders" in dark territories. Chairman Hersman, I believe by citing our actions to communicate with our members, coupled with supporting documentation provided, the AAR has met the intent of recommendation #R-06- 13. Hence, I ask your office to change the status of recommendation #R-06-13 to "Closed Acceptable Action." I am looking forward to hearing from your office in closing-out this recommendation. Please do not hesitate to contact my office or Michael Martino, of my staff, should your office need any additional information on this matter. It is our goal to obtain closure of all "Open Recommendations" issued by the NTSB to the AAR. Our fervent objective is to continue to work closely with your agency in the pursuit of an accident free railroad industry. Thank you for your time and consideration on this matter.

From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 9/17/2009
Response: The NTSB notes that, although the AAR has continued to discuss the discontinuance of after-arrival track warrants with its members and the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) Railroad Operating Rules Working Group, the AAR believes limited use of after-arrival track warrants could provide an added safety benefit of reduced radio communication between dispatchers and engineers, allowing dispatchers more time for strategic planning. The NTSB is aware that, in the AAR’s July 10, 2007, letter, the AAR indicated that it had communicated to its members the specific circumstances of this accident as well as Safety Recommendation R-06-13. In March 2008, the NTSB replied that the intent of the safety recommendation, however, was not only for the AAR to communicate the circumstances that had caused the accident, but also to encourage its members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants. The NTSB requested a copy of the correspondence that the AAR had issued to its members encouraging the discontinuance of after-arrival track warrants and classified Safety Recommendation R-06-13 OPEN -- ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE. Since we received your letter, the Railroad Operating Rules Working Group has met at least twice, in May and September 2008. In May 2008, a revised version of the FRA’s draft regulatory language was presented to the working group, and various options were discussed at length, although no consensus was achieved. In September 2008, the FRA proposed draft language to add Subpart G, After-arrival Mandatory Directives for Non-signaled Territory” to 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 218, Railroad Operating Practices. The NTSB notes that at the September 2008 RSAC meeting, the AAR submitted a combined response with the Norfolk Southern Railway Company to the FRA and labor unions about the draft language concerning after-arrival mandatory directives. The AAR and its member railroads believe the proposed Subpart G is not as restrictive as it should be and will effectively eliminate certain rules surrounding after-arrival orders that today provide redundant checks and affirmations of the pending train meet. The AAR believes that the proposal does not serve the intended purpose of adding safety to the use of after-arrival orders and considers that the proposal will increase exposure to potential track authority violations by reducing communication between crews and eliminating a safety net of rules associated with the use of after-arrival orders. The NTSB notes that the purpose of Subpart G is to reduce the number of accidents and incidents that arise from the improper issuance or use of after-arrival mandatory directives issued to trains for non-signaled territory. Effective 180 days from the final rule, a railroad shall not issue an after-arrival mandatory directive to any revenue passenger train, including intercity passenger trains, commuter trains, tourist trains, and excursion trains. There are some limitations on the issuance and use of after-arrival mandatory directives in non-signaled territory if certain conditions are met. On December 10, 2008, NTSB staff requested that the AAR provide confirmation that it had encouraged its members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants. The AAR reported that BNSF and CSX have already discontinued their use, and the RSAC has spent some time examining their use. As discussed above, at the September 2008 RSAC meeting, the working group identified several steps to mitigate the risk of using after-arrival track warrants but was unable to reach a consensus. The FRA advised that it would suspend discussion on this topic and proceed to resolve the issue, presumably with rulemaking. The NTSB believes that, through its RSAC working group, the FRA is committed to issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking in the near future. The AAR is supportive of this process and through its members has submitted positive comments to the RSAC Railroad Operating Rules Working Group on the requirements of the new Subpart G. Nevertheless, because the NTSB has not received, as requested, specific examples demonstrating how the AAR has encouraged its members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants, Safety Recommendation R-06-13 is classified OPEN -- UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE. The NTSB would appreciate being informed of what action, if any, the AAR has taken or has planned to implement Safety Recommendation R-06-13.

From: Association of American Railroads
To: NTSB
Date: 4/25/2008
Response: Letter Mail Controlled 5/6/2008 10:29:17 AM MC# 2080234 - From Edward R. Hamberger, President and Chief Executive Officer: Thank your for your letter of March 17 discussing AAR's correspondence with the Safety Board concerning recommendation associated with after-arrival track warrants. While acknowledging that the railroad members had been informed of the circumstances of the accident, the NTSB letter also called upon AAR to be more of an advocate discontinuing of this practice. During the past several months AAR staff members have discussed the use of after arrival track warrants individually with members as well as within FRA's Rail Safety Advisory Operating Rules Working Committee (which is expected to discuss this issue at its next meeting on May 21-22 in Fort Worth). While these discussions are continuing, we note that the use of after arrival track warrants could contribute to safcty by reducing communicatiofi between dispatchers and trains and allow dispatchers to be more strategic in their planning rather than have to monitor (and communicate) after every train meet. Railroads have taken steps for dispatchers to identify (and confirm) when a train is receiving an after-arrival track warrant. At the same time we understand FRA personnel have visited a number of railroads' dispatch centers to examine the use of after arrival track warrants.

From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 3/17/2008
Response: The Safety Board notes that the AAR communicated the specific circumstances of this event to its members. The Board also notes that the AAR no longer maintains the Standard Code of Operating Rules but that AAR members continue to work with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to meet the needs of operational safety. Mr. VanderClute’s letter indicated that the AAR believes that it has met the intent of the recommendation and that, accordingly, it should be classified CLOSED -- ACCEPTABLE ACTION. The intent of the Safety Board’s recommendation, however, was not only for the AAR to communicate the circumstances that caused the accident, but also to encourage its members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants in dark territory not equipped with a PTC system. The recommendation was issued to the AAR irrespective of its involvement with the Standard Code of Operating Rules or its willingness to work with the FRA. The Safety Board has issued similar recommendations regarding the discontinuance of after-arrival orders to the FRA since 1998. The FRA has declined to implement the Board’s recommendations regarding the use of after-arrival track warrants that were issued in response to the Devine, Clarendon, or Gunter, Texas, collisions. Accidents continue to occur in dark territory, where there are no signals to warn trains as they approach each other, and the avoidance of collisions is dependent solely on dispatchers’ and train crews’ adherence to operating procedures. The Safety Board has investigated several accidents involving after-arrival track warrants in non-signaled territory and believes that action on this issue has been delayed too long. The FRA has not required the discontinuance of after-arrival track warrants, and the Board believes that the AAR should encourage its members to discontinue the use on their own. The Board is interested in how the AAR communicated the recommendation to its membership, some of whom may use after-arrival orders. The Board is also interested in any response received from your members. Pending our review of a copy of AAR’s correspondence issued to its members encouraging the discontinuance of the use of after-arrival track warrants, Safety Recommendation R-06-13 is classified Open Acceptable Response.

From: Association of American Railroads
To: NTSB
Date: 7/10/2007
Response: Letter Mail Controlled 7/19/2007 10:04:05 AM MC# 2070354 - From Robert C. VanderClute, Senior Vice President, Safety and Operations: This is in reference to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of two BNSF freight trains that collided head on-near Gunter, Texas, on May 19, 2004; -and the subsequent recommendation R-06-13 to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). AAR has communicated to its members the specific circumstances of this event and the NTSB’s recommendations concerning the use of after-arrival track warrants for train movements in dark (non-signaled) territory not equipped with a positive train control system. AAR no longer sustains the Standard Code of Operating Rules that had defined standards and practices for operations and train movement. Our members continue to work with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to meet the needs of safety of operations. Having met the intent and principle elements outlined in your letter dated June 29, 2006, AAR believes subject recommendation should be closed - acceptable action. Thanking you for your continued common interest with AAR and its members in railroad safety.

From: NTSB
To: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
Date: 1/23/2015
Response: Although we are aware of the operational and regulatory differences among the various classes of rail operations, we continue to believe that this recommendation is relevant to all railroads. This is why we reiterated this recommendation in our report of the September 30, 2010, Collision of Two Canadian National Railway Freight Trains near Two Harbors, Minnesota (NTSB/RAR-13/01/SUM). Given the 8 years since Safety Recommendation R-06-13 was issued and your reluctance to implement it, the recommendation is classified CLOSED—UNACCEPTABLE ACTION.

From: NTSB
To: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
Date: 7/29/2014
Response: We recognize the operational and regulatory differences among the various classes of rail operations, and continue to believe that this recommendation is relevant to all railroads. In consideration of the 8 years since this recommendation was issued and your reluctance to encourage your members to discontinue the warrants as requested, Safety Recommendation R 06-13 is classified CLOSED—UNACCEPTABLE ACTION.

From: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
To: NTSB
Date: 5/30/2014
Response: Richard F. Timmons, President: I write to respond to recommendation R-06-013 in which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association should encourage our members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants for train movements in dark (non-signaled) territory not equipped with a positive train control system. Given the nature of short line operations, the ASLRRA requests that this recommendation be Closed Reconsidered. Class I operations and Class Ill operations are dissimilar in many ways. Although Class l's operate with a complexity that includes bidirectional signaling in multiple track territories, short line railroads are not nearly as complex, and for the most part do not use after arrival orders because their main method of operation is to stop within one half of the range of vision. In the context of short line operations, after arrival track warrants are used in a completely safe manner and environment, to increase operational flexibility and decrease train dispatcher distraction. Short line operating practices are necessarily adapted to a much smaller freight volume and a small fixed territory, with track mileage averaging less than 1 00 miles. Short lines generally operate at low speeds, and may have extensive switching and yard operations. Due to the light line density, the risk of collision is low, and given the low speeds, the risk of serious injury or fatality is also low. Short line railroads would in most cases only have one other train for which to wait, so the risk of an adverse event is very low. We believe therefore that after arrival track warrants for train movements in dark territory is a safe and necessary operating practice for those who use them, and should be continued. We request that this recommendation be considered Closed Reconsidered.

From: NTSB
To: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
Date: 4/10/2014
Response: It was nice talking with you again this afternoon. I’m glad things are going well at ASLRRA. As promised, I am attaching a printout of excerpts from correspondence between ASLRRA and NTSB regarding six Safety Recommendations that remain open. In some instances, we never received a response from ASLRRA; in others, it has been quite some time since we received an update. I understand that ASLRRA’s annual convention is coming up later this month, and that has most of your staff working hard to get ready. But, if we can get an update once the convention is behind you, it would be greatly appreciated! Again, it was nice talking with you and we look forward to your update.

From: NTSB
To: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
Date: 3/8/2013
Response: From the report Collision of Two Canadian National Railway Freight Trains near Two Harbors, Minnesota, September 30, 2010, adopted Feb. 12, 2013, issued on March 8, 2013: Because Safety Recommendation R-06-13 is over six years old, and the NTSB has received no indication that the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association has taken action on it, the recommendation was recently classified OPEN--UNACCEPTABLE ACTION. The NTSB reiterates Safety Recommendation R-06-13 to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to inform its members of the circumstances of this accident and urge them to discontinue the use of after-arrival track authorities for train movements in nonsignaled territory not equipped with a PTC system.

From: NTSB
To: American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
Date: 2/7/2013
Response: Although Safety Recommendation R-06-13 is over 6 years old, the NTSB has received no indication that the ASLRRA has taken action to address it. Therefore, pending our receipt of information about any actions taken, Safety Recommendation R-06-13 is classified OPEN—UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.